July 22, 2013 4 Comments

A world that loves, honors and respects young black men must first SEE them.  This seeing is a political act.

I am consciously seeing black men more clearly since my friend Victor Lewis hashtagged the Charles Ramsey story #WhatBlackMenDo.  Ramsey, who acknowledges that he battered his former partner, stepped up without hesitation to rescue the women held prisoner for a decade in a basement in Cleveland, OH. He assumed that he was witnessing a domestic violence situation and intervened because this is #WhatBlackMenDo.

During my evening commute, I’ve started to notice that young black men (the same ones I judge for wearing oversize shirts with pants below their waists) are usually the folks who stand up and offer their seat on the bus to elderly women and young mothers. Suddenly, I see this gesture of maturity and kindness as part of #WhatBlackMenDo.

Lately, I notice that black male heroism fills the news – from middle-aged Charles Ramsey in Cleveland to 15 year old Temar Boggs in Pennsylvania, who methodically searched for and rescued a kidnapped 5 year old girl last week.  When I start to really SEE black men and boys, such heroism becomes an evident part of #WhatBlackMenDo.

I believe that George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin because he could not see him: he saw only the fears and anxieties that white supremacy projects onto the bodies of young black men as #WhatBlackMenDo.  I fear that the martyrdom of Trayvon Martin makes it equally difficult for folk on the side of love and justice to really SEE the complex stories of who young black men are, and  #WhatBlackMenDo.

What I know for sure is this: when I can do nothing else, I have the power to bear witness. I know that a world where young black men experience love and support wherever they go begins by actually seeing them.  Not as mythic monsters or as innocent martyrs, but as our neighbors and nephews, heroes and co- workers, fellow commuters.

And I long for a way to amplify this seeing #WhatBlackMenDo, and to share what I witness with you.


  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Absolutely! Seeing is a critical first step. This reminds me of a quote I saw recently that had no attribution: “Loving ourselves in a racist, sexist, homophonic, transphobic, ableist, classist system is an every day act of war against that system. Love yourself!” Love is indeed a powerful force for transformation.

  • Lynn Harvey-Akan says:

    Your comments are profound and poignant. They are bound to be reposted on other social media. In a recent movie the comment “I see you” was the ultimate recignition of the soul or potential or spirit of goodness within for one to give another. It was one the blue Alien (read African) gave to the human American. And in the resolution, he human finally gave to Africans.

    Will this only happen in movies?

  • GibranX says:

    It is what we all yearn for and what we can offer each other, to see each other as worthy, to be welcomed in the fullness of who we are, it makes perfect sense for this to be a place where hate (read fear) ends and love begins. Thank you for your heart.

  • Lee Evans says:

    Thanks for giving us another tool to help us really ‘see’ people, specifically Black men. The Black kid who mows my lawn usually shows up in a hoodie (even in the heat), is often late, does an OK job, and is always polite. There are many things in that assessment I could choose to bring into focus, but once I peel away the stereotype of Black teens, here’s what I see: a typical teenage kid who is responsbile enough to want to earn his way. A nice kid. And a kid who is part of my community, no matter his race, gender, or age.

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