Admittedly, it’s rough being a black man in America these days. Incarceration continues to skyrocket. Unemployment figures are still quite unfavorable for us as a demographic. Death by cop, as tragic as it continues to be, is still somehow increasingly fashionable. You know, like skinny jeans. These days, seemingly everything is stacked against us. Being a black woman is worse, I can assume. But since I’m not one of those, I defer that story to them to tell, promising to be an ally where I can…but to ultimately shut up and let those womenfolk speak for themselves.
The purpose of this piece, however, isn’t to wallow in misery and to itemize the calamities we face. Instead, we here over at the Unmitigated Word will discuss the numerous instances and circumstances where being a black man in America is freakin’ awesome. And, yes, we do have our moments.
1. When we greet other brothas vocally
We’ve all been there. We know how it goes. Hell, there’s an entire chapter’s worth of content on greetings and salutations that we can extract from the Black Man Standard Practice Handbook (It’s that’s not a thing yet, it should be). The following interaction is but a mere sample of what you could find:
Black Man 1: Yo, wassup?
Black Man 2: Aw man. You got the best hand!
BM 1: I can’t even call it.
BM 2: Just tryin’ to make it out here. How’s the J-O-B?
BM 1: You know. Workin’ for the man to pay the man.
BM 2: I feel you. Another day, another dolla.
BM 1: What about you, fam? What you gettin’ into these days?
BM 2: You know, everything is everything. I’m still here.
BM 1: Bruh, you ain’t never lied!
BM 2: Alright, playa pimp. Stay up!
BM 1: Yessir! Be easy, breezy!
…this could go on for about another hour and both men would be good with that. And if you really want to connect with another brotha, spend your time trying to one up each other on compliments:
BM 1: “I see you doin’ it big! Rockin’ a tie and all!”
BM 2: “Naw, man! It’s your world!”
Again, that can go on for weeks at a time.
2. When we greet other brothas silently
If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, certain communicative practices can be worth two thousand of them joints. Sometimes, you can bypass the lengthy exchange of black pleasantries by doing something simple, yet effective: a subtle nod of the head. Nods are a cultural gesture than defy all the standard rules of communications. It’s one of the only expressions in the history of the world which needs no commentary. I mean, if you want to follow that up with a “What’s up?”, you can. But truth be told, it’s not necessary. Merely 2-3 seconds worth of eye contact and a nod is all you need in order to tell another brotha (whether you know him or not) that everything is fine, nobody’s been shot by the police, and Trump hasn’t deported your family to Congo. It’s important to note though: you have to nod upward. Nodding downward is a whole ‘nother conversation.
3. Code switching
The ability for us to code switch in front of others as they watch in fascination is worth its weight in gold.
True story: not too long ago I was walking across campus to a meeting with some of my white co-workers. During our walk, I ran into one of the other few black male employees on campus. We greeted each other with the handshake/hug combo (which is covered extensively in the “Handshake” chapter of the Black Man Standard Practice Handbook), along with some of the commonly-used greeting lines I mentioned early. For the briefest of moments, we shared a thing. He knew what I said. I knew what he said. Nobody else had a clue what was going on. They didn’t know we were saying “Yeah, racism sucks. Be a good role model to young black men. Don’t disrespect black women. Oh, and don’t get shot by the police.” It was like we were temporarily in a country all our own.
Oh, and please note: this phenomenon isn’t unique to just Rollo ‘Nem. No, sir. As Key and Peele point out in the sketch below, this is goes all the way up to the White House:
I won’t lie. Sometimes having to code switch is rough. But other times, it’s bloody amazing!
4. Being unexpectedly nerdy
Not that I should care what strangers think about me, but I get a small sense of satisfaction when people are shocked to realize that I, as a black man from
apparently the most dangerous city in the Milky Way Flint, can do or say things they’d never expect to come out of the mouth of somebody like me.
White Friend (with strangers within an earshot): Did you catch Game of Thrones last night?
Me: Of course! I particularly love how last night’s episode thoroughly examined the concepts of duty, politics, and valor in Westerosi society and how those dueling concepts create negative consequences for members of House Lannister. By the way, wanna get down on some of this hummus?
