Do you know what it's like to feel unwanted? Have you ever been around a group of people who made it evident that they really didn’t like your company? You know what it's like to feel that negative energy? We’ve all felt that way at one point or another, right? Roll back the curtains in your mind. Go back to that place. You feel it?
Good, that's what it feels like to be me. Well more specifically, a black male in Chicago; Moreover, in America. Especially in President Trump’s America.
You see, all my life I’ve been given the impression that I was never cared about very much. Now understand, this feeling didn't come from my family. I’m so grateful to have them in my life. They have always made me feel loved and supported. Although my father must not have felt the same way since he opted not to be in my life. I could also give you a history lesson about American Slavery, The Reconstruction Period, The Civil Rights Movement or The War on Drugs to further stress my point, but I think I’ll keep my perspective in more of a present tense.
This feeling of being the negative element in the room has been reinforced over time in several scenarios for me. My initial impression came from seeing very few reflections of myself on television in my adolescent years. In school, my teachers upheld this notion with slanted history lessons and white washed perceptions of what being successful looks like. Being a young teen growing up in the Roseland neighborhood, it was the treatment from the Police that continued this trend. And as a young adult applying for jobs in the Loop, whether the requirements asked for a high school diploma or bachelor's degree; employers made it clear I wasn't wanted there either.
And yes, on top of all of that - my own community, who undoubtedly has experienced these very same instances in different fashions, reflects this micro aggression back to our own people.
When I became an adult, I’ve often wondered why? Why do I feel typecast? Why does it feel like I'm being pigeon holed into portraying someone I don't want to be? Why do I feel like the…...the……the Villain?!?!?
At that point in my life, it became clear: this must be how the world views me. This is probably why I experienced the things I did growing up. I represent the villain - to my father, to the media, to my teachers, to the police, to employers and even my own people. Nevertheless, it's even more important to know if this has impacted me so much that I’ve bought into the idea of playing the antagonist in my own life. So, the bigger question is: “Am I the villain to me”?
I’ve come to believe that yes, as a collective, we have allowed ourselves to think that we are the “Boogeyman” based on how the powers that be in America depict us. To a certain degree, it's hard not to.
When Lebron James first took his talents to South Beach, he appeared to be disliked by the public. Not because he was a horrible athlete, abusive, nor a morally bad guy. And not even because he used drugs or committed crimes. It was simply because of a decision that he made that the masses did not agree with. (Full disclosure: I was personally upset with him too, because he didn't choose to come to Chicago. But that's an entirely separate blog, I digress). Mindful, Lebron, was well within his rights to choose what was best for ‘his’ family and ‘his’ career. But because the public showed displeasure toward him, LeBron seemed to embrace this “villain” role. He gave the people what they wanted. He adopted and played up to the image of being what the masses expected of him: The idea of being the person we love to hate.
In my opinion, this is what happens to many males growing up in the black community. Under the pressure of villainization, it becomes easy for them to succumb to negative perceptions placed on them; thus, living up to being the bad guy. Their POV is, “Why not? This is what’s expected of me anyway”. It's a commonly understood norm in black culture that men are considered the bad guy in our relationships with women. It's a regular occurrence for children to grow up and see their Dad as the bad influence of the family (whether he's in the home or not). It's played out ad nauseam in pop culture movies, music and media that black men are almost always up to no good. Police shootings of unarmed suspects across the nation sustains this belief. Don't believe me? Look at Ferguson, Chicago, New York, Detroit, Sanford, Waller County, Charlotte, Charlottesville or St. Louis…. As a matter of fact, it might be easier to pick a place in America where this is not the case.
So, under these circumstances I wondered, what's my motivation? Who can I role model in this imitation of life? Where should I draw inspiration from to make my character come alive?
The examples that come to mind decided to be the unsung hero in their performance. These men stepped out from the shadows of villainy despite that role being cast upon them. Men like Thurgood Marshall - first black Supreme Court Justice, Jackie Robinson - first black man to play in Major-League Baseball, Ralph Bunche - first black man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Nat King Cole - first black man to star on a nationwide network TV show, Martin Luther King Jr - first black man to be named Time Magazine's Man of the year, Colin Powell - first black Secretary of State, Barack Obama - first black man elected President of the United States. There are hundreds of other brave souls who forged a path to creating a new identity for black men to emulate.
Well America, I respectfully decline to play the role of the villain anymore. I have a different vision for myself now. I can see a whole new way to portray my life. There's a brand new me that I can be. This character is that of a God fearing, hardworking, kind hearted, intelligent man who gives back. One that's a husband and father who loves his family, lives his life with integrity, honesty, dependable, and well-traveled. This guy is compassionate, cultured, well read, and ambitious too. He’s confident, law abiding, respectful, valued in his community, loved by those who know him, invests in others and more importantly he's realistic and relatable. Overall, he's a GOOD guy. How do I know? Because he is me. And I’m living the performance of a lifetime.
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