Black Daddy Defined?

Black Daddy Defined?

Friday morning, someone in my twitter stream retweeted a blog post which was written in reaction to a post which has since been taken down. I read it and was all set to comment, but my comment was a little long and I didn’t want to hijack the post by putting up a somewhat lengthy commentary so I thought I’d post up here. Let me preface this post with this…I’ve grown up in and worked now, all my adult life, in a business in which I have often been one of only  a few black people. I remember going to the Emmy’s with my family when I was still in high school and looking around and seeing only two or three other black folk; forget about seeing other black families. Being around people who have a different cultural perspective than my own is nothing new to me and, given my educational background, I tend to look at things more from a psychological and anthropological bent when I see acts that people often fly off the handle and throw the race card at. In other words, I process head first then heart…generally. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my feathers aren’t easily ruffled when it comes to dealing with ignorance, especially when I’ve often found myself having to be the “spokesman for the black American experience” when major things go down. Man, did those months dealing with folks during the OJ case (both of them) grate on me! But I digress. On to the purpose of this post.

I’m going to do the rarely seen, double quote here and quote the post which pointed me to the original post since that one was taken down before I could write my post, or take a screenshot:

Witness this blog post, written by a mom who got all freaked out when her son struck up an afternoon playground friendship with the son of a man she surmised was a “gang member”:

“How did you KNOW he was a gang member?” I can hear you asking from behind your computer monitor. I’ll admit, I’m not exactly up on my “Signs Your Child’s Friend’s Dad Is A Gang Member” literature. Let’s just say it seemed likely. There was the prison number tattooed on his neck, for example. And the cryptic, graffiti-like tattoos all over his arms. And the white tank top. And the baggy jeans. And the bandana. And the unlaced shoes. And the baseball cap worn sideways. If he wasn’t a gang member, he definitely wanted people to think he was.

The writer goes on to chronicle how, even though the “gang member” tried to strike up a conversation with her—you know, what normal human beings tend to do when other human beings are around and the kids are playing together—her side of the talking stalled because she wasn’t “well-versed in gang member icebreakers” and she couldn’t think of anything to say to him beyond, “When’s the little guy’s initiation?”

Later, when the two scooped up their sons and tossed each other a “see ya,” the blogger considers telling the “gang member” how much she enjoyed the gang movie Colors, and silently wishes she had a camera to document the occasion so that years later, she could reminisce with her son about “that gang member” who pushed him on the swing. “Such a nice gang member…” she imagined she would say to her son as they flipped through their scrapbook of memories.

Ok, let’s see…..
Tats? Check.
Baggy pants? Check.
Ball cap, tilted? Check.
Tank top? Meh, I need to lose a little weight….otherwise: check.
Gang affiliation? No.

The original post did indeed rub me the wrong way. Maybe it’s because I’m 6′ 240lbs and have had to endure people saying to me, “Oh, I was so intimidated by you at first…until we spoke. You’re so well spoken and such a nice guy.” To her credit, the original author states that she wrote the post in jest and was merely channeling, for her reading audience, the musings of the typical Caucasian suburban mom. The tough part to that is when you put it out there to a bunch of folks who are themselves, writers, you tend to get folk who will take and pick apart your post for things like subtext. I hope that she wrote the post as she said she did and seeing as how I don’t know her from Adam I can’t comment on her motives, but what I can say is that in either case, I wasn’t surprised at her point of view of the people around her. I’ve worked with people who when they let their guard down have made similar comments within earshot. But that’s often to be expected when you have individuals in broadcast who’ve grown up in very affluent neighborhoods, often covering events happening in very poor neighborhoods….a lack of understanding. And the inability (to varying degrees) to discern one set of individuals from one subset of a culture from those of another subset.

