A NEW IMAGE FOR BLACK MEN

by Chris Broussard

Despite the many inspiring success stories of African-American men, most notably that of President Barack Obama, it can be argued that Black men are still in a state of emergency. One look at the inordinately high incarceration rates, dropout rates and homicide rates for Black men – just to name a few – makes it clear that change is in order. K.I.N.G. president Chris Broussard believes many Black men suffer from an identity crisis, one rooted in the brutal enslavement, oppression and miseducation they have endured for the past five centuries, one that has distorted their image of themselves. He believes it is time for Black men to embrace a new image of who they are. He delivered that message as the keynote speaker at “The International Mens Day” ceremony in 2010. The transcript is below:

Recognizing “International Men’s Day” gives me a sense of brotherhood with all men around the globe, so I want to salute my brothers of all races and ethnicities: Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Indian, Native American, Arabic, and whoever else may be out there. And when you think of the international community of men as a brotherhood, you realize that our purpose as brothers is to try and help all men become all that God created them to be, to try and help each and every man fulfill his God-given purpose on this earth. Sadly, when you look at the history of the world, that has typically not been the case. Instead of lifting each other up, men have held each other down. We’ve used each other’s race or ethnicity or nationality or religion as an excuse to oppress and discriminate against one another. Some say the answer is to become “colorblind,’’ but while I understand what they’re saying, I don’t think we need to be colorblind. God made us different colors, different races, different ethnicities. Your ethnicity is a part of who you are; it’s not all you are. It’s not the most important part of who you are, but it’s a significant part of who you are. And if I have to ignore the fact that you’re Asian or that you’re Native American in order to be able to treat you with dignity and respect and love, then I’m not much of a man. God gave us these distinctions and created such variety within mankind to enhance our experience as human beings. So rather than viewing our differences as a reason to hate one another and abuse one another, we need to view our differences as opportunities to learn from one another and to strengthen one another, to strengthen the whole human family.

But again, throughout history, particularly here in America, that has not been the case. And you can see how destructive it can be when we behave as enemies rather than as brothers. We all know about the atrocities of slavery and the abuse of the Native American, but even though those institutions ended nearly 150 years ago, we can still see some of their negative effects. You see it in people’s mentalities, you see it in the economic and educational disparities between Black and White. You still see it woven into the fabric of some of the institutions of this country.

You’re saying, “Oh, but brother, we’ve got a Black president now, race doesn’t matter. We’re a post-racial society now.’’ Yes, we do have a Black president, and I thank God for President Barack Obama and for Oprah and all the many wonderful success stories we have in the African-American community. But despite their successes, despite the fact that we as a nation have come a very long way in race relations, I’m here to tell you that race does still matter and that racism is still an obstacle that needs to be removed if we as men – all men – are going to truly be brothers.

If race doesn’t matter – Why are 74 percent of the people sent to prison for drug offenses Black even though only 13 percent of the drug users and abusers in America are Black? I mean, if race didn’t matter, then only 13 percent of the people sent to prison for drug abuse would be Black. If race doesn’t matter – Why don’t we ever hear about cops maiming and shooting and killing innocent White people like we see them do every so often to innocent Black people like Sean Bell, Abner Louima or Amadou Diallo? With White people, the cops seem to have patience; they don’t jump to conclusions; they give them the benefit of the doubt. But too often with us, they assume the worse. But of course, race doesn’t matter. If race doesn’t matter – Why do you get a greater punishment for possessing crack cocaine, which is more prevalent among Blacks, than powder cocaine, which is more prevalent among Whites, even though they’re the exact same drug? President Obama recently narrowed the gap between the punishments but he wasn’t able to eliminate it entirely (100:1, 18:1).

