Carter G Woodson once said, “If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.” Many people have sought to describe how they see the experience of Black males as reflected in film, music, and print media. However, society has fallen woefully short in adequately defining the varying lived experiences of Black males. Instead, Black males have been reduced to stereotypical caricatures such as Sambo, Mandingo, or the magical negro. These ways of thinking about Black males has led to the perpetuation of false narratives such as (1) we have no history prior to colonization or slavery, (2) all roads lead to prison for males of color, (3) males of color are absentee fathers, and that (4) we are apathetic and unmotivated to succeed.
As reflected in Carter G. Woodson’s quote, the constant exposure to these narratives is intentional and designed to communicate an inferior status. Furthermore, due to internalized racism, conflict with societal expectations, rigid masculinity, and peer groups with low standards for acceptance but high standards for maintenance of group membership many Black males are seeking the vary back door built to oppress us. However, we can kick the back down by (1) defining the backdoor, (2) reclaiming our narrative, and (3) sharing the message with other Black males.
Defining the back door
What’s waiting at the back door for Black males is a limited narrative that suggests that we should see ourselves as struggling mentally and physically too afraid to step into the conditions that have traumatized Black males in the form of institutional, cultural, and individual racism. That we are undereducated and underemployed. And that everyday is just another step closer to our inevitable fate of taking up residence in one of the fine suites by the prison industrial complex. However, we are more and have accomplished more, and have had to overcome more than what the statistics indicate. But to fully realize this, we must reclaim our narrative, conquer the enemy within, and strengthen our connections with other Black males.
Reclaiming our narrative
Three steps must be taken in an effort to reclaim the Black male narrative back from the oppressive and harmful clutches of society. First, we must expose ourselves and other Black males to the varying ways that Black masculinity is performed and expressed as well as differential experiences of Black male “success.” Secondly, Black males must reflect inward in regard to the experience of internalized racism and “conquer the enemy within” so that we will no longer be harmed by stereotypes and negative societal expectations. Lastly, we must work to help other Black males to be seen for the world changing, family raising, innovative, courageous, leaders they are capable of being.
Sharing the message
We must teach our Black males more about the back door that has been built for them with the materials of racism, stereotypes, and conflicting expectations. As they work to reclaim their narrative, it will be important for Black males to share their message of Black male self-determination. Specifically, Black males must communicate that Woodson’s proverbial back door is socially constructed and Black males can stop the building of the door. Additionally, Black males have the power to reclaim their narrative and the ability to tell their story of being seen and conquering the socially constructed enemy within. Lastly, Black males have a collective responsibility to help other Black males (especially our youth) to be seen, to de-stigmatize asking for help, and caution against a rigid adherence to traditional masculine norms.