As a man with a penchant for all things sociology and anthropology, I often give people the benefit of the doubt because humans are terribly fussy when it comes to relating to anything that doesn’t look like themselves. Maybe it’s the byproduct of some evolutionary trait that kept our progenitors from being attacked by neighboring tribes. I tend to think of prejudice and classism as being on a continuum where we don’t ask ourselves if we’re prejudiced, but ask how much prejudice do we each hold in our hearts.

For me, this post is just another marker on the road I can point to every time someone says that we’re so evolved as a species. The days of everyone looking alike in a suit and Fedora are long gone. A man like me who fits a certain mold, judged  by phenotype, but has formal education in psychology and neuroscience…has the IQ, but no fancy letters following his surname, a man like me is often relegated to “the outside” because we allow the media and the microcosm of our own experience to control our perception of our neighbor rather than moving, albeit cautiously, outside our comfort zone. There are many men who are enculturated by inner city norms but are powerfully passionate fathers, talented artisans and deep thinkers but you’ll never know them, or that because they look like gang members. For me, I’m glad I’ve been on the outside because it’s given me great insight into all those who speak from their manicured lawns, from behind the picket fences of their suburban psyche. To be fair to the woman in the story (whether real or “channeled”), I can’t say that I blame her for being cautious around someone who fits the M.O. of “gang member” by society’s standards. I can empathize with her fear of the unfamiliar, even through my own distaste of her handling of it.

My question out of all of this is this: How would she have us look? Is it that those who represent a hip hop type of look and are persons of color should move more toward the “mainstream” in appearance? Afterall, suburban white kids have always been the largest purchasing demographic of the music and culture spawned from the minority so I would actually say that the “mainstream” has move more toward the subculture. The problem with this that I’ve seen with my own eyes is that if you take a man who is clearly Caucasian and place him in that same situation, his phenotype (again, in my experience) tends to be a calming agent where the red flags seem to go off a little less. Having worked in entertainment all of my life, I’ve seen this happen as well. White guys with tats are either “bad boys,” artsy or at worst, sketchy individuals to be watched with caution. Latinos or black guys with the same visage are intimidating, dangerous and should be kept at arms length. There are going to be those who may wonder why I would answer such a post with my own and maybe even think I have a chip on my shoulder. You’re right. I do have a chip. The chip is just one of many from a tasty bag of “American Denial.” Not that other bag, “Angry Black Man.” I don’t care much for Obama, but I was so excited that he got elected because I know for a fact that there is so much division in this country still and I was hoping that having a person of color in office would bring it more to the fore and that we would actually be forced to deal with it in a positive fashion. Everyday though, I’m seeing more and more evidence that this doesn’t appear to be happening. It would appear that his Preisdency is only serving to further divide this nation, more deeply polarizing AMERICANS along ethnic lines and socio-economic position. It’s sad and pathetic really.

Now, this all went down from the mom blog perspective and was about moms at the playground. Dads, can you chime in and share your experiences on the playground? Have you experienced a “good ol’ boys club” at the playground, or some similar type of feeling of being on the outside based on your appearance (no matter your ethnicity)?

To the blogger who wrote the original post, I hope that if we’re ever at the same conference, you’ll say “hi.” I promise I won’t try to recruit your child (as she joked about the “gang member” potentially doing in the post which was taken down). Just stimulating conversation where we can discuss the state of the blogosphere, the year of the daddy blogger, String Theory, the Nutcracker, real hip hop, and anything else that may be on your mind. No “gang member ice breakers” necessary.

As a side note: Jest is often the social lubricant which allows us to discuss uncomfortable truths openly with an audience (IOW, truth is often spoken in jest). Also, so no one thinks I’m taking anything out of context, the entirety of the original post can be seen in the comments section of the post I quoted, toward the end of the comments.

About Tshaka Armstrong

Tshaka Armstrong is the husband to one awesome wife, dad to three awesome children. On any given day you may find him posting internet & tech family safety info here and on his personal blog, or chatting with his tweeps when he's not dadvocating here. Join in the conversation, drop a line, share a joke and join him in encouraging each other to be awesome!