of being a Black man is understanding that you can’t tell all of the truth, or you won’t be alive long enough to tell any truth at all. This is where the delicate dance of bargaining or compromising enters the vocabulary. It’s all about deciding which truths to tell.
This is where you find the acceptance of reductive histories of Black male heroes, chopping their legacies down to near meaningless platitudes like “I Have a Dream” or “By Any Means Necessary,” just so they’ll be remembered outside of February.
It’s wanting the world to take in the genius of James Baldwin so badly, that you agree in principle to never mention the fact of his sexuality, or even come to hate that part of him yourself. It’s not even bothering to learn Bayard Rustin’s name.
Bargaining is taking the month of March to play a series of nationally televised basketball games, viewed by millions, for absolute no compensation, scholarship notwithstanding, in order to have access to an otherwise inaccessible education or, more hopefully, the shot at a lucrative professional contract that becomes the financial hope of your entire extended family.
This is the trade-off where you allow Jay-Z’s most popular song to date to be a tepid and schmaltzy ode to the locale that birthed him, so you can keep lyrics like “yeah I sold drugs for a living, that’s given, why is it?/Why don’t you try to visit the neighborhoods I lived in/My mind been through hell, my neighborhood is crime central/where cops lock you up more than try to defend you” for yourself.
It’s supporting the rise of Barack Hussein Obama in the same city where Fred Hampton was killed. Bargaining is survival.
4. Depression. This stage isn’t always visible. In part, that has to do with Black men going to great lengths to conceal their emotions, because we have learned early on that showing any signs of perceived “weakness” is not masculine and/or can get you killed. But it’s more than that. Like anger, Black male depression is pathologized. When it is assumed that Black men are on rampant drug users and alcoholics, one wouldn’t view that behavior as a sign of anything more than their natural state. Also, depression can express itself among Black men in ways that aren’t necessarily recognizable to the clinical definition. When Black men are suicidal we don’t call it depression, we call it gang wars. Depression is the inevitable consequence of every day facing a society that makes it clear it doesn’t believe you have a right to exist.
5. Acceptance. This doesn’t happen just once. At every step, a Black man has to come to terms with his station. Acceptance doesn’t mean defeat, as we wouldn’t have survived this long in this country if we simply gave up at every obstacle. What it does mean is that Black men are consistently remembering that they are Black men, and that means something wicked for the rest of the world.
Yes, being a Black man is exhausting. But unlike grief, Black manhood consists of a crucial sixth stage, one that helps you cope with it all. This consists of throwing caution to back to history and telling the Black-rage-filled-truth anyway, damn the consequences. It’s the embracing of one’s Black self, gay self, bisexual self, and/or trans self as one whole. This is about creating culture that becomes indispensible. It’s writing our history in its totality. It’s where Black men forge their own identities in defiance of all the world’s expectations.
We call this resistance. It’s not simply a matter of surviving. This is how we learn to live.