The New Black Manhood

Imagine how black boys must see their futures now. Imagine how the dire statistics might change.


Read the Live Online discussion on THE NEW BLACK MANHOOD with The Root's Marjorie Valbrun.

Many Americans have undoubtedly had an Obama Meltdown Moment by now. It’s that instance when the unimaginable hugeness of the past year, the past few months and the past few days suddenly hits you and you say to yourself, “Oh my God, we have a black president.”

Unlike my friends who cried while watching Barack Obama give his acceptance speech on Nov. 4, or while watching him give his inaugural address last week, my meltdown occurred while I was watching CNN a day after the election. On the screen was a grade-school classroom of black boys discussing Obama’s victory. One after another, each student stood up to speak—backs straight, crisp white shirts tucked neatly in their belted pants—to tell their classmates what Obama’s election meant to them.

One boy tried three times to put his feelings into words, but he just could not get a full sentence out. On the fourth try, he put his head down on his desk and began to cry. His classmates crowded around to comfort him. Some put their arms around his shoulders; others patted his back.

It’s OK, they gently told him. It’s OK, man.

Tears welled in the eyes of their teacher, a young white man clearly proud of his young charges at this all-black, all-boy, public charter school. The CNN correspondent reporting the story was also visibly moved. I cried, too.

I wanted to hug those boys and was grateful to have witnessed such a poignant moment. And each time I recounted the story to friends and family, I cried again, not just for the boys at the school but for every black boy in this country, because I knew that as wonderful as Obama’s election was for all Americans, it was a special gift to them.

That scene in the classroom was compelling not just because it was so moving, but because it was so telling. It spoke volumes about how black boys—this supposed endangered species, these future men whose futures, we are repeatedly told, have a better chance of being marred by bleak social realities than graced by educational and economic opportunities—will now see themselves.

The boy who cried about Obama’s election may not have been able to articulate this, but he had to understand on some level the significance of the moment: If Obama can become president, maybe I can do something big with my life, too. I wonder how many black boys, and black girls, too, are now thinking along those lines.