Two years ago, I interviewed Carlton Mackey, the founder of the community-focused, social movement, 50 Shades of Black. Mackey had recently joined forces with entrepreneur and artist, Devan Dunson, to invite the world’s participation in another social movement that explores aspects of Black identity; they named it #BlackMenSmile. When I asked him why the world needed a #BlackMenSmile movement, Mackey replied:
“The things that plague our community are discussed, visible, and known, and have become the dominant narrative about what it means to be Black, what it means to be in a certain income bracket, what it means to have locs, etc. Those narratives shape the way we see ourselves and how other people understand us. And so this work is about inserting that counter narrative. This is the beginning stage, and we’re…[creating] a kind of repository for celebrating the way we see ourselves.”
Mackey and Dunson are leading one of many movements that runs contrary to America’s current anti-Black sentiment, and yet another damaging myth—the one that says Black men are inherently angry. And since we don’t live in segregated vacuums, these types of myths affect Black men, Black families, and all relationships that include Black people.
One example shows up in the way media—despite research and real experiences to the contrary—continue to prop up the White, nuclear family as normal (and good), and bombard us with Black mom raising babies on her own as (the bad) normal as well.
These ideas tell us that something needs fixing—that we are somehow broken or flawed if our family dynamic is anything other than Mom at home and Dad at work. These ideas also paint White fathers are inherently good (because they stay), and therefore their children will also be good, because they live in “normal” households where they can get the moral guidance they need to grow up to become “good” people.
The damaging false narrative of Black men’s character is an aspect of Black identity that has been under attack seemingly since Africans were bought to America to grow the economy and build the country. America’s fear of the “brutish Black man” and the “angry Black woman” help perpetuate and validate the harmful prejudices that continue to plague communities, resulting in everything from misconceptions to violence and even death.
This is why the perception of Black boys as inherently crime and violence prone and Black girls as sexual objects with no brains can stand in American society today. The beneficiary of this myth is not necessarily a person or a group of people, but a system. And more specifically, a system of excuses and ignorance that seeks to justify its ignorance instead of understanding the needs of its citizens.
If we see these boys and girls not as individuals, but as products of circumstance—the circumstance being a fatherless home—we believe in (and become complicit in) a system that justifies the mass incarceration and de-humanization of Black youth and adults. This is why first-hand accounts of fathering (not just fatherhood) among Black men is such an important topic today. As a writer, I feel responsible for seeking and sharing these stories, and for telling my own as well. This piece, Why I Reject the Racist Myth of the Absent Black Father, is written with that energy in mind.