After that, I sit back and enjoy the cognitive melee I created in that stranger’s mind.
5. Excessively celebratory reactions to otherwise insignificant events
Speaking of GoT, one of my favorite past times of late has been watching reaction videos to various scenes from the show. My favorite was the compilation of people reacting to Jon Snow’s true identity (spoilers ahead, if you click on the link). Now, imagine that playing out somewhere involving a bunch of black folks. Huddled around during a rap battle. Playing spades. At church when the band is having a jam session. The way we celebrate these meaningless things (meaningless in the grand scheme of things, anyway) is worthy of discussion. For example, this video of predominately black NBA players reacting is priceless:
6. When your blackness is an instant cure for somebody else’s attitude
Another true story: I used to live in Grand Blanc, an affluent suburb outside of Flint. One day (during a time of my unenlightened youth), I accidentally cut a guy off in traffic. It was my fault, I freely admit. I didn’t commit the violation maliciously or intentionally. I simply didn’t see the guy. Well, he didn’t take it lightly. He rode my tail for a few miles; making every turn I made, riding my bumper unnervingly close, and did so all while cussing and gesturing at me. Finally being annoyed enough to do something about it, I did a hard brake in a Walmart parking lot. I put the car in park, got out, yelled “What the **** is your problem” (or something to effect) as I walked toward his car. I don’t think he expected me to take it that far. He sped away.
I can’t be sure, but I think the site of an angry and unafraid black man scared the road rage out of him. Now to be sure, we live in very dangerous times and this could’ve escalated into something far worse; especially if he had a weapon. But for that moment, I stuck my chest out in pride for using nothing but my blackness to cure this dude’s debilitating bout with road rage.
Fits with road rage aside, this can really apply to any surrounding. Sure, you have more and more people emboldened by a certain president. But mostly, you have people ready to get all in your face until they see the complexion of said face.
7. Public transportation riders generally leave us alone
I didn’t figure this one out until I started visiting larger cities like Chicago and New York. You see, in my hometown, I don’t use public transportation. And we don’t have a subway system. So when it came to personally experiencing some of those infamous tales of public transportation, I was a bit of a novice. But now, as a pretty seasoned public traveler in those cities, I’m growing increasingly confident of one universal truth: public transportation passengers don’t mess with black people. While everybody else is trying like hell to avoid making eye contact with that one dude using his shoe as a phone to order ho cakes, I sit back in confidence knowing that he won’t think to come my way. Personally think it’s a combination of him knowing that I’m too broke to finance his entertainment and him telepathically knowing that – as a black man – we’re connected by our struggles; causing him to move on to the next person. Whatever the reason, I’m generally off the hook.
8. The fresh feeling of getting a haircut
Sitting in a barber chair, getting scratched to death in the face by your barber’s unnaturally sharp clippers, listening to your stomach growl as your guy downs a two-piece with hot sauce (while magically still being able to give you the cleanest line the world has ever seen), and trying to desperately to secure your manhood by not wincing when he douses you with rubbing alcohol (newsflash: alcohol doesn’t put out fires. It spreads them. Sayin’). We all know the suffering that comes from a standard barbershop experience. But the next day? After you’ve had a day to let your fresh cut settle in? Money.
9. Getting gold star treatment from a brotha in customer service
My wife and I visited Chicago twice in a span of about 6 months. Each time, we wound up staying at the same place. Why? Because of a brotha named ********** (yeah, right! Like I’m going to share our dude with you!). When we arrived, he gave us the ultimate hookup. He upgraded our room each time while also giving us his family and friends discount. He called us several times a day during his shift to make sure things were going well with us, allowed us to stay a few hours past our checkout time so we could see more of the city, and gave us a follow-up call when we got back home. As a reminder, we’d never met this dude before in our lives prior to visiting for the first time.
This isn’t exclusive to hotel service. Restaurants, cell phone companies, auto supply stores. Whenever I visit an establishment and see a brotha behind the counter, I whisper a silent word of thanks to God.
All this being said, be of good cheer black men. It’s not all bad for us. Accentuate the positive, I always say.