“…it’s a trick… thinking its a right of passage for a black male, ain’t real n!##@ til you enter that jail…”
-Royce Da 5’9″, “Tricked”- The Allegory
That line hits home hard. As a black man who, as a child, knew nothing of racial conflict and black stereotypes, as I look back, I see my preteen childhood as a testament to that truth–we’ve seen prison as a right of passage for us.
It’s an unspoken tradition– a vile trick that has effected, to this day, the lives of many young black men and boys. When confronted with great adversity, children normally look to their heroes for guidance on how to handle life’s issues. But many black boys suffer from America’s increasing culture of fatherlessness. What is a little black boy to do then?
Due to the struggles of black men to provide for their families in the overtly racist America of the very recent past, they found themselves faced with a life threatening dilemma– make their own way with any means available to them, or suffer the sight of a family deprived. In a country that blatantly disapproved of them solely because of their appearance, black men expressed their anger with American society by disregarding the laws – the same laws, that legally ostracized them. Therefore, the black rebel became a symbol of heroism for black Americans across the country– strong black men who stared into the face of overwhelming odds and chose survival. This became the definition of a black man. But this is also where the trick began…
It’s not a secret – for a time, America was all but inhospitable to black people. Sadly but understandably, what it has meant to be black has become an embrace of anti-establishment ideology. Why? Well, we have to understand that every prominent black American hero, at the hands of white people, have been harassed, beaten, imprisoned, and/or killed! We think if we are bold like our heroes, who had to brave the violence and strife brought on by racism and the government leaders who either participated or enabled it, only then are we strong enough to be black men in this country.
If the world of American racism is symbolized as a battleground, then the prison system would be behind enemy lines. The jails became a place where survivors of the struggle were held. The same way we honor prisoners of war, we honor the ex-convict black man who survived the extent of white oppression.
As the world evolves, so too should the mindset and model of the black American male. But I fear that if there is always a going to be a battlefield (societal racism), there are always going to be fighters, and prisoners of war (black men behind bars).
This Black History Month, let’s take some time to reflect on how we can change this for future generations.