Black Male Achievement…Coming Out

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes – Author

The work around black men in America is very much in the news these days.  The Obama administration has made a bold statement of acknowledging the unique challenges faced by this population and making a commitment to promoting advancement and achievement among black men.  My home state of California has led the way with groundbreaking legislation including a unique House Resolution (HR 23), committing to changing the outcomes for black men and boys as well as all men of color.  PolicyLink, where I currently work on the program team, has been intimately involved in black male achievement work and will launch a new website and blog devoted to these efforts later this month.

The Leadership and Sustainability Institute for Black Male Achievement has declared the month of October to be Black Male Achievement Month (#bmaoct.)  At the same time, October is also recognized nationwide as LGBT History Month and includes National “Coming Out” Day on October 11.  Far from being at odds, this coincidence is a terrific reminder that while we seek to promote and support efforts to create better outcomes for black men and boys in general, we cannot forget to have the conversations within the black community about gender justice, sexuality, orientation and what it really means to be male identified and black in our world today.

LGBT communities celebrated earlier this year with great gains in terms of marriage equality; but the excitement was tempered for black LGBT people with the decision coming down in the wake of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act.  This juxtaposition of political concerns exemplifies how black LGBT people often sit at a difficult crossroads of race and social orientation in America.  Similarly, it is well established that black men find themselves in the most vulnerable positions in American society at large and the same holds true for black GBTQ men.  But the broader injustices of racial profiling, barriers to employment and advancement, health concerns and being targeted for violence, are only made more bitter when black GBTQ men are demonized within black communities and are  seen as a “weak link” in the strength of the black family or somehow buying into a white centered and therefore counterproductive view of black male identity.

If it were indeed true that black GBTQ men were a weak link or counterproductive, we would not have the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the writing of Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, or contemporary media voices like CNN’s Don Lemon, ESPN’s LZ Granderson or author Keith Boykin.  And of course, we would never have had the grand vision and epic social organizing skill of Bayard Rustin to bring together the 1964 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the setting for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Through black male achievement work, we have an opportunity to really grow.  Leveraging the insight and creativity of organizations like Brown Boi Project and by exploring deeper connections with broader gender justice movements including women and transgender people, black men can not only lift up what makes them uniquely valuable to our society, but also explore the depths and breadth of the masculine of center orientation.  An affiliation with these other efforts will not “de-masculinize” or “ghetto-ize” the crucial work around black men.  Rather, these movements should serve as examples to declare a fully developed and enlightened masculinity for black men that does not oppress others to achieve its place in society.  This is a male identity that takes responsibility for ending rape; it is a manhood that does not deny or shame same gender love; it is a masculinity that embraces its own femininity. It is father, protector and provider as well as being fathered, protected and provided for.  It is, in short, what it means to “come out” as a whole, healthy and complete black male.

-AD

They Have a Way of Shutting That Whole Thing Down

I think a lot of us are reeling at the ineptitude of our Government right now.  Regardless of your party affiliation, it is a gross act of egotism to allow ones “agenda” to take precedent over ones actual job. Sojourners Magazine published a letter from faith leaders yesterday that speaks well to this issue.

This morning however, I was reminded that people have faced this kind of crisis before and faith leaders have written about it in an earlier time.  I read several tweets and comments last night on the Huffington Post that blamed “religion” for what’s going on right now; ironically, Psalm 37 was part of the Morning Office today.  Somehow, I think “religion” might have gotten this one right.  For goodness sakes, I’m a Unitarian Universalist and this Psalm even seems appropriate to me!  However you consider the Lord, God, the Spirit(s) or humanity in general, please read and take comfort…this too shall pass.

Psalm 37

Exhortation to Patience and Trust

Of David.

1 Do not fret because of the wicked;
do not be envious of wrongdoers,

2 for they will soon fade like the grass,
and wither like the green herb.

3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.

6 He will make your vindication shine like the light,
and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

7 Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.

8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil.

9 For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.

11 But the meek shall inherit the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

12 The wicked plot against the righteous,
and gnash their teeth at them;

13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that their day is coming.

14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to kill those who walk uprightly;

15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.

16 Better is a little that the righteous person has
than the abundance of many wicked.

17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.

18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will abide forever;

19 they are not put to shame in evil times,
in the days of famine they have abundance.

20 But the wicked perish,
and the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.

21 The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,
but the righteous are generous and keep giving;

22 for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.

23 Our steps are made firm by the Lord,
when he delights in our way;

24 though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
for the Lord holds us by the hand.

25 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.

26 They are ever giving liberally and lending,
and their children become a blessing.

27 Depart from evil, and do good;
so you shall abide forever.

28 For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his faithful ones.
The righteous shall be kept safe forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.

29 The righteous shall inherit the land,
and live in it forever.

30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak justice.

31 The law of their God is in their hearts;
their steps do not slip.

32 The wicked watch for the righteous,
and seek to kill them.

33 The Lord will not abandon them to their power,
or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial.

34 Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on the destruction of the wicked.

35 I have seen the wicked oppressing,
and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.

36 Again I passed by, and they were no more;
though I sought them, they could not be found.

37 Mark the blameless, and behold the upright,
for there is posterity for the peaceable.

38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the posterity of the wicked shall be cut off.

39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their refuge in the time of trouble.

40 The Lord helps them and rescues them;
he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

 

Point of View

20130720_071432My word for the day is ‘perspective.’

Yesterday, President Obama did something unprecedented.  He completely personalized an issue that he didn’t have to.  Until yesterday, He was treading the road of Washington D.C. professional, political navigator…insider.  But yesterday he made a surprise statement about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case.  For at least a portion of those 18 minutes, he was no longer the President of the United States, but the president of black men in America.  A risky stance when it’s open season on black men.  But this was an important step and a step that only he could take.  Black men have never had a president say “I am unapologetically one of you.”  Conservative pundits are critical of him for identifying, for reminding us that 35 years ago it could have been him who was shot by a local vigilante; for reminding us that he has had people lock car doors when he walks by, women clutch their purses when they see him…just as I and millions of black men have had happen to them as well.  But where were the criticisms when George W. Bush put in place tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (largely white men) or when he made any number of statements about ‘conservative’ values (abortion, gay rights, affirmative action) that only spoke to a specific demographic of white Christians again, largely men?  Yesterday, black men in America finally had their moment.  Deal with it.

Yesterday, there was also a wonderful program on KQED, Forum with Dave Iverson, Assessing Racial Equality and Justice in 2013 America.  His guests, Angela Glover Blackwell (PolicyLink), Eva Paterson (Equal Justice Society), and Peniel Joseph (Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, Tufts University) brought about a rich conversation that highlighted both the passion and the data behind how we actually see race today in America.  The conversation between the panelists was extremely well balanced and full of great moments, including one where Angela Glover Blackwell said in response to a listener who said they were tired of the conversation about race, “I’m tired of having to come back to the same issues again, and again…but until I see progress, I’m not going to stop.”  You can listen to the conversation and view the comments here.

I’m using the word perspective today and pointing out these news items because I think it is crucial in this conversation, and as we start conversations about race that we maintain perspective.  That we realize that our personal perspective is always skewed in the direction of our personal experience.  If you have never been called a nigger in the street, you can’t understand what that feels like or what that does to your personal sense of safety.  That is the only word in the American English language that carries with it an immediate association with specifically white oppression, violence and privilege.  It is a word that no matter how much one may thing that blacks have ‘reclaimed’ it, will never be able to be anything other than a word of pure “otherization.”  It creates a barrier with its history.  In my comments on the KQED program, I reminded people who were complaining about the focus on “black/white” in the current conversation about race that our American perceptions of race are based almost entirely on the historical relationship between black and white.  You cannot have a conversation about oppression and bigotry against Asians or Latinos or Native Americans in America without talking about blacks.  Just look at the fact that the three groups I just referenced are identified by location or language; yet blacks are identified primarily by a color.  It is the total anonymizing and obliteration of a history and the complete packaging in the context of oppression that s contained in the word nigger and that is why this conversation must continue.  One can claim, Scoth-Irish ancestry, French, Chinese, Spanish, Mayan ancestry, but blacks in America can claim only a vast continent…Africa.  We can’t point to tribes or recognized ethnic groups within the African diaspora, it was erased when our humanity was erased.  When we simply became bodies that were part of the machine of America.

Although I believe that sexuality and gender oppression is the worst global issue, I believe that the lack of understanding between black and white is America’s worst issue by far.  But that is my perspective and the perspective of every other person who has lived with the fear and cultural restriction that goes with our history.  My perspective would, I’m sure be very different if I woke up every morning and never had to think about justifying my education or worrying about publicly expressing my solidarity with other black men for fear of being seen as a threat.  But I will never know that for sure.  All I can do is have compassion for your perspective and ask you to have compassion for mine.

Add your photos to my ‘un-mugged’ project on facebook or tumblr #adamdyersays

Hero

We are in a precarious and unpredictable world.  We are asking ourselves if we can trust each other, trust ourselves and asking if we can trust that the world to which we are all contributing will ultimately be safe enough (politically, strategically and environmentally) for us to actually survive.  What do laws mean if no one follows them?  What does faith mean if no one has it?  If you think about it, a lot of these kinds of questions have been answered in the past by the basic human nature of having heroes.  Those people our societies have held aloft as the representatives of the ideals and concepts that we collectively hold to be most admirable: the ability to overcome adversity; strength of convictions; pure talent; the embodiment of beauty, etc.

What a week for heroes.  Lance Armstrong, like him or not, was one of our heroes.  He knowingly took those ideals of ours and consciously manipulated his world so that he appeared to be in that model of human nobility and perfection.  We can’t ask why.  We want to judge someone who takes our idea of hero and turns it into a self serving opportunity.  We want to have some kind of compensation for being duped.  But we must be better than that.  He has to answer to himself and that will be the challenge and shame he carries for the rest of his life.  No book deal, no future achievement of any kind can diminish the torture that he will carry to his grave and the torture carried by those directly affected by him.  It is its own punishment.  But it is a situation that leaves us wondering what was it that let us believe that he was a hero if he really wasn’t one?  With the multitude of people who surrounded him who knew what was going on (I had actually heard about his methods in sports circles and have heard for years through people who have known him that he is a dirty competitor), why did we let ourselves believe that he was more than the “emperor with new clothes?”

And then you have Barack Obama; sworn in for a 2nd term as the 44th President of the United States; galvanizing the country toward stricter gun laws, immigration reform and even the possibility of marriage equality.  Standing tall and proud as a man of color and the winner in a game that has been dominated by an elite white male establishment for more than 200 years.  Now, if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that I am a big Obama supporter, but I would claim that as a hero and on a certain level, Barack Obama in triumph is really no greater or less than Lance Armstrong in disgrace.  Obama is a politician.  He has played a system (American politics), and worked the process and used the resources available to him no less than any competitive cyclist from the Armstrong era, except the stadium in which Obama is playing expects you to use political transfusions and creative medicine marketing to get your outcome.  By all means, I do not want to call the legitimacy of Obama’s re-election into question and if that is your rebuttal to this blog, I ask you to refrain from comment…that is not the point of this discussion.  My point here is that we WANT heroes regardless of what form they present themselves.   We WANT to believe that there are just some people on this planet who “play the game” who are gifted; not just lucky, but gifted, whether that be in ability or opportunity or vision or divine inspiration.

Oddly enough, we have these heroes around us all the time.  And among those heroes are some Barack Obamas and some Lance Armstrongs.  There are some who are definitely playing a game, but it is a game in which we are willing to accept (for now) the twisted rhetoric and conflict between noble aspirations and back room deals.  And on the other hand, there are some who are creating their own playing field and using the good faith of those around them for their own opportunistic desires.  Yet, for that moment while we accept all of our heroes as the beacon in the distance, we find guidance and inspiration in who they show themselves to be with us.  We WANT heroes.

So what is this about?  We see heroes around us every day.  We are inspired and we inspire others.  I am always blown away by the e-mails I receive from total strangers who see the P90X videos and thank me…I am honored to have played the hero (even if it meant someone was cursing me under their breath)…but I certainly didn’t set out to be a hero.  I just did a job that was asked of me, to the best of my ability according to my upbringing, training and education.  We all have these opportunities to inspire.  I have received some of the most truly heroic encouragement in my journey toward ministry, toward physical self acceptance, toward love…and these heroes may not realize the strength of that lifeline they cast my way. I believe that the first place to look for our heroes must be within ourselves.  We can only be absolutely sure of the integrity that we bring ourselves.  We cannot hold anyone else to our standard, but rather we must set an example.  If we bring our best selves to every endeavor, we will fill the role of hero for someone.  Even if it is fleeting, and even if we are actually more Armstrong than Obama, we must first answer to ourselves and if we are spiritual, to our faith center.  From there, integrity, hope and aspiration to a higher ideal can spread to others.  THIS makes a better world.  Remember the real hero is within.

To all of my heroes, thank you.  You are with me every day and I love you all.

Dedicated to my mother, Edwina Weston-Dyer (1932-2012)