Whether it’s W.E.B. Du Bois unpacking the question, “How does it feel to be a problem?”—as the unspoken query that society has historically put to black America—or the Notorious B.I.G. unapologetically claiming Casanova status, despite being a “heartthrob never, black and ugly as ever,” the issue of black self-image never leaves us.
Which—no matter how jarring it sounds—takes guts to acknowledge, and calls out for discussion.
Because we live in an era when women swoon for Idris Elba and Malcolm Gladwell lives atop the best-seller list, but black men from all walks of life are still often seen, just like Douglas describes, as men to be feared, avoided and—worst-case scenario—“despised by the rest of the world.”
We can’t ignore, as Douglas notes, that we’re often associated with “negativity and criminal suspicion.” And that in order to avoid unwanted confrontation, many black men grudgingly accept a paradox—so artfully explained by rocker Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson after the Trayvon Martin verdict—of “a life in which you think of other people’s safety and comfort first, before your own.”
There are, indeed, situations—like the conspicuous empty seat next to Douglas on a Toronto subway—that could make a black man (or anyone) feel “awkward, uncomfortable and annoyed.”
But while I understand Douglas’ personal struggle to reconcile the “black is beautiful” ideal against being held in what he describes as the “personal prison” of his own blackness, I’d like to offer a another conclusion that comes from the very same quandary: I love being a black man.
Let me tell you why.
I love how James Baldwin said that being black is sometimes “so outrageous” that the best way to be a black man is just “to find a way” to make it work.