You can be an enlightened man and still a tough guy. George Clarke explains how.
I know what it’s like to be feared. Since I’m both male and black, I know it twice over.
Culture burdens men of all colors to prove they’re not abusive, oppressive or deadly. Women tend to shield themselves and their children from us as if our individual mugshots are on America’s Most Wanted. Given what we all see too frequently in the news–a rape here, a robbery there, yet another killing on the south side–it’s hard to blame them for protecting themselves.
And that’s before we take race into account.
Thanks again to the news–more accurately, the fools who make the news by committing terrible crimes–women only have more to fear about men of color. Relative to our population, we commit a disproportionate number of crimes, only amplifying the amount of fear and distrust thrown our way.
Again, it’s hard to question why people, particularly women, stereotype by gender and race. To some level, they do it to protect themselves. It’s only natural for a woman on a dark city street to treat me, for example, differently than another woman. Stereotyping is a critical survival skill, and at the level of basic safety and security, it is understandable.
Understandable, yet sad.
Depravity is not a gendered act, and nor is civility. Just as women can be kind and decent people without sacrificing their gender identity, so too can men be kind and decent without being unmasculine. But conversations about an enlightened form of masculinity tend to seek a new-age permutation of male identity that’s centered around being calm, quiet, docile and intellectual—acts typically aligned with female identity. In short, a common theory for solving the ills of masculinity is to inject some femininity to cancel them out. That theory crops up in a variety of ways, from demeanor (promoting deference to women) to even dress (metrosexuality). (What Women Want, the 2000 film starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt, presents a hilarious notion of what some people would see as an ideal form of masculinity.)
That’s the easy-button solution to the destructive tendencies of man: Turn him into something he is not. It sounds ridiculous enough by itself, but it gets downright explosive once you add a pinch of race to the discussion.
Just as a dash of feminine behavior is a perceived antidote to gender stereotyping, a dash of pretentious intellectualism—in a few cases, actively imitating the ways of successful white people—is a perceived antidote to racial stereotyping. It is all too common for black men to conclude that the only path to success, the only way to duck those old and fatal stereotypes perpetuated by the evening news, is to don a beret, play some golf and track the footsteps of the majority race. That method can be effective, but it is never authentic or fully satisfying.
One thing I’d like to do before I die is to prove to the world that men can be great without surrendering their manhood, that black men can be great men without diluting their racial pride. To dilute the depraved side of masculinity is not to dilute masculinity itself because masculinity is not depravity. It is simply gender identity and nothing more.
We, as men, can rise up from this sea of negative stereotypes without changing our nature. We can improve of our own accord without constantly bowing to women or wearing our girlfriends’ clothes. Men have a role—to lead others with open-minded sensibility—and we can occupy that role without changing who we are.