If race doesn’t matter – Why, even when Black people and White people have comparable credit, are Blacks rejected twice as often as Whites for small business loans? If race doesn’t matter. If race doesn’t matter – Why does a White man with only a high school diploma earn the same amount of money as a Black man with a college degree? If race doesn’t matter. The fact is, race does matter and it’s been used and is still being used as a reason to hold us back. So I challenge my brothers, all my brothers, but particularly my White brothers to push to change these unjust laws and practices. Because remember, your purpose as a man is to help us – and all men – become all we can be.

That’s just the stone cold truth. But if we’re telling the truth, then we as Black men have to admit that it’s not only outside forces that are holding us down. But that we are holding ourselves back as well. And I would suggest to you that the reason we’re holding ourselves back is because many of us don’t know who we are. We don’t know what real Black manhood is or what it looks like. An ancient proverb says that “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.’’ Basically, whatever you think about yourself is what you’re going to be. And many of us, in our heart of hearts, believe that a real Black man, an authentic Black man, a real ni…. is a pimp, a thug or a gangsta. And we’re destroying ourselves, our families and our people because of it. It’s to the point that some of our young men who have two college-educated parents in the home and who are middle-class or upper-class are dumbing themselves down to “keep it real,’’ to be what they think is an “authentic Black man.’’ Remember the movie 8-Mile with Eminem? Near the end of the movie, Eminem was in a rap battle with this Black guy who was supposed to be some super thug, going around shooting people and all that. Well, the way Eminem beat him was to expose the fact that instead of being a thug, the brotha’ grew up in the suburbs with two loving parents and went to a private school. He was so embarrassed, so ashamed, that he couldn’t even rap after that. So that’s what it’s come to.

But why? Why do many of our men believe they can only be athletes or rappers or comedians or pimps, gangstas or thugs. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a White politician and sociologist, wrote a now famous report called The Moynihan Report. He wrote the report for President Lyndon Johnson and other United States government officials. And in that report, Moynihan wrote that the problems that plague the Black community and particularly the Black family are rooted in slavery. He said slavery in America was the worst form of slavery in the history of the world and that it so damaged the psyche of Black men that it was still affecting us more than 100 years later. Now Malcolm X said the same thing; E. Franklin Frazier said it too, and our Afrocentric brothers have been saying that for years. But this White high-ranking government official said it too. Basically, he said addition to all the outside obstacles that are holding them back, too many Black men have a slave mentality. And if you’re sitting here today thinking that you’re a pimp, a gangsta or a thug, you’ve got a slave mentality. You’re really nothing but a slave. You might bling-bling, you might have a nice whip, you might wear $150 sneakers, but you really ain’t nothing but a slave. And brother, we love you and we need you to rise up from being a slave and become a man.

Look, the reasons so many brothers think of themselves as pimps or macks or players is because in slavery the Black man was not allowed to exercise any of the traditional roles of manhood. He couldn’t protect his family, because his wife or children could be sold away or raped at any moment. He couldn’t provide for his family, because he didn’t earn any income. And he had no say whatsoever in the rules and laws that governed the society in which he lived. Those are three major aspects of manhood and we were denied all of them. The one aspect of manhood we weren’t denied was sex. In fact, we were encouraged to have sex and applauded for making babies, for making more slaves, so naturally, brothers began glorifying in their sexuality above all else. Sexual prowess became their ultimate definition of manhood. And for some of us today, that mentality’s been passed down from generation to generation. Look at what many of our rappers rap about, look at how many brothers make babies and don’t take care of them, just like in slavery.

But as I’ve been saying all night, I’m a truth teller. I’m here to speak the truth. And the truth is that a pimp is not a real Black man, a gangsta is not a real Black man, a thug is not a real Black man. The truth is that you don’t have to “slang crack rock or have a wicked jump shot’’ to make it. The truth is that you can be much more than an athlete or a rapper.

