Manhood can be a rigid and oppressive thing. By manhood, I mean this society's notion of what constitutes a man - a respectable member of the male sex. Everything from the clothes (what's the practical function of a necktie?) to the expectations of stoicism and limits on expression is misplaced. This can become particularly complicated by entering in race as a factor, creating for Black men another set of boundaries. While I'm sure that womanhood is probably equally weighty, notions of manhood are rarely considered for exploration or challenge.
I mean, I don’t know what the fuss is all about. I mean, everything in the world loves you. White men love you. They spend so much time worrying about your penis they forget their own… And white women? They chase you all to every corner of the earth, feel for you under every bed… Colored women worry themselves into bad health just trying to hang on to your cuffs. Even little children - white and black, boys and girls - spend all of their childhood eating their hearts out ’cause they think you don't love them… It looks to me like you the envy of the world.
We're the envy of the world but wonder at what cost? The cost, I think, is our humanity and the possibility of self-actualization.
I saw a boy trip outside of the movie theater yesterday. He was running up the stairs in a rush to get to the theater showing the new Karate Kid. The boy fell and hit his shin on a stair then immediately started to cry. His father punched him in the chest, said something that I was too far away to hear, and walked with the limping boy into the theater. What happened there is common and while I'm not saying it's wrong (I try to not tell people how to parent,) I wonder what the benefits and costs of such socialization are. When I see people correct their children for behavior like this (usually Black parents,) I almost instantly consider how much correction goes on when a little boy does something aggressive or when a young man behaves promiscuously (the things that are actually killing us in the forms of violence, jail, and HIV/AIDS)
I'm sure what the father intended to do was not make his son "soft," to keep him from crying every time he was in pain but how does that improve the quality of his life or his manhood. Will it help him provide for himself or those around him.? Will it make him a better person -a more authentic version of himself - or will it just misplace his manhood in a expectation of stoicism that doesn't speak to what the human condition or challenges within the community are? Maybe the boy will grow to be a strong man who knows how to defend himself or maybe he'll join the too long list of Black boys killed because they were too hard to back down from a fight, of men too wrapped in their manhood to love a women properly.
Thoreau said that "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." It took me to become a man to understand the significance of that quote, to understand that buried deep within most people is an individual song- as Dr. King put it, "a unique being of infinite metaphysical value, created in the image of God." What's killing us is deprivation of spirit and disregard for God within.