Shawn Maxam lists the quintessential activities and events that define the life of every Black man.
Everything has been figured out, except how to live.
Color is an intense experience on its own.
Black men are considered an endangered group in America for a variety of reasons. There are many chapters in the Black Man’s Guide to Survival Handbook but suppose a brother needs a quick reference to ensure his experience is similar to his fellow American Negros. Where’s the checklist for the universally agreed upon milestones in the African-American male experience? The following should not be considered the authoritative list because I am sure I have missed several items but someone had to start the thing right. For my non-Black male friends consider this a peek into my world. *Everyone please see the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.
- Literally make it to the ages of 18, 21 and 25:
Non-Black folk celebrate this age milestones for what they traditionally represent. The acknowledgement of reaching adulthood along with ability to vote, then drink and finally rent a car. For Black men reaching these ages have an unspoken importance of not succumbing to to the perils of several of the other bucket list items referred to below. Tupac and Biggie weren’t obsessed with predicting their own deaths for nothing.
- Have one great police story:
Most of us will have dozens. False arrests, driving while black, basic harassment, stop and frisk – the opportunities are endless. I was handcuffed in Harlem while having a panic attack and taken to the psychiatric ward of the local hospital. The police had me remained handcuffed for “my own safety” while being transported in the ambulance and while having my vitals taken by the triage nurse.
- Try to be a rapper, singer, athlete or media mogul:
Many of us will initially believe the only way to either escape poverty, attain street credibility or just plain buy into media portrayals of Black men will attempt one of these professions. I was a rapper for several years. Rap battles, studio sessions performance in clubs with inadequate sound-systems. Ahhh those were the days. I can’t be the only one who dreamed of being famous based upon the aforementioned dream jobs.
- Have one close sibling/friend die from gun violence:
You become a real-life example of the gun violence narrative that reportedly plagues urban communities. Your brother, cousin, father, best friend etc. has died a senseless death and now enters that weird paradox of representing a statistic, a person and a memory. It will profoundly affect everything you do just like my brother’s murder has transformed me.
- Date a non-Black woman:
This is the most appropriate way to betray your race and all our of beautiful Black sisters. Your preference for long hair, light skin, docile women and every other stereotype about women who aren’t African-American/Black will be verified based upon this prior relationship.
- Don’t complete High-school or College:
This is the best way to perpetuate the lazy black man archetype. Granted I dropped out of high-school for mental health reasons and am now pursuing a graduate degree in Social Work but I always can pull out my GED if anyone questions my “hood” credentials.
- Get a tattoo of the name of either your mother, child, girlfriend/wife/baby-mama:
This is the Black man’s version of the infamous tramp stamp. Usually located on the biceps, shoulder or shoulder blades. If you don’t want to be pedestrian than choose a panther or get branded with your fraternity symbol. FYI: I have my wife’s name tattooed on the inside of my right bicep. I don’t just talk this stuff I live it.
- Read The Autobiography of Malcolm X:
There are a ton of other coming of age Black male books or other more important pieces of literature in the education of the men of color in America but this book has become Stairway to Heaven of Black men books. It’s ubiquitous. *I never sit with my back to an entrance now.
- Participate in one eccentric non-Black activity:
This is a trump card you use to differentiate yourself. The collective awareness of being a Black man in America is powerful but its importance is diminished if one doesn’t have at least a single personality trait that is considered peculiar based upon gender and ethnic norms. The more likely said activity or hobby will evoke the phrase “I should revoke your Black card” the better. I have several but my primary one is listening to classic and alternative rock music. I am huge fan of The Beatles, The Police, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Vampire Weekend and *insert white musician here*. There’s nothing more jarring than seeing a Black man driving through your neighborhood blasting Bob Dylan’s ‘Blood on the Tracks’ album.
Disclaimer: This is satire used to illustrate a point about my identity and existence. One can argue I did a poor job and I wouldn’t disagree with you. Young black men from Trayvon Martin to Chavis Carter are dying untimely deaths all the time and I recall not thinking I would make it to thirty years old myself. It is a reality I am reminded of everyday.
Please share this with friends, enemies and temporary allies alike.
Thanks for reading, sharing and commenting!
Flickr image via Tony Fischer Photography