One of the greatest things that was stolen from us as a people was our history. History is so important, because history tells you where you’ve been, tells you what your ancestors have accomplished and that if they could accomplish that, you can accomplish it. It builds pride in who you are, in your culture, your race, your nationality. That’s why from Grades 1 thru 12 you’re bombarded with American history. So you develop a strong sense of pride in being an American, so strong in fact that you’re willing to fight for your country. And when you look at Black history, it’s important that you learn more than Black American history. Because Black American history begins in slavery. It begins at the bottom. It begins in a dysfunctional situation that taught Blacks not how to be men but how to be slaves, boys, clowns and irresponsible studs. That’s what was presented to us as our destiny and many of us are living out that destiny to this very day.

But today, in 2010, it’s time for a new destiny for Black men. It’s time for a new image of Black men, a new model. We’re throwing out the slavemaster’s model, the model that’s got us filling up the prisons and the graveyards, the model that’s got us killing one another and playing games instead of taking care of business, the model that’s got us using and abusing our women and children instead of loving and protecting them. It’s time to regain our history and be real Black men.

But what is a real Black man? Well, there’s a book that mentions Black men and Black nations well over 1,000 times, and I’ll use this book tonight not to promote a certain religion but to promote truth. The Bible is regarded all over the world, by people of all races, as a book of truth. It’s the best-selling book of all-time; it’s been translated into nearly every language in the world. It’s so respected that we use it as a symbol of truth in our courts of law, and we have our nation’s Commander in Chief take the Presidential oath with his hand on it. There may be different interpretations, but no book is as widely associated with truth as The Bible.

So what does the book of truth say a real Black man is? First, brothers, it says he’s awesome. That’s right, awesome. I’m not making this up. In Isaiah chapter 18, verse 2, Ethiopians are called “a people terrible from their beginnings onward.’’ The Hebrew word that’s translated “terrible’’ is Yare’, which means awesome. It’s the same word used to describe God several times in the Psalms and other books – the great and terrible God, or great and awesome God. And it doesn’t say you’re awesome because you’re dunking a basketball, or because you’re producing a hot hip-hop beat. In Acts Chapter 7 verse 22, it says “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.’’ The Bible says Ethiopians and Egyptians were sons of Ham, and scholars regard Ham as the Father of the Black race. So this book of truth says Black men are awesome and Black men had wisdom. It doesn’t say they were flunking out of school, doesn’t say they were wearing their pants down on their thighs, doesn’t say they were making babies they didn’t take care of. It says they had wisdom. Brothers, if you want to be a real Black man, you have to be a man of wisdom.

The book of truth also says Black men were readers. What?! Too many of our young men are growing up thinking reading and education are not for Black men. I call my wife “Bay’’ because my dad calls my mom “Bay.’’ “Bay, how’s this tie look?’’ or “Bay, can you come here for a second.’’ I like to have a tooth pick in my mouth because after dinner every night, my dad used to put a tooth pick in his mouth. He never told me specifically to call my wife “Bay” or to chew on a tooth pick. I just naturally picked it up from being around him. Well, for the 246 years of slavery here in America, it was against the law for Black folks to read. So for 10 generations, little boys and girls grew up without seeing any Black people that could read. The wisest mother on the plantation, the one everybody went to for wisdom, couldn’t read. The old respected men that everyone looked up to and called Uncle couldn’t read. None of their friends or parents could read. So naturally, they concluded that reading wasn’t for Black people. Just like today, because we don’t see many Blacks playing hockey, we don’t think hockey’s for Black people. It was so bad that they came up with a saying “the best place to hide something from a Black person is – in a book!’’But I’m telling you about a book that says otherwise. It’s a book that says anyone who tells you reading ain’t for Black people is ignorant to the history of Black people. Because in Acts Chapter 8, the apostle Philip met an Ethiopian Eunuch. And when he found this Ethiopian brother, he was reading. He was reading from the book of Isaiah, which is in the Bible. This was more than 2000 years ago, folks. So the slavemasters, the ones who wanted to keep us down and make us clowns, told us reading wasn’t for Black folks, but the book of truth tells us that more than 2000 years ago, Black people, Black men, were reading. Brothers, we need to read, and we need to teach our sons and the boys of this younger generation to read, read, read. Because a real man is not only strong physically; he’s also strong mentally. See, in slavery, we were taught to be strong physically but weak mentally. Strong so you could do more work in the fields, but weak so you never thought about rising up beyond slavery. But a real man is not only strong physically, but mentally as well. The strongest men we’ve produced in this country, the men who made it possible for us to be here today – Richard Allen, Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King – were all readers. So read the Bible, read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, read Roots by Alex Haley, read African and African-American history, read whatever you want. But read. Real men read.

