Dion M. Harris
Once upon a time, when Americans still took pride in dressing up to go to work, do some shopping or even travel via plane, train or automobile, home-training for black folks consisted in large part of being taught how to present themselves in the best possible light, clean and pristine, at all times. In short, how to manage their image.
But times have changed.
After jurors unanimously acquitted George Zimmerman, the 29-year-old neighborhood watchman, of all charges, effectively letting him walk away with murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was walking home to his father’s townhouse, it’s clear to me that the best way for young men of color – especially young, black men – to wreck onerous stereotypes of who they are is for them all to now play a revolutionary hard defense: Clean yourselves up and go respectable. Don’t give Them a chance to put you in a box. Just by looking at you. After all, as was demonstrated in the recent three-week trial in Sanford, Fla., a little bit of imagination goes a long, long way when defending murderous behavior.
If The Other sees you and feels threatened – even if you’re minding your business and they’re following you – you might not live to set the record straight. So prepare ahead of time, and bring your best plan to the game.
Think for a moment. When The Other views you, do they actually see you – or who They want you to be? Who They think you are? However, the question to ask yourselves is: What am I presenting?
More than at any other time in history, perhaps, black men are seen as the boogeyman. And every day across America, young black and brown men kill other young, black and brown men. Hatred and fear kill too many who were made in God’s image. In light of this, I think your best revenge is to live long, healthy, productive lives despite all the obstacles in your path. Rather, in spite of them.
Too many black men, in particular, never make it to age 60. I know this because I read the obituary pages. In my own family, my beloved dad and, more recently, two cousins – on either side of the family, within six months – have died between 52 and 54. Social Security won’t pay out until you’re at least 65. So all the money that hard-working black men who’ve worked legitimate jobs for years and paid into the system, stays within The System.
I dare you to not play yourself or the people who love you and fall for the supremacists’ destructive plan. RESIST. That means 1., control yourself and your urges; 2., make a Plan A, B and C for success, which includes a diploma, a degree and self-sufficiency; 3., mind the company you keep; 4., find a personally suitable mate and marry her; 5., then make children. In this order. Make life a bit easier for yourself by developing discipline early.
Your ancestors who courageously endured captivity and the Klan, then fought deliberately and honorably for civil rights, long ago rolled over in their graves and weep with the knowledge that after all this time, black men are still game sport. Not just for The Other, but for black men, as well. Who hope to secure a few golden crumbs for themselves. This, while your oppressors sit back and laugh, safe in their gated world, getting richer still.
Presenting yourself like an overgrown child won’t help you get a slice of any legitimate action. And it doesn’t aid your case for employment or dates. I’m tired of seeing your bare, boxer shorted-ass on public streets when I leave my sanctuary: Buy pants that fit and a good belt! There’s nothing cute about exposing yourselves the way you’ve been doing over the past dozen years or more. If anything, it advertises a predilection and solicitousness for homosexual activity, just like in the jailhouse, where the “style” originated.
Neck tattoos, gold teeth and hair all over your head are scary. To people who look like you – and especially to those who don’t. They’re unnatural, crude, scream “Bad Judgment” and ‘I don’t care.’ And to the larger culture are just plain unattractive. Intolerable. These are a few of the “trendy” ways one signals oneself an undisciplined and unruly person, outside the margins of polite – read: useful – society. Is there any doubt why you continually receive the reception you get?
So as your big sister, your cousin, your auntie or your friendly neighbor, I say it’s time for you to fight back: Clean it up, cover it up, cut it off. Man up. Take your dignity back. The Other may think you’re up to no good, but being above reproach is a moment-by-moment choice we make.
Manage your inherent “scariness” so you can ride off into the sunset and live to successfully resist the profile another day. Do it for Trayvon.