Posted Feb 28, 18
by Melanites Staff
As a boy growing up, when did you first realize that your experience was going to be different than your peers? Is there anything that you wish you had known then about what it would be like to be a black man in America?
I recall when I first became truly aware of a marked difference in upbringing was during high school. I completed my early schooling in Haiti, I was enrolled in the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, a high school program with a focus on training global consciousness and education. In the U.S., the majority of students who enter these programs are White, Indian, or Asian. I remember walking into one of my first classes in 9th grade, and having an inexplicable feeling of inadequacy after surveying the room.
It was incredibly frustrating because no one ever wants to feel incompetent, but even worse was I couldn't understand why I even felt that way simply from acknowledging I was the only Black person in the room. I wish I understood back then, that I was in a country whose very foundation was developed by false narrative of people who looked like me. I wish I knew I would be angry at times, but that it was okay, and that I had to learn about myself and my culture to fully appreciate and overcome that rage.
Can you think of an example from your childhood when you remember thinking: Is this how I’m supposed to act? The messaging I am receiving conflicts with me internally?
My older brother and I were walking to the park to play ball one summer weekend and as always we carried our basketball in his backpack while I had the water and Gatorade in mine. My brother played football for one of the best teams in the region, and at 6’1, 185lbs in the 9th grade, he was definitely a monster on the field, but the nicest guy off the field. A patrol officer slowed down next to us as we walked down the street and rolled down his window, glaring at my brother. “Hey, boy. You mind opening up that backpack for me we got an alert about some robberies recently around the area,” he said calmly. “Nope,” my brother replied immediately as he continued to stroll onwards, never even making eye contact with the officer.
I stopped for about six seconds in the middle of the street, but it felt like eternity at the time. I could feel my heart racing. We’re supposed to stop for them because they can kill us for any reason, I thought as I stood there frozen. Why wasn’t my brother stopping?! I snapped back and ran up beside him and held unto my backpack tightly, looking straight ahead, never making eye contact. “Alright now you boys behave then,” the officer replied as he put his window back up. I shouldn’t have feared for my life simply because a police officer stopped by, but by that age I had already understood a Black man and a cop is akin to a lion and a gazelle in the streets. But boy did it feel good to keep walking.
We hear a lot about how black men are profiled from an early age and parents really worrying about their children as they go out into the world. Was there a particular conversation or message your parents or significant adult gave that stuck with you?
I haven’t had any particular conversation about carrying myself as a Black man with my mother, but every once in a while I receive a stern “Be careful out there, you know what I mean.” The scary part is even without having a full conversation, I fully understand what that message encompasses every time she says it. It’s like “the nod” whenever you see another Black man...we know.
Do you feel like there were some challenges unique to you like immigrant, LGBTQ, or another status that added a complex experience to your childhood that we as a society don’t normally speak on?
I grew up as an Black immigrant in a poor, single-parent household that was at times abusive. In all honesty, we tend to talk about these topics ad nauseum, and with good reason as they are some of the most common trials individuals such as me have to overcome. I had a loving mother and sister to raise me, so a lot of the difficulties were deflected by love later on in life, for which I can never be grateful enough.
The most difficult aspect I had to deal with stemming from all those circumstances was a brewing rage I couldn’t understand for the better part of my life. Naturally, I proceeded to blame the only thing I could target easily: the absence of my father. As time continued I realized I wasn’t frustrated at the fact I did not initially speak English, did not have the money to enjoy lavish lifestyles like other students, or the fact my mother had the burden of the kids all to herself. I was enraged at the fact that deep down inside I would look at people around my neighborhood, including myself, and feel trapped. I felt as though I was in a controlled environment that would only allow me to go as far as the system designed it to, which resulted in an inability for me to go to a better school, help my mother, become wealthy, or bring those who look like me “up.”
It was subconsciously engrained, and it was extinguishing the potential I knew I possessed, while being in direct conflict with my aspirations. I feel as if that anger, that feeling of entrapment, defeats the majority of Black men before we even begin. You can only dream what you’ve seen, and the only things we’ve been exposed to have been systematically designed to trap and infuriate us for the past 400 years. So as for things we don’t speak on that made it particularly challenging for me growing up, I’d have to say it was the long road to surgically dismantling the engrained irreconcilable mentality that “I can’t” out of my system.
What advice would you give your younger self on how to navigate the journey from a boy to a man?
Do your best to find a mentor, whether in your life or through reading.
Read everything and anything.
Don’t be afraid.
Don’t give up.
Don’t forget where you came from, who you left behind, and those who sacrificed for you to be where you are today.