Nov 25, 2012

I am currently reading Black Woman Redefined by Sophia Nelson.  I am in the middle of Chapter 5 about relationships and I have been thinking about our men, our brothas, the fellas.  I love Ms. Nelson's open letter to Michelle Obama and how many black women see themselves in the First Lady. It is affirming to us to finally have a more accurate representation of us out there for the world to see.  I started to wonder if our men feel similarly about her husband and our President, Barack Obama. I wonder if the fellas breathe a sigh of relief because now they finally have an example for the world to see of who they really are, their capabilities and their aspirations.  I am sure they feel similarly but do not express it verbally as Ms. Nelson does so eloquently in her letter to the First Lady.

What I appreciate about Ms. Nelson's letter is how she points out that Mrs. Obama did not redefine or reinvent herself as the media would have us to believe.  She was herself and the world finally got to see that and fell in love with her as the President said in his 2012 election victory speech.  She did not change. The First Lady we see is the lady she has always been.  Transfer that over to the men.  I have not heard much conversation about male affection or appreciation of the President and what his ascension does for the image of black men in this country.  We talk about how there is no glass ceiling now for our young black boys.  I do not know how old the young man in the above photo is.  Judging by how he is wearing his jeans, I would say he is a teenager.  Him wearing a jacket with the presidential seal says that perhaps he has a better outlook on his future now.  But for adult black men, has the President been what the First Lady has been for us?  Does his image balance out the conversation about who our men really are?  Does the image of Obama family balance out the conversation about who our families really are?

Most of our conversations have been adversarial depicting a love/hate relationship with our men and largely portrays them as absentee fathers.  Those conversations have always bothered me.  Personally, I grew up with my father in the home.  My parents have been married now for 44 years. My father was and continues to be an active parent.  Strong marriages persist throughout my extended family both paternally and maternally.  I related quite well to the Cosby show as our family consisted of both parents and five children.  My brother, like Theo, was sandwiched between two older sisters and two younger sisters.  I would have been Vanessa.  I do not share my experience to minimize or discredit the experience of those without examples of healthy relationships and strong black men. What I seek to do is balance out the conversation.  For so long the conversation among ourselves have been that happy marriages and active fathers in our community are a myth. Our conversations have been classic cognitive dissonance because most of us aspire to have the traditional family but should our situations turn out differently we dismiss the traditional family as "not real."  Can we at least now say they are real and that they exist?

Yes there is much dysfunction in our community.  Sure the experts and data support this notion but are different facts emerging?  Has a shift occurred?  My observations say yes.  I have the fortunate experience of working in higher education where I get a steady dose of watching my black male colleagues and our black male students strive for better.  A number of us work with the intention of providing the support our brothas need to succeed.  The will and desire for more is undeniable.  I see it in their eyes.  They may not know exactly what to do or how to get what they want but they are set on figuring it out.  Recently I read The Pact and it touched me to read George talk about how one of his dental school instructors required that they wear a tie to class.  In that particular chapter, Dr. George Jenkins talked about growing up without his father in the home and how he didn't know how to tie a tie.  It warmed my heart to read about him dropping his guard and releasing whatever shame he felt to ask one of his dental school classmates to show him how to tie a tie.

Please do not think that my higher ed work environment and my Cosby Show-like family skews my observations.  As I have shared in previous posts, I was born and raised in Gary, Indiana.  My hometown is not known for the "good life." However, my experience still is that there are strong black families there.  When I went to my 15th class reunion a couple of years ago, I was surprised to see how many of my classmates remained in the city and they are doing quite alright.  I have reconnected with many of my high school and college classmates on facebook and the fellas are constantly doting on their wives and children.  Those that are single fathers are proud fathers.  Those that have yet to become husbands and fathers are diligently trying to figure out this thing called life just as we are.

I will never say all is well in our community.  There is enough evidence to the contrary.  I will never say that black women or black men are perfect.  Likewise, I will never say that strong black families and that remarkable/accomplished black men/women are a myth.  The President, First Lady and their family clearly debunk the myths out there about black people.  The Obamas are not an anomaly or a phenomenon.  They are indeed products of all that is right in our community.  Their rise to prominence and power puts a spotlight on what has always been.  The world now sees it. Perhaps now we will see it and what is right with us will now dominate our conversations.

Side note:  I am now on Twitter.  You can follow me @AVGJOhanna



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