Sunday, November 7, 2010

Being a Black Man - Book Review

Race is a difficult subject to write about.  Though I’ve touched on the subject a few times, I generally avoid it, sometimes discarding half finished posts that aren’t coming out right.  But, I made a deal with myself that I’d write about the books I read.

imageThis week, I finished a book called Being a Black Man.  It’s a collection of essays from The Washington Post and should really be called Being a Black Man in Washington D.C.  Each essay focuses on one or two different people, and every single one of those people lives in the Washington D.C. metro area.  Most of them in one community in Maryland.


Overall, I found this book very, very frustrating to read.  The book has a number of interesting articles, including one about a hair dresser who was wrongly arrested and a black republican from the South who is still half-shunned by his home town for his political choice.  The frustrating part was just seeing how much some people still blame on racism, as if everything that goes wrong is because they’re black.

[Note: the article about the wrongly arrested man was also very angering to read, because of the sheer incompetence and stupidity exhibited by our criminal justice system.]

No Job, No Fault

There was one guy who’s unemployed.  Why is he unemployed?  Because most black men are unemployed.  The numbers of black unemployed are something like 6x greater than the number of whites unemployed.  (Or was in 2006, before the big crash.)  This guy had a job, a good job that was steady, paid well and was full time.  What happened?  He got bored.  He quit.  He quit before he had another job lined up.

Boardroom Blindness

Bob Johnson, founder of BET, complains that there aren’t enough black CEOs and company owners because getting those positions is all about networks and knowing the right people and being in the  good ol’ boys club.  Black people don’t know the right people; they don’t have the connections; they aren’t in the good ol’ boys club; that’s because of racism and that’s what’s keeping down black people, he says.  But there are thousands of people of all races, including white, who don’t know the right people, who don’t have the connections, who aren’t in the good ol’ boys club.  I’m one of them, most of my white male friends from high school are also in that group.  This is a social and economic thing, not a race thing.  Unfortunately, race and class are so often correlated, it’s sometimes hard to see them separated.

It’s My Great-Great-Great-Great Grandparents’ Fault I’m Not Married

By far, the most frustrating article for me was the one article focusing on a black woman.  It was about the lack of eligible black males in the dating pool.  I get that this is an issue, that the numbers, even when you count the young men in prison (which is a lot) are horribly skewed.  And I get that some women don’t want to date outside their race, and that’s fine. 

What irked me was that this woman’s behavior and that she blamed her inability to find a husband on slavery.  Yes, slavery.  Despite the fact that research cited in the article shows that the % of black married couples was very high until the 1970s, when it dropped off precipitously.  (Seems there’s a good case here for the real culprit being the white woman’s movement, but I digress.)

As this woman insisted that it was slavery’s fault she wasn’t married, she treated the guy she was trying to date rudely.  She kept telling the reporter about how she’s special, and valuable, and worth chasing.  So she makes the guy have to chase her, making herself difficult to reach, trying to change plans at the last moment without considering the inconvenience she might cause for the guy.  And the guy, since he’s had one five minute conversation with her up to this point, gets tired of it and moves on.  Good. 

Maybe I’m just extra sensitive about this topic because I’ve been at the receiving end of those “how dare you steal our black men” glares.  Because Mr. Trizzle and I have actually had to think about whether it would be appropriate for me to go to certain events simply because I’m not black.  Yes, in modern times, yes in the very diverse Bay Area.   But even if I am sensitive, there’s one thing that remains true:

If You Want to be Valued, Show Your Value

Look, I don’t care what color you are, how old you are, or how many degrees you have.  You probably are wonderful, but the guy isn’t going to know that until you show him.  You can’t just expect him to assume you’re better than other women, that you’re worth it.  Relationships are risky.  They take time and a lot of energy.  Both people want to know if the investment is going to be worth it.  And they want to find out before they start investing too much.

I know I’m worth it, that I’m special and valuable.  But, I had to show that to Mr. Trizzle before he could know.  And I continue to show him I’m worth it everyday, just by being me.  The same way he shows me how valuable he is just by being him.  Self-confidence is all well and good.  I wish some girls who think they’re so very priceless were more willing to show it before demanding something in return.  And especially before blaming slavery for the bumps in their road.

The New Black Youth

One article just made me sad.  It was talking about how youth culture in black communities has shifted so drastically in the past 40 years.  How young black men are afraid to love.  Stuck in a cycle where violence and ignorance are glorified traits.  Where to be calm, to try to talk, or even to want to get an education are seen as sellout traits, going against the community, “acting white.”

Personally, I think this is starting to change.  Due in large part to a shift in urban music and what’s “cool.”  Hip hop and R&B are becoming more pop influenced.  Lyrics are starting to be less about drugs and violence and more about other things.  Stars like B.O.B. changing it up a bit.  The article mentions this briefly, though it uses Chris Brown as an example – written pre-Rihanna fiasco.  And there’s intelligent, educated, high-profile black role models.  Most notably the Obamas.  It may take some time, but this issue is shifting.  A little bit of positive in a negative mess.

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