Seeing Heaven in the Face of Black Men (www.heaveninthefaceofblackmen.com) was published on August 28, 2009. That is over four years ago and still, when I hear myself say the title out loud, equating the image of heaven with Black men, something inside me just feels good. I remain excited about the possibilities of this image playing a part in changing the image of Black Men in America, from within and from without, as both are important. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ik4vx1pUf0) I said in my book that I will know that America has come a long way on the road to racial healing and justice when we expect to, want to and actually see heaven in the face of Black men. I truly believe progress has been made in that regard and I also believe that the remaining hurdles are foreboding.
The negative images of Black Men have been repeated and rehearsed over and over: the drug dealer, the criminal, the absentee father. We’ve all been almost irreparably stained by these depictions. But perhaps the violent criminal image is the most devastating to the well-being of all Black men because it reinