Why I Love Being a Black Man

Orville Lloyd Douglas’ very personal essay, “Why I Hate Being a Black Man,” struck a nerve. But clearly there’s another way to look at this.

A building in Washington, D.C., is decorated with a giant print of the 1968 iconic photo of a sanitation strike in Memphis, Tenn., by Ernest Withers. MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/GettyImages

I love that there’s not just one way to be a black man. And while Douglas laments what he perceives as a lack of commonality with black men who enjoy sports and rap music—and his (perhaps) atypical affinity for PJ Harvey—he should know that I’m listening to Harvey’s Dry album right now, while I’m writing this, and that it’s completely OK. Because whoever told him that there’s something per se un-black about liking ’90s-era British folk-punk must not have learned that if you’re feeling it, that’s all that really counts, and that from PJ to Jay Z, it’s all R&B, anyway.

I love the fact that whatever else I do or don’t have in common with other African Americans (or African Canadians), we’re all part of a diaspora that’s endured all the way from slavery days to an era when Michaëlle Jean was Canada’s governor general at the same time Barack Obama was president.

I love the fact that in spite of the stereotypes, if you’re fortunate, you learn in life that there’s nothing mutually exclusive about being black, being American, being—in my case—Jewish and, ultimately, being a person. And that whoever thinks black isn’t beautiful, that’s on them, not you.

And I love the fact that (true story for another time) one of the most discouraging experiences I’ve ever had was the hostility I once encountered in a predominantly black country—illustrating that black people are fallible, just like everyone else.

So do I hate anything about being black? Yes. 

I hate that even in 2013, there are apparently still quite a few commuters who ride the Toronto subway, every day, but won’t sit down next to Orville Lloyd Douglas.

I hate that anybody would have absorbed so much negative reinforcement in their life about who they are and how they look that they’ve come to the conclusion that their blackness consigns them to “a life of misery and shame.”

And I hate that what Douglas wants—“to be treated as an individual”—hinges partly on the pervasiveness of that negative reinforcement, and the narrow-mindedness of anyone who finds it easier to look at black men as somehow fundamentally different.

But I Iove the fact that most black men will tell you: It also depends on how we see ourselves.