“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi
For all of my life I have witnessed and been shaped by a vast array of images and ideas that have either represented me and my beliefs well, or they have been grossly inaccurate to the point of instigating anger, fear and misdirection. Rarely have these ideas and images landed on middle-ground, and rarely do they fail to have a strong impact on how I engage the world, view myself in it or press through it during tough times. Whether they are based on substance and truth or absurd lies, when I accept them as my own I will live them out with intention, and without any reservation.
As a Black Male living in the United States it’s not hard for me to recognize and be impacted by the many misleading stereotypes that circle around me in the media and in the minds of millions around the globe about who I am. The question for me is not when will these negatives images and ideas finally cease to exist in our society at large, but more importantly how will I choose to live my life in spite of their prevalent existence?
Years ago an eleven year-old bi-racial kid (mixed with black and white) asked me an awkward question. While attending a dinner with several UC Berkeley academics in their home he asked, “Why don’t you have an earring in your ear?” Being a bit astonished by his question, I asked him to repeat it to make sure that I heard him correctly. Unfortunately, I did hear him accurately the first time. This kid who was fifty-percent African-American and without an earring himself, assumed all black males were supposed to have an earring in their ear and he wondered why I was choosing to break the mode. The question in itself came from a sincere place, but equally an ignorant place. And sadly it represented how far removed his adoptive parents were from this very critical part of his development. Yet I knew that he represented so many other people in the world and how they believe they have a notion about who black men are, how we think and why. It is truly a sad predicament, but it causes me to constantly challenge the myths that exist about who I am supposed to be, according to statistics, the media or a misguided world view.
Now honestly, I could care less about who decides to wear an earring in their ear or not, and this post is not being written to discuss that. The topic at hand is more about the misconceptions we inherit about others we usually don’t understand, how those ideas are derived and most importantly what we do with them as we do life in typical fashion. The latter tends to be the hard part, because the ideas that live in our heads run deep like roots to a tree. Even once we have discovered they have wrongly been a part of how we judged others, made decisions and treated people, that still is not enough to make the necessary adjustments to do life in a more productive manner. It requires years of work and unlearning, and it certainly helps if you have someone who you personally know that can help dispel the myths.
To objectively view someone without bias requires a certain level of empathy toward that person(s) plight and struggle, a depth of self that includes personal experiences with the specific plight and an understanding of what the struggle really is with a respect that it is actually real.
So many times I could find myself arguing with someone attempting to prove my point about how unfair an action is, and not that we should ever stop having these discussions and debates, I just choose to live my life in such a way that speaks that action or truth versus debating it. I can only influence those in my world and I am committed to doing that consistently with how I live my life, work through conflict and rectify the poor choices I have made and will make in the future. That truly is all I have at the end of the day, and I realize I am not what the world thinks I am when their conceptions are based on negatively filtered ideas and images that are narrowly selected.
That said, I raise my children as a divorced father with their mother in a peaceable manner, with a shared custody agreement. We remain close in proximity for our children’s stability. I pay child support and alimony on time every month and I refuse to speak badly about their mother no matter the circumstances. I remain involved in their lives because I want to. I go to work everyday and excel in my career with passion. I am a part of management and I get along well with my colleagues and clients. I speak well and interact with my peers. I am not mad at all Caucasians, although I believe there are real unfair disparities that exist within government and systems including our relationships and communities. I won’t teach my son to hate the police, but he will understand the realities that exist and what we as black men simply cannot do when stopped by the police, because our lives depend it. I do not consider myself to be superior to any other ethnicity, yet equally I am not inferior either. I study black history and encourage my children to as well, (not just what is taught in school) to understand what Africans and African-Americans have accomplished and contributed to the world as a whole. I am recognizably a black male with locs, however one still cannot place me in a box. I don’t fit, I have never fit and I never will!
If I were raised with a belief that I was supposed act, talk or think a certain way simply because of the color of my skin, I would have short-cycled the ultimate plan that God had for my life. I would have easily assumed a position of inferiority, self-doubt and diffidence. My voice, my thoughts and my actions would have easily fit a stereotype like so many others do. Perhaps I would be consumed with anger and fail to see the good in anyone. Or maybe I would be so hard-headed that I could not learn from my relational mistakes and disregard the beauty and sanctity of marriage and how treating women as vessels of beauty and honor versus objects of my affection does them and our world a disservice. Truly the list can go on, but my point is all those ideas and more could have been me and how I conduct myself in life. I would have become one that was perpetuating the myth versus dispelling it. What I consider to be a poor testimony of who I am to be as a man.
What structures exist in your world that attempt to place a lid on your prosperity, well-being and freedoms? How are you exercising your rights to express the truth you were born with? How are you actively dispelling myths about your gender, race or place in society with more than words? Do you even believe it makes a difference? I hope that you do, for someone in your world is waiting for you to step up to the plate and become the change that you wish to see in the world.