Defending And Excusing Problematic Black Men Aint Love, It's Low Expectations

Mike Pont/Getty Images
Mike Pont/Getty Images

There's a virulent strain of criticism that exists both on the Internet and offline; surfacing whenever a prominent and problematic Black male is called on his fuckshit by other Black people — Black women specifically.


Someone says "Hey, what that person did was fucked up." And then someone accuses the Black person making the critique of being anti-Black and/or anti-Black male. Sometimes, the criticism to the criticism goes even further, and racially-tinged epithets like coon, sellout, and negro bed wench are spat in their direction. And then the wagons already circling around the man in question become reinforced with a coat of self-righteous kevlar. They must protect and defend this man from both the racist and the intra-racial attacks on his actions and character.

If you've been on any predominately Black digital space this year when Lavar Ball or Umar Johnson or Bill Cosby or R. Kelly were discussed, you've undoubtedly seen it. You might have even been surprised by the number of Black people (men and women) willing to die very public and very stupid deaths on the Cosby and Kelly and Ball and Johnson hills. And, you might have been the target of their vehemence.

(Before I continue, just want to make clear that there's a huge difference between what Cosby/Kelly have been accused of doing and Ball/Johnson — neither of whom, as far as I know, have been accused of heinous crimes. I put them together because they're each very high profile Black men, and the types of criticism aimed at the people who criticize them are similar.)

As someone who has been on the receiving end of the criticism of the criticism — just last week, someone on Facebook pointed to a piece I wrote about #TeamLawrence as evidence I'm ghostwriting for the Rothchilds (or something) — I'll admit that it bothers me. The names themselves don't matter much to me. You call me a coon or a sellout, and I'll shrug my shoulders and bite a pancake. My annoyance is more about their abject lack of self-awareness. While they're accusing us of being anti-Black, they're the ones allowing racial stereotypes to dictate their thoughts and actions.

To wit, a common response to the criticism of Lavar Ball's ridiculous bombast is that we're trying to sabotage "the one brotha who's standing up for his kids." And the "rare Black man willing to challenge White people." And "one of the only Black dads out there so active in their kids' lives."

But — and take this whichever way you want — Lavar aint special. Yes, his sons are special basketball players. And he has a special, Trumpian gift for shamelessness and self-promotion. But there are hundred of thousands of Black dads who stand up for their sons just like he does. And are willing to challenge White people just like he does. And are just as active in their kids' lives as he is. The only difference between Lavar Ball and literally any Black dad you can find doing Mikan drills with his son or daughter on a YMCA court today is that Lavar has a megaphone. A megaphone we only bother listening to because his sons are great players.


Excusing his fuckshit and defending him as some rare and precious jewel of Black manhood and Black fatherhood implicitly agrees with the worst stereotypes about Black men and Black fathers. That we're so rare that Lavar Ball has to be handled like the Hope fucking Diamond. The same could be said about Umar Johnson. Who's defended like he's The Last Airbender, when I can personally name, right now without Google, (at least) 40 real actual Black men with real actual PhDs who are knowledgable about race and racism and unafraid to confront Whiteness and aren't misogynists and homophobes and haven't used GoFundMe donations to buy Muscle Milk and Bigen.

Ultimately, this defense is what happens when you've allowed what the world expects of Black men to exist as your standard. You start believing the hype — insisting that A Black Man Doing A Thing is so isolated and rarefied that it's worth excusing all the terrible just to preserve the talent. And while this train of thought might possess the veneer of pro-Blackness, it's actually pervasively anti-Black, as the coddling suggests that these men aren't able to be better people. Like it's impossible for us to be talented and not terrible.


And yea, it's true that there are countless forces out there actively trying to kill us. Police. Donald Trump. Darth Susans. Office potlucks. And we need as much protection from them as we can get. But low expectations will do it too.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



I went out on a date once and this was the conversation.
Him: hope you don't mind but I only do halves on dates
Me: ???
Him: going half and half
Me: not to sound broke but why?
Him: because imma unicorn 🦄
Me: dafug you mean?
Him: Im a Black man who graduated college, no kids, I have my own place, and a job. I'm not fat, not ugly, no STDs, and never been to Jail… in a unicorn 🦄 How many times you gonna find a good black man like me?
Me: well I must be the flucking unicorn slayer because I only date men with them stats and they always pay on date unlike your cheap azz… so good night.

I got a cab and went home