Dear Black men,
It’s the end of another black history month, and I haven’t really acknowledged it all that much. Maybe because I was lazy, or too tired, or didn’t google enough events, or maybe because I have mixed feelings about the concept. Probably all of those things.
In a strange way, I feel somewhat uncomfortable addressing you as a group. I think too many people spend too much of their time seeing you as one, instead of a billion different parts that share something. I know I do sometimes.
There isn’t one black man. There is my Dad, the picture of consistency – like an old clock, chiming at the same time, every hour, never moving from the same loving place it has always occupied. There is my brother, a hairy, sometimes annoying lump of brains and brilliance and kindness that always makes me believe that there are people in the world who are good simply for goodness sake. There is the drunk man down my street who people laugh at, and at who I have laughed at before. He has a story that people who have lived here for a long time try to piece together, but too many cans of lager have stolen away any hope of it being told with certainty. There are the young men who sit at the back of the 75 bus on the top deck, playing too loud music into too young ears.
There is the deacon at one of my churches who tells me in his gruff Bajan accent that church starts at 9:30 every time I get there at 10:45, which is most times. There is Obama. And there is T-Pain. There are the men I see in Canary Wharf who wear their suits and shoulders equally well. There are the builders who come to help with the loft speaking loudly in patois and always switch to English when I offer them a drink. And it makes me laugh inside every time. There are the young men I see mugshotted onto newspaper headlines for doing unimaginable things. There is the little boy I saw at the bus stop last week who smiled at me gap-toothy and goofy, and made me wonder how anyone could see him as less innocent simply because he was brown.
There are as many different shades of brown as I can count, and as many different men who wear those shades. The one thing you have in common is that you get a bad rap. You are always too much and never enough. You are apparently dysfunctional – violent, hypersexual, uneducated. I cannot say that I don’t sometimes succumb to the overwhelming tide of negativity that surrounds you. Too many times I have opened my mouth with “Black men just…”. Too many times I have forgotten that in a place filled with the living, we tend to focus on the one who is dead. And so many of you are alive with hope that is choked from your mouth by a world that sees you as a potential burden instead of potential brilliance.
I will not patronise you by congratulating those of you who are good fathers, good brothers, who work hard every day. These are things that we are sometimes fooled into thinking are rarer than they are. My life is full of ordinary black men who are extraordinary to the people who know and love them, just like men from any other race.
This is not to deny the problems. This is not to deny the tensions. This is just to say thank you to the every day men who get unfairly painted with colours that don’t belong to them. And dedicated to the ones who may fulfil every negative stereotype, but have tomorrows that they can make better. We see you.
Happy black history month 🙂