Black Men are More than Headlines

The past few months have mercifully come to an end.  It was not a good stretch of headlines for Black men and how they chose to spend their private time with women:

  • In late June, Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial came to a close with a mistrial.
  • In mid July, word spread of a woman who was suing Usher because he allegedly exposed her to herpes.
  • Soon after, Kevin Hart had to combat rumors that he was cheating on his pregnant wife.
  • And just recently, R. Kelly reportedly hired a PR firm in order to respond to allegations that he was brainwashing young women into a “sex cult”.

I could certainly have grabbed some headlines that spoke to the many positive contributions of Black men but those just didn’t capture the imagination of my peers in the same way that the aforementioned examples did.  These were the examples in circulation at the water coolers that I frequent.  The negative, the salacious, and the critical led the way.  It’s all enough for me to want to scream that not all Black men are the immoral and sex-crazed children that the headlines make us out to be.

It all reminds me of the climate that I found myself in when I first decided to start speaking against sexual violence.  I was a junior in college when I was invited by a men’s peer education program to talk about ending rape on campus and abroad.  It all caught me a bit off guard.  It’s not that I was hostile to the group’s message.  I just wasn’t aware that the topic had anything to do with me.  I never thought about rape, much less spoke about it beyond talking about the latest sexual assault investigation in the media spotlight with my boys.

When I look back on things and think about what nudged me to respond to the invitation to speak, I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I didn’t want the group that invited me to be without any Black members.  They seemed to be promoting a noble enough pursuit so I felt that Black voices should be among them.  And it wasn’t lost on me that my voice would be a counter to historical and contemporary stereotypes about Black men and violence.  This was fueled by the fact that, rightly or wrongly, the most prominent names associated with intimate violence that I could think of belonged to Black men.  We were the faces for date rape (Mike Tyson), child sexual abuse (Michael Jackson), domestic violence (Ike Turner), and domestic homicide (O.J. Simpson).  I wanted to put out a counter narrative.

All these years later and I’m still feeling the urge to speak against prevailing stories about Black men.  I’m also still wondering if I should feel this way.  Why should I feel a burden to defend my entire race?  Also, some of these brothers in the headlines are undoubtedly innocent.  Am I just giving fuel to media bias and racism by even responding?

These are questions that I’ve never been able to fully answer for myself so I just choose to focus on the good.  Right or wrong, this visceral urge to speak up in the face of negative commentary about the nature of Black men helped me to the table.  It gave me a little more incentive to lend my voice to a cause on which I should have always been an ally anyway.  My frustrations helped redirect me from my existing life trajectory.  Most men are raised to be hostile or apathetic to the claims that sexual violence is rampant in America and I may have ended up in a very different place if not for being haunted by headlines.

I consider myself to be an ally to the international movement to end sexual violence but I also reside in a body that has historically been demonized as the villain in this fight.  As such, I will likely always feel some degree of internal conflict but I don’t at all regret that decision that I made as a junior in college to lend my voice.  Just as those who have stood for racial equality come to learn, I’m confident that I will find myself on the right side of history.  And I’m thankful to getting angry at news headlines if that’s what led me there.

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