Once, when we were much younger, my dad threatened to hang me and my siblings out the window by our toes and, much to his chagrin, we laughed. We laughed and laughed. The reason we laughed is because my dad is the least violent, most cuddly teddy bear-esque (though possibly the most shit-talkinest) black man I’ve ever met. I say “black man” specifically because it is important to note that as a black female-bodied individual, I have been subject to a large amount of physical violence at the hands of men and those men have always been black.
I know that’s supposed to be a secret. I am not supposed to be allowed to say that most of the violence my body has known comes from black men and I know why. I know what people think about black men — white people, other brown people, even black folks — hell sometimes even black men themselves believe the shit we tell them about black manhood. I know that I am supposed to be on their side; I am supposed to protect black men from a world that is terrified of them and I am supposed to do so by keeping their secrets. I am supposed to do so at the expense of my own body, my own life, and my own sister’s lives. It’s supposed to be a secret that people like me, like us, are often hurt the most by the people who have the greatest access to us, the folks we sometimes even rely on for safety. How could it be otherwise? In a world that seeks to destroy the black man at every turn, we are just about the only people who they have no cause to fear. Because of this, we sometimes have to live in fear of them, and that fear OF them often sits side-by-side with the fear of what may happen TO them.
It means a lot to me that my dad was so gentle as to inspire unending bouts of giggles when he threatened a bunch of elementary school-aged children. It was important that my dad is a black man and that I was not and am not afraid of him. It is important that there are so many black men, young and old that I am not scared of, in spite of the abuses of other black men. It is important because there are a lot of people who have maybe never even been harmed by a black man who are terrified enough to kill one because in their minds, black men aren’t my father, aren’t my brothers, aren’t my best friends and allies, but are instead some monolithic and brutally dangerous animal.
So for this father’s day, I want two things. First, I want all the non-black (especially white) people who read this, who fear black men, in your large and small ways, in your trauma and in your socialization, in your privilege and in your oppression, to remember that my father is also black and so are many father’s like him. I want you to think about why you’re afraid and I want you to ask yourself if all the black men you are afraid of are putting you in danger. I want you to try not to be afraid so that our fathers can be safe.
Second, I want all the black men who read this to know that this is not a betrayal. I am not responsible for the ways you have been pathologized; WE are not responsible for that. But you ARE responsible for every time you hurt us and every time you don’t stand up for us when we have been hurt. Keeping your secrets won’t save you and certainly won’t save us. However, maybe having more black men around like my dad could.
Happy Father’s Day.