Cultivating black boy joy
My favourite author, the incomparable Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once wrote that:
“It is pointless raising feminist daughters and not feminist sons”
The statement has become an increasingly omnipresent thought of mine when i think about how I will approach the challenging but honourable task of raising somebodies future husband and father. The supposed “head of the family” who will have to go out into the world with prejudgment looming over him like an ominous grey cloud.
As a self-styled modern woman I aim to raise an equally modern man, who also believes in Adichie’s notion that men should too be fighting for equality amongst the sexes; as it is men who are the most harshly affected by the current patriarchal system.
I became a “boy mum” almost five years ago and have since become hyper-intrigued by the male perspective and the idea of ‘black boy joy’ being revolutionary. A black boy smiling, dancing and living freely is such a rare instance that we must hashtag it? — this cannot be where the patriachy has led us to?
The below was drafted for my young son to read (when he’s capable of reading), to help him along once the combat pant green walls of manhood begin to close in on him and his spontaneous dances and giggles go from cute to peculiar.
You can file it under alternative parenting advice that you probably shouldn’t follow.
5 rules to raising a carefree black boy:
1. Respect woman as a standard
Don’t value a woman on what she can offer you. Do not offer her admiration, defence or esteem just because she is your sister, cousin or your boys other half. Don’t offer her respect just because she is dressed demurely & in your eyes must “respect herself”;
Treat every woman or girl you meet with respect because she is a human being, therefore no less deserved of it than yourself.
Women are intriguing, and as beautifully complexed as can be. They operate a little differently to men, through intuition and emotion that riddles even them. Remember that displaying emotion don’t make one weak and an emotional woman can also be powerful.
Bearing that in mind, physical strength between the sexes is incomparable — so when disagreements occur, raise your words and never your fists.
2. Maintain a fluid approach to gender
Fun Fact: When you were a baby, I would get frustrated with the lack of cute clothes on offer in the little boys section of most high street stores, so I would veer off course into the girls aisles to take my pick from anything I felt would suit your steez.
Just like me, I don’t want you to be tied down by labels, especially ones that hinder your development.
Now I’m not expecting you to continue what your mum started and come high heel shopping with me , but i do want you to take a fluid approach to gender & the roles surrounding it. Know that clothes and activities and emotions are not tied to genders — women don’t have to cook and men don’t have to fix things. You should cry as much as you need to — it will always be ok with me.
3. Banish the black male stereotype
black boys are the most conditioned members of society.
To keep what is a naturally strong willed human in check you will be sold to, surveillanced and scrutinised daily. You are 28 times more likely than your white friends, to be stopped by police in the UK, and outside of it that number only grows and the dangers get even more alarming.
I don’t want this to frighten you, but I do want it to make you aware of how you conduct yourself in public.
Feel free to indulge in our beautifully rich culture but understand that the stereotype for a black male is uneducated, aggressive and dangerous — do not perpetuate it.
Speak in Multicultural London English if you wish. Speak it loudly when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings and feel secure that you’re just as valuable as those who don’t.
Listen to music from Fela Kuti to Future. Explore the vast array of melodies that black men just like you have created. But remember that most music aimed at the black male has a carefully constructed rhetoric of materialism and misogyny, don’t get sucked into this.
You live in a diverse city and so indulge, roam freely beyond what you know & what’s expected of you. But please, remember your roots & protect them fiercely. You yourself are a delicious blend of Africa & the Caribbean so journey into both but ultimately be true to you.
4. Keep hyper-masculinity far from your door
I’ve waged a personal war against hyper masculinity and don’t want it anywhere near you, son.
I believe that hyper-masculinity is just as damaging to men as it is to women.
It tells you that you cannot cry or show emotion, and if you do then you are less of a man for it. Please ignore this idea & anyone who subscribes to it. It’ll cripple your self-development and only allow you to indulge in “manly” activities such as football, cars or computer games.
If you fancy taking up ballet let me know & I’ll drive you to classes, if you enjoy art we’ll go to the Saatchi, National Gallery and more.
Just as hyper masculinity threatens women with violence and emotional abuse it will leave you void of emotion
Son, there is nothing more beautiful than a man who isn’t afraid to express himself.
You may meet people who will feel more comfortable with you saying that you’re a gang member than gay; again, ignore them; and if that ever becomes a question for you then we’ll deal with it together.
5. Broaden your horizons
As much as I love our little patch of London, I cant bypass the fact that it’s a cesspit for black boys coveting the things that don’t matter in life (drugs, ego, material possessions etc). You may wonder why i peppered your childhood with visits to museums, farms, stay-cations in the UK countryside and trips back to your parent countries. It was to make you aware firstly of your privilege, and also that there’s more to life than the concrete jungle you’re growing up in the heart of. It will be bittersweet but I want you to live on the other side of the world at some point in your long life, for a few months or maybe years. I want you to experience all that life has to offer and to interact with people of all backgrounds & become inspired by their stories, so that when the time comes to make your own life choices you will be well informed.