Who’s afraid of a large Black man?
No, that isn’t just a book authored by basketball great Charles Barkley, it’s an almost rhetorical question in America, a concept that woes the hearts of Black parents throughout the country.
Since the days of American slavery Black families questioned whether their sons would be sold away, treated more harshly or killed by slavers. The Civil Rights era found broken hearted parents fearful that their sons would fall victim to civilian and police brutality during equality battles. And in 2014, parents mourn the untimely deaths of unarmed, young Black men who were likely murdered because of the trigger puller’s fear based solely off of the victim’s appearance. And in these fears, history has become a skipped disc – from comparisons of hanged slaves, to the beating death of Emmett Till to the slaying of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and countless others. Black fathers say they are unable to simply have talks with their sons about the birds and the bees without also warning them about the triggers and the fears.
This, they say, is what being a Black man in America is… The following is what two Baton Rouge area musicians, who are fathers of Black sons, say being a Black man in the American south is.
Amari Jabril, son of area emcee Marcel P. Black – whose real name is Marcel Williams – is a 40 pound two-year-old who already stands at two feet, six inches. At 6’3” and over 300 pounds, Williams is not a small man, neither is his father Malcolm who is 6’6”. Sean Griffin Jr. will be 18 years old this month. He’s 5’9” with a slender build of just over 150 pounds. His father, guitarist Sean Griffin, said Sean Jr. wants to study kinesiology and become an athletic trainer or physical therapist.
With Amari’s size expectations, most parents would be excitedly planning athletic scholarships, but Williams worries that his now stubborn, yet affectionately sweet baby boy will grow into a fearful person’s nightmare. “People like us scare the living daylight out of white people, and we’re guilty till proven guilty by law enforcement,” Williams said. “My son will be the perfect size for a grown ass man with a badge, firearm and system on his side to say he feared for his life so he had to use deadly force.” Griffin is wary that he and his son will be primarily identified by racial identity and not human identity. “The problem with being racially categorized is that too many people have too narrow of a view of what the races are or are supposed to be,” Griffin added.
Griffin doesn’t talk to Sean Jr. about race. “I tell my son that there is a delicate balance between respect for authority and respect for self,” Griffin said. “Choose your fights wisely. You can escalate or de-escalate a situation based on your own attitude.” “I simply teach him to be a man,” Griffin continued. “I don’t attempt to define who he is, but I let it be known that other people, unfortunately will and he should stay true to who he defines himself to be.”
Williams would agree, but with Amari still too young to talk and fully comprehend anything, he tearfully admits that he is conflicted in the concepts he might someday speak with Amari. “I would love to tell him like my dad showed me, just do what’s right, and you don’t have to worry about anyone messing with you,” Williams said. “But realistically, that doesn’t guarantee safety. I’ll tell him to not break any laws, be a good, hardworking respectable man; I’ll tell him none of this matters when you’re in police targets though, because he’s a Black man, white men/the system will see him as a threat, especially if he’s an activist like his father.” “So while I don’t want my son to cower to the powers that be, I want my baby to live forever,” Williams continued. “I’ll teach him to comply so he can survive. But, why the hell am I teaching my baby to survive when encountering people my taxes pay to protect him?”
Amari and Sean Jr. are the future, but there are not alone there, there is also promise. “I believe there has been much progress for Black men in America,” Griffin said. “However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t much more progress left to be made on all sides of the racial equation. The unfortunate recent killings are more of a hybrid of slavery homicides and civil rights homicides in that they seem to have arisen from a mind of superiority and distrust of Black people that has been around since slavery and was pervasive throughout the Civil Rights era.” While Williams said he hopes for promise, he doesn’t believe it as feasible. “Farrakhan said there are white men and a system that doesn’t like that a Black man is POTUS, so while he can’t kill Obama, he’s taking his disdain out on young Black males,” he said based on a prediction of American Islamic leader Minister Louis Farrakhan. However with varying views on rearing Black sons in the American south, Griffin and Williams seem to agree that being a Black man is unpredictable.
“Being a Black man in the American South is riding a rollercoaster with eyes closed – you never know what to expect,” Griffin said.
By Leslie D. Rose
The Drum Contributing Writer