There ain’t nothing like being a righteous Black man. Not just Black by accident of birth, pigmentation and gender-assigning chromosomes. A righteous Black man—unapologetically confident about defining Blackness for himself and never ashamed to claim it in mixed company. He’s OK with knowing that Black maleness is both hard work and a dangerous occupation in America. Black manhood knows struggle from birth to the campaign trail, public school to the Ivy League, from ashy to classy. It is also knows the triumph in getting’ over, bustin’ loose, and in becoming. It means that even as the rest of the world steals our flow, we can and will always just create the next new thing, because by the time the larger culture sees fit to co-opt our trend, we were already done with it anyway. On to the next.
Righteous Black manhood’s a tough act with incredible dialogue. There are rules to this 'ish. We wrote you a manual. Below is excerpted from “The Black Man’s Guide to Life,” a comprehensive reference guide which appears in the November issue of EBONY—on newsstands now. Want more? Check EBONY.com each week for our new weekly column of the same name.
While there are many rules and lessons on the journey that is Black manhood, we've identified 10 of the most important ones every brother must master. Peep game.
1) Hit The Road, Jack
There’s only one way to become a man of the world. Listen, man: your lack of a passport is not the business. Neither is having an empty one. In fact, for the ultimate lesson in code switching, don’t just get out of your neighborhood; leave the country. Nothing gets your grown-man card punched like venturing so far from home that you need a new language just to ask for toilet paper. It also informs you about the larger world in ways that staying close to home never can. The perspective you’ll gain from say, spending J’ouvert morning dancing through the streets of Port of Spain or a few nights in surprisingly modern Tripoli or touring museums in Paris just can’t be rivaled in familiar environs. Kiratiana Freelon, author of Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Black Paris, says travel brings other advantages: “If you look at any travel group, anywhere, it’s always 70 to 80 percent Black women and 20 percent Black men. I don’t know what the reason is for that, but I know it’d be different if you saw how the women react when they do see Black men traveling in their circles.”
2) Cash Rules
Every man needs to keep his money on his mind. There won’t be any weekend jaunts to St. Tropez if the money’s funny. Staying on top of your finances is what makes everything else around you tick; after all, what’s the point of working every day with nothing to show for it? Although a Pew Research study stated that as many as 40 percent of mothers are now the breadwinners in their households, that doesn’t mean men or women have let go of the idea that we need to be able to hold our own at the bank to be worth our salt. Put another way: A fringe benefit of making sure your financial house is in order is that it gives you a leg up with ladies who are interested in working with a brother to build something for the future. But whether you’re single or partnered, you need to know how to budget, save and invest. Tips on how to get your financial house in order can be found in the November issue of EBONY.
3) Stay Down With Your Boys
Keeping the posse together can deceptively feel easier than ever in the social media age. But status updates can never substitute for seeing your homeys in the flesh. You often need eye contact over a frosty brew to tell what’s really going on with the old crew. Everybody’s schedule gets hectic once job promotions take place, girlfriends become wives and kids start running around. But take the time once a month to regroup with at least one of your closest homeboys who knows you like family. You’re more than just Daddy or a husband, and your social life shouldn’t have an age expiration date. Remember, these guys knew you when.
4) Handle Workplace Racism
You’re not crazy: That off-color quip about Black folks at the morning meeting really was insensitive, even if everyone else laughed at it. And the isolation you feel from your co-workers isn’t imagined; it really is a slog to grind it out daily where you’re in the social and cultural minority. Your Spidey senses about what should, and does, make you uncomfortable around other races exist for a reason. They’ve been honed by a lifetime of responding to slights, subtle and grand, real and perceived. The caveat: As legit as your guarded posture might be, it may be helping to limit you. Think about it: When’s the last time you asked for a colleague’s help with an assignment or your boss’ advice on a promotion? If you answered “never,” your defensive posture may be getting in the way of your ascension. Our 13.5 percent unemployment rate may be the only labor statistic in which we outpace White men, so we can’t derail our own progress being too concerned about the perceived biases of others. “Don’t get caught up in projecting what you think other people are thinking about you. That will put you in a bad position,” says Rich Jones, a career consultant and recruiter in New York. Check out the November issue of EBONY for advice on how to properly handle issues of race on the job.
5) Perfect the Art of Code Switching
Early in my career, I went to a meeting with my boss at Boston’s Ritz-Carlton. The session was in the presidential suite, which had a basic-for-$1,500-a-night bathroom that included side-by-side toilets. That’s what my 26-year-old mouth sputtered to my boss, whose face registered something less than, “I’m firing you today,” but more than, “I can’t believe you opened your mouth to say that!” Today, my world-traveled self knows that second toilet was a bidet. Race and racism aren’t our only limiting factors. How we navigate those spaces successfully, without losing ourselves, is known as code switching, the cultural equivalent of being fluent in two languages. In 2013, it has new connotations because brothers have expanded our reach to everywhere from academia to newsrooms to the White House. “This is very much about building social capital,” says Brandon Frame, a 25-year-old educator and founder of The Black Man Can, a nonprofit that provides curriculum for young brothers on how to operate beyond their comfort zones. “It starts with education, which largely is about maintaining the status quo. But we have to learn how to network and be comfortable beyond our norms [to experience the] norms of the larger community.”
