Friday, April 27, 2012

[uncensored]: Ode to the Brothers

As salaam alaikum,

Allah (swt) has truly blessed me with a phenomenal farewell to Boston. I've made family and lifelong friends here, I've made connections here that I'll insha'Allah take with me for the rest of my professional life. This last month has been deliciously long, filled with conferences on Islam, concerts and plays (oh my!). I've had get togethers with friends that I won't see in a while, got to watch the Boston Marathon for the first time (first year, I was a nerd and stayed in class...all other years, I was unable to due to boards studying, rotations or public health this was exciting). I've embarked on a weight loss journey that has me more fit and healthy than I think I've ever been, and I'm making connections for my move to Seattle. In all, alhamdulillah, it's been a great thing!

There are so many other things I want to blog about...the Expressions of Islam in Contemporary African American Communities conference, Esperanza Spalding's lovely concert at the Orpheum Theatre, seeing Fela! (finally) at Cutler Theatre after missing the show on Broadway a little over a year ago...

I'll talk about one thing, song. "Black Gold." This is my ode to the brothers...maybe moreso the brother brothers, if you know what I mean, but maybe it applies to more.

I was randomly searching for Esperanza Spalding songs to listen to on youtube when I came across a newly uploaded song from her then, yet unreleased album, Radio Music Society. The song was entitled "Black Gold." I'll put the video below:

As I watched the scene unfold with the two young black boys and their doting, attentive father, I started crying. No joke, I really did. It's such a beautiful video because I realize that it's an image that I rarely see...a black father with his sons.

There was another similar commercial that I think may have been a commercial for fabric softener, toilet tissue, something...showing a black father embracing his son after he came out of the tub.

And the message of this song is truly important. I hate youtube comments, because it's troll city, but some of those folks watching the video...truly don't get it. Probably the same folks that didn't even wonder why the only black kid in class, from the time they were in elementary school, was always getting disciplinary on the board, standing on the wall at recess, put out of the class, detention, expulsion.

They figure that it's just that blacks need to get over being victims. Slavery was a long time ago and should not be blamed for our drug and violence problems, and that 1 in 4 of the black male population ends up in prison at some point in their lives is their own fault.

The problem is that slavery was not over in 1865 for everyone as the Emancipation Proclamation did not mean everything to slave owners at the time, Reconstruction never happened, blacks were never transitioned into free living, and racism remained institutionalized for some time. Oh yeah, and sharecropping? Not that far from slavery.

Slavery may be "far" away, but Jim Crow was not as far away and Redlining happened really recently. Redlining was particularly genius, and if it wasn't thought up by some evil mastermind, I'm sure they would want to assume credit. It's part of the reason that the average wealth (not income, but assets, including home equity) for white Americans is around $12,000 and that for black Americans is, like, $45. I can't remember the exact figure, but yes. Redlining, of all of the institutionalized racist practices of yore, I think has the most impact on us still, because of the impact on our wealth, the property values of the places where we now historically live, the quality of our school systems and the safety of our neighborhoods. And racism is now.

I may be leftist, but I do not remove personal responsibility from the equation. Just to let you know, though, the bootstrap theory is bullshit for the many who were systematically denied the bootstraps to pull up on...

But anyway...I digress...

This is an ode to the brothers. I also thought about this after listening to an Amir Sulaiman poem telling the young men, "We love you." How often do we say that to young black boys and to our young men? Not, "I love you, but you are..." but just an, "I love you?"

So, in her concert, Esperanza talked about how, as a young black girl (mixed girl) in Portland, OR, beautiful young college students used to come to her classroom and tell her how she'd grow to be a strong, black woman. And she appreciated this, but always wondered why there wasn't something for the boys...

And by the boys, she meant the black boys. I like how she didn't feel the need to clarify. Because while females need to be empowered, and black females especially need to be do black men.

I mean, 1 in 4 spend time in prison. Do we turn our backs, or do we recognize our boys need help?

I love you.

There, I don't say this often, not even to my parents, so...yes, I do. I love you all. I love you as the other half of God's creation, sons of Adam, who the angels bow before, knower of the names of all things.

Satan scorns us in envy and keeps trying to keep us down, down from the state God promised us we'd return.

I love you like the boys I grew up with, from Daryll, my first grade crush whose shoulder I slept on alternately all the way to Greenfield Village on the bus one field trip, to Earnest, the class clown who I laughed with, but only on the inside.

I love you for the potential I've seen in all of the men that I've loved, because a little bit of it is there in all of you.

I love you so much, yeah, I am hard on men sometimes. I'm hard on you all of the time. I know it's because you are the focus of my quest for partnership, but I also know it because...I know how great you can be, if you just faced your fears and tried to be. If you had the role models to show you how to be. If someone would stop taking the tools from your hands and allow you to be. If you just try to be.

You don't know how beautiful you are. From a shy smile when you think no one's looking to the lines, angles and contours of your frame when you lean over, attentively, and the furrow of your brow. You don't know how much more beautiful you would be if you employed your tenor, baritone or bass to speak truth, wisdom, or even the naivete of a student enthralled in learning, trying to know...a student of anything, of philosophy, of medicine, of parenting, of husbanding, of the deen, of loving, of law.

I love you for what you are. I love you for all you can be. I don't know what I can do to change your situation, to ease your ills, as a woman that a male role model, father figure, coach, whatever, couldn't do better. But I guess my love and support is what I can give.

You are appreciated, and this is my ode to you.

Because being a man in this society does not afford the same privilege across racial boundaries, the cursed social construct that race is. Race was a very emasculating force for black men in this country, historically and not too long ago. The last black man lynched may have been officially recorded as 1981, but they continued to be beaten with excessive brutality, dragged behind moving trucks, and shot while unarmed. And even when the violence isn't as overt, a lot of the violence was internalized. Whatever all did a number on the black family unit...I don't know, I feel like I can't even begin to put it all together. It's doctoral thesis worthy.

So yes, we need to empower the boys. We need to especially focus on the boys. No matter the ethnicity of my husband, in this country, my boys will be black boys. I want to make sure that they come into a great support network that includes me and their father to prepare them for what all is raw out there for them as they become men. And I want the same for the little boys they grew up with, and the ones that came before them, and the ones that are already men and have space to change.

And yeah, that's all.

I love Esperanza's male-affirming songs. This is another one I really like:

1 comment:

  1. This was very moving. Why not share it publicly perhaps a young boy who needs to hear those words will? I had a great childhood and by no means have suffered the way that other minorities have but as a young egyptian girl with no female role models and no positive affirming words in my childhood I know how valuable it is to hear these things and what hits your self-identity takes when no one is around to affirm your value.Muslim women also do not hear enough 'I love you's or positive afffirmations we are also victimized by media and our 'own' and this is only a very small sliver of what black men go through so I can't even imagine the immense support they need as boys to succeed.