So the book of truth tells us that Black men are awesome men of wisdom, that Black men are readers. And it also says Black men are spiritual. A real man is not only strong physically, but he’s strong mentally and spiritually. In addition to a body and a mind, brothers, you’ve got a spirit. And if your spirit is weak and feeble, you’ll be weak and feeble. You won’t be a man of your word. You’ll tell your wife one thing and do another, tell your kids one thing and do another. You won’t be able to control yourself. You’ll do things you know you shouldn’t do, things you wish you could stop doing; nobody will be able to trust you. Heck, you won’t even trust yourself. Privately, deep down inside, you’ll be ashamed. But when you’re strong spiritually, you’re a real man.

And in Numbers Chapter 10 verse 29, it tells us about a man named Raguel. He was the father-in-law of the great prophet Moses. Moses married an Ethiopian woman, so we’re going to assume Raguel was Ethiopian as well. Raguel means “friend of God.’’ Brothers, if you want to be strong, be a friend of God. And just like you do with all friends, talk to Him, learn about him, study Him, do things that make him happy. You see too, as you study about Raguel, who was also called Jethro, that he was a family man. He had seven daughters and he treated them like princesses. He was intimately involved in their lives; they felt secure being under his roof, in his presence. So part of being a friend of God is taking care of your children. And I don’t mean just buying them expensive sneakers or taking them to ballgames and amusement parks. I mean being there for them every single day – teaching them, training them, talking with them, laughing with them, enjoying them.

So brothers, we’re forgetting about the Black man as pimp, player, gangsta, mack, thug – and moving on to the Black man as Awesome, Wise, Strong Mentally and Strong Spiritually. But there’s one more thing, in Genesis Chapter 10, verse 8, the Bible tells us that the Black man is a builder. He’s a creator. It tells us about a brother named Nimrod. Nimrod was the son of Cush, grandson of Ham. Cush is a Hebrew word that means Black; it’s basically the same as the Greek word Ethiopia. And the Bible says that Nimrod was a “mighty hunter before the Lord.’’  Now this was right after God had destroyed everyone and everything on the earth – except Noah, his three sons and their wives – with a flood. So they were starting over. They had hit rock bottom. They needed somebody to step up and take charge, somebody to set things in order. And this Black man, Nimrod, did it. It says in verse 10 that he built kingdoms, that he got the people back on track. He didn’t just go for his. He didn’t mope, give up, or feel sorry for himself. He took responsibility for making sure his people were taken care of.

And that’s what God’s telling us as Black men to do. Because when you look at us today – Oh yeah, thank God for the President and all the successes we’ve had as a people – but overall, we’re on the bottom. We’re last in every measurable category of productivity – we’ve got the highest rates of fatherlessness, of divorce, of HIV infection, of unemployment, of dropping out of school. And we need some men to step up and be like Nimrod, to take charge, to set things in order, to get our people back on track, to teach this next generation about real manhood, to build our people back up to being “terrible’’ or awesome.

So brothers, let’s believe and be what the book of truth says we are, not what the slavemaster said we were. Let’s be men of wisdom, let’s be readers, let’s be friends of God, and let’s be men who take responsibility for building up our people. Then, in the future, when we come together at the International Table of Brotherhood, we won’t come begging for help, we won’t come as a problem to be solved, as a quandary to be fixed. We’ll come as real Black men. We’ll come as brothers.