6) Master Your Style
How you look walking into a room is as important as what you do inside the room. What do people know about you at a glance? Nothing. Your character is even less visible than your socks, staying hidden until after people make their assumptions about you. This is doubly true for Black men, whose images are already blotted by media portrayals and die-hard stereotypes. In church, on dates, at work, during happy hour or in the street, you’re being judged, so the imperative to step up your sartorial game isn’t just about keeping up with the Joneses; it’s about getting in the door—whichever door—unscathed by the court of public opinion. “A lot of times, specifically in places that are melting pots, you are the representation of what a Black man looks like, how he dresses and how he acts,” says Chris Law, a New York-based style blogger. Don't miss Law's tips on what items every brother should own and how to keep your wardrobe fresh without replacing it each year in, you guessed it, the November issue of EBONY.
7) Please (and Be Pleased) Between the Sheets
Two things to note about brothers and sex: We love it, but we don’t need a side of “I love you” to be satiated. That, however, doesn’t mean we always know what gets her there, so let us help you out: Blow her mind by being all-the-way honest. You know what a woman’s biggest erogenous zone is? Her brain, bro. Sure, you might be able to find a few hot spots to help things along, but if you really want it to go down, you’ve got to engage her mentally. And that starts with being able to actually hear what she’s saying. It also means being up front with your intentions. In other words, if you only want sex, tell her. If sex alone isn’t enough, tell her. And if you feel the terms of engagement shift in the middle of your, ahem, relationship? Tell. Her. You might not get the response you’re looking for, but you’ll be giving her the space to make an informed decision, and you’ll both benefit in the end. Go there: I shouldn’t have to tell you where there is; if you’ve followed our advice on listening, she will. Sure, men are visual, but women fantasize, too. And the more willing and open you are to what her ideas of a great freak session are, the more likely you are to have your fantasies reciprocated. Lower your inhibitions; increase your pleasure.
8)…And Learn to Love Safe Sex
In 2010, the rate of new HIV infections for Black men was 103.6 in every 100,000. That’s seven times higher than that of White men, twice that of Latino men and three times as high as Black women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We shouldn’t need to say more, but clearly, some brothers haven’t gotten the message. Condoms are sexy; they add to the level of trust between you and your partner, who will know you care enough about her and yourself to make sure you’re both protected. Never ever skimp on this detail.
9) Settle Down (When You’re Ready)
You mastered the art of procuring late nights and early mornings and (hopefully) come through unscathed. Now what? Don’t be the proverbial 40-year-old at the club, chasing booty you’re old enough to have created. “We have to put more thought and more feeling into how we navigate the dating pool,” says Jozen Cummings, who writes about dating for the New York Post and the blog Until I Get Married. “The idea of taking advantage of the dating pool and the numbers is just wrong. We don’t date numbers.” That’s a good thing, because ratios don’t tell you anything about a woman’s character or the compatibility of the couple. They won’t speak to your, or her, maturity level or lack thereof. And what they won’t tell you is how to break your old player ways. Remember our point about honesty? It applies to strictly physical relationships, and it applies here.Compromise. It’s a huge word for somebody who’s only known the freedom of being able to do what he wants, when he wants and how. But there’s enjoyment in knowing how to give up a sliver of that freedom to accommodate someone else and receiving the same thing in return.
Be patient. Sometimes she’ll zag when you zig. Sometimes you just won’t get it no matter how much you try. Those are the moments when the fight-or-flight response tilts way to the right, but if you’re with the right person (key caveat there, bruh), you’ll see the value in Otis Redding’s maxim: Try a little tenderness. Be easy for a minute and hear her out, or give her the time and space to figure out how to best communicate with you. Again, rewards abound. By no means is that a comprehensive list of all the tools you’ll need to make it last forever. But it should help in the event you do bump heads with someone you actually want to hear say more than your name in a low, throaty groan.
10) Know That Fatherhood=Our Greatest Gift
When my youngest son moved to Connecticut with his older brother and me, I asked him if he was happy about the move. “Yes, Dad. Because I get to be with you.” And with that, everything about my adult life until that point—the incessant work on my career, the struggle to foster a sense of identity and discipline in two Black boys, my frustration with it all—was validated.
Brothers, you will never, ever do anything more rewarding than raising your children into healthy young men and women. Too often, discussions of Black fatherhood devolve into cursory recitation of ugly stats. What the statistics ignore is that the data doesn’t mean ALL Black fathers are deadbeat losers. The number of single dads with custody of their kids jumped by almost 400,000 between 1999 and 2009. It’s time for the narrative that brothers don’t hold up our end of the parenting bargain to change, and we have to be the ones to do it. “The biggest barrier we face is overcoming the stereotype that we’re not involved, and that we don’t participate. But this is not the only story,” says Frederick J. Goodall, founder of MochaDads.com, a blog and resource website for Black fathers. Because of the absence of so many fathers, Black men who are parenting need to be more visible in our communities to help many of the children who don’t have male role models. The positive benefits to our community are immeasurable, as is the joy in hearing words such as, “Because I get to be with you” from a child’s mouth.
Check out the National Fatherhood Initiative and All Pro Dad for resources. And that man in your life who needs a little chin check when it comes to his own daddy duties? Be man enough to give it to him.
Keith Reed is a senior editor at ESPN The Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @k_dot_re