Rodney King’s death slapped me in the face and reminded me of how the media has shaped my sense of self as a black man and as a gay man.
I grew up in a pretty insular environment. As I mentioned in the very first paragraph of my very first post, I didn’t experience overt racism in my neighborhood. And my parents (unfortunately, to my detriment) did their best to shield me from such. Until I started venturing into the world alone, my experience with how society would see me was limited to television. Even the DC riots are only a vague memory. Distant–like the smoke I saw rising over another side of the city. However, watching the coverage of the death of Dr. King was the beginning of a conscious and unconscious lesson about how the world (or at least the United States) would see me–not as an individual, but as a member of a dangerous and suspect group with little societal value. Which, in looking back, was a cultural and personal earthquake that to this day continues to give aftershocks.
You see, in my world Black Men were Barbers and Soldiers and Businessmen and–in the case of my father– Systems Analysts for National Aeronautics and Space Administrations, who tracked Apollo missions when they flew high above Greenbelt Md. They were Policemen and Mayor’s Assistants and Lawyers who came to my house every fourth Friday of the month to play Pinochle, while I watched and listened under the dining room table and stole the delectable hors d’oeuvre my mother made for them. They were my heroes and my confidants. My protectors and agents of discipline. And they were even the ones, who, when my father keeled over on his desk from a stroke on the day he put in his retirement papers, steered me through my adolescence while he recuperated.
And even taught me about being Gay.
But the rest of the world had a very different perception of males that looked like me.
Every time Rodney King was hit by a cop on that grainy video I watched with the rest of the country, I flashed to experiences of my own. Of a security guard following me around a store; or the face of the casting director who literally told me I was the best actor she’d seen in a month of Sundays, but that she couldn’t cast me because the “…client doesn’t want to ‘go Black’.” As the batons of the officers flew, my heart was broken again as I heard my favorite college roommate, during a heated argument, say “Why don’t you bring out your switch blade and cut me? I know all you people have one!” I have a feeling that a whole lot of black men across America flinched as they felt their own pain reflected in King’s.
And when I watched that White Bronco going down Sunset Blvd, I remember thinking to myself: “Well, here’s another reason for whites to fear the Big Bad Black Man.” And as much as my heart bled for the Goldman and Brown families when the verdict was read, there was an irrational satisfaction at his getting off. The bastard should have BEEN in jail on spousal abuse charges so that he wouldn’t have been able to commit the murders. But after having read about the acquittals of obviously guilty men in cases like Emmett Till and others, it was hard at that time for me to be objective. But karma is a bitch, isn’t it O.J.?
Everybody in the world has to deal with discrimination in some form or fashion at some point in their lives. I sometimes feel bad for white American men: they are the go-to-guys for all that ills the country. Of course it’s hard to stay empathetic when so many deserve our ire. My point isn’t that black men are special in their journey. But I do think the particular dynamics are unique. And I also think that my/our perspective isn’t talked about or heard very much in societal discussions. I wish you could see Black Men through my eyes–the good AND the bad. King was no hero. But he was an icon–a symbol not only of Police Brutality, but also of how our country sees Black Men. And unfortunately how we sometimes see ourselves.
You must forgive the Queen. He doesn’t usually use this terminology to describe black people. Especially because anyone who has read the book knows that Uncle Tom wasn’t even an Uncle Tom. But this brother need serious help.
Definition of UNCLE TOM by Merriam-Webster
1: a black who is overeager to win the approval of whites (as by obsequious behavior or uncritical acceptance of white values and goals)
2: a member of a low-status group who is overly subservient to or cooperative with authority
— Uncle Tom·ism noun
I’ve loved Bill Maher ever since his Politically Incorrect days. Granted, I think he’s schooled by all the sisters he dates, but the man gets it. Congressman: with any respect that may be due, get rid of your 80’s Kid ‘N Play hairstyle and horn-rimmed glasses and join us in this century. Yo’ mama ain’t raise no fool. Stop acting like one.
But I also know that there is a change in the air.
Sometime, when you’re walking somewhere and you pass a group of young men–slow down and listen to their conversation. Once you get past the obligatory adolescent bravado and the talk about girls, cars and music they often converse about other stuff that’s important to them. Like what they want to be–their ideas and dreams. If you listen for a while, you’ll hear the same kinds of conversations we used to have. That we STILL have. Only they now include our hopes for the young men in our lives.