How do we encourage socially responsible behavior in our men and boys?
“All y’all are ready to hop up and talk bad when a brother is messing up, but nobody has anything to say when he’s doing the right thing.” Sound familiar?
Yeah, it’s pretty solid as far as reactionary rhetoric goes. There’s a modicum of validity there -- why always focus on ‘the bad’, etc. But beneath the surface, there’s something subtly damning and, in the case of a male speaker, quite self-deprecating.
Why on earth would we want someone for doing the ‘right’ thing? It reminds me of the old Chris Rock joke: you don’t get a cookie for staying out of jail or taking care of your own kids. That’s what you’re SUPPOSED to do. And in the wake of a lot of folks who aren’t doing that, yes, it may appear admirable. But when socially appropriate behavior warrants a gold star, then we have succumbed to some mighty low expectations. I refuse to plan a parade for someone who is simply proficient at adulthood.
Do we think that by highlighting positive behavior (even if marginally so), we will encourage more to do the proverbial ‘right thing’? That’s a nice intention, but it still reinforces the idea that there is some inherent deficiency that keeps our brothers from, say, being a good father or completing college. While it makes sense to acknowledge triumph in the face of internalized and external oppression, by rewarding such pedestrian acts, we set the bar too low. Maybe it’s just me believing a little bit too much in the resiliency of our people, but I think our men are capable of much more than “I take care of my kids, I never been to jail and I pay my taxes."
I don’t think the lack of conversation about ‘the good Black men’ that ARE out there means that there aren’t any; but, rather, that women take them for granted. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, for it may imply that we have significant expectations and feel comfortable being vocal when they aren’t being met. Should we be wiser when it comes to the ways in which we express these feelings? Absolutely.
This cyber world (thanks to the ‘net, everybody’s a writer now. Say it in the Oprah car giveaway voice: “You’re a writer. You’re a writer! And YOU’RE a writer, too!”) combined with our contemporary art (listening to Rap music often feels like paying to serve as a therapist’s couch for a lot of damaged young men) are giving us a lot of rope to choke ourselves out, and we’re gonna get some bruises in the meantime. We have to take ownership of our commentary and attempt to do a bit better with how we give it and who we listen to in the meantime.
The men aren’t alone, for there are some who have been bestowed with the title ‘strong Black woman’ for simply being Black, female and at least mostly functional. But it doesn’t seem like the world wants to give us flowers when we stick around and raise our families or are self-sufficient. How often do you here talk about ‘the good Black women out there’? Who are all the men with such great things to say about us? I don’t see them either, so why is there such a push to give brothers a participant ribbon?
My question is: how do we encourage socially responsible behavior in our men and boys without treating them like they aren’t expected to conduct themselves responsibly? How do we promote the positive without making a mountain out of the marginal?