“Black men struggle with masculinity so much. The idea that we must always be strong really presses us all down - it keeps us from growing.” -Donald Glover
Dear Black Men,
Donald Glover once wrote that, “Black men struggle with masculinity so much. The idea that we must always be strong really presses us all down - it keeps us from growing.” This quote played in my head when “Moonlight” won the Oscar. Too often in a black males life our masculinity has been defined by being “not gay.” Don’t play with Barbie dolls, cook food in the kitchen, clean just enough to be-clean, and the most damaging “Don’t Cry- Man Up.” As if men are incapable of crying, we were supposed to never shed a tear. I cried at Moonlight. It is a magnificent film of conflict, triumph, self-discovery, blackness, and masculinity.
In the African-American community we often struggle with being accepted and having equal rights yet we chastise and ostracize African-American homosexual males while glorifying homosexual females. The thoughts of a threesome with girls that love girls has become a sensational media image in television, radio, and movies that we consume. Simultaneously we continue to create running jokes of ‘that’s gay.” As if being Gay was some type of weakness or some type of kryptonite that if black males were around it too long we would instaneously die.
I’ve always thought of myself as an open-minded individual. I’ve always considered myself masculine and heterosexual; however, during Moonlight my own biases came forward. I had gone with a thought that it was a coming-to-age story of a young boy turned drug dealer turned man. As the story progressed, I found myself uncomfortable. I started to realize that my own biasness were coming out and I wanted to get up and walk out. This was “Gay” and the societal image of I am a straight man-I can’t be in here watching this came up. It smelled like acidic vomit the stench of my hypocrisy that I teach kids everyday to love each other, respect each other, and to accept others differences. Now when the teacher is tested, I was failing. I sat down. I rooted myself to finish the movie to become what I wish of my students courageous in the face of adversity.
The acting and storyline kept me there wanting to understand why I was so bothered. As the movie progressed, I found myself in a battle of sympathy versus empathy. As a heterosexual black male, I could sympathize with the struggle of identity and being physically assaulted. I was jumped once in a rival school after a game. The feelings of anger, vengeance, fear and vulnerability are real. The next week, I remember feeling alone as often I was alone in classrooms labeled gifted. Labeled with the highest I.Q. in the schools, I became a Guinea pig of sorts in honors classes, clue, and special classes where I was the only black boy. I was a current day popular minstrel show for school administration to show off, “Oooooh look at the black boy think and dance” while greeting strangers for the school.
As the movie went on, tears welled in my eyes, I could not feel empathy because I am not a homosexual male with the triple burden of being black, American, and homosexual. I will never truly feel that conflict of just wanting your own family of blackness to love you. Moonlight establishes this burden so eloquently in this film because it makes you see for just an instance how dangerous being black and gay is. Yet still, I could feel myself trying to disconnect or at least look away from the screen during certain scenes. I started to hurt for Chiron “Little” as he struggled through poverty. The only difference between me and Little was that my mother and father loved me so much that I was never truly conscious of how poor we were until I was much older in high school noticing the difference of our clothes to our neighbors name brands.
As Chiron grew up learning to adapt and blend, I understood my journey that took me on a road similar to the prodigal son paradigm in which I took to the streets for my gold that I thought I deserved. Vowing never to be poor again, I set out on a course to blend and adapt to become tougher to fill in with the boys in my high school and younger years in college. The deeds of my youth were many and I’m not proud of them or the consequences. I understand death too well from watching friend shot and killed to attempted and successful suicides.
Finally Chiron “Black”, shows the love, forgiveness of self and others, redemption and knowledge that comes with finally realizing who and what you are. It was then I wept. Some of my best friends are gay. They are honest, loving and some of the best poets I know and yet I let society choose for me how I position them in relation to me in public. Today, I unpacked the embedded biases of my youth to grow up. Moonlight is a beautiful film. It does not question masculinity any more than being gay makes you less of a man. What Moonlight manages is to force you to come to terms with what your internal ideas of masculinity are.
I am proud to say that I understand that I have some biases in me that need working on to allow me to mature as a man. There is a necessity in life to mature. We can not stay the same in boyish thinking that our masculinity is tied to our external sex organs alone. That we as a black male in this society must be tough robotic creatures to bare the brunt of pain without shedding a tear or admitting that we need love. We all deserve love. We all deserve to understand that someone else’s choices are theirs alone to have the right to choose to define their own masculinity. I stand firm in my belief that this movie is a must see for black males to move past gay bashing, homophobic jokes and quips, and to restore what true masculinity is and should be. Masculinity and the growing up of a black male should be based in the maturity to stand firm in who you are and not the fear of what others will perceive you to be while protecting the rights of all around us to do the exact same in their journey through this world.
To my gay friends, frat bothers, neighbors, sport stars, poets and all those who hide in plain sight out of fear: I truly hope the day comes when movies like this are no longer needed to cause reflection of these biases we hold as a nation. Until then grab a friend, be uncomfortable, and come out more male then when you went in not because you are transformed but because you are willing to transcend the limitations of what this society wants us to be: animals with no soul. We are strong. We are black. We need each other to fight this European hierarchy of oppression towards our black male image in media. We all are men and I will no longer use “gay” as a joke to prove my own masculinity when most gays are more male than some that won’t mature ever will become.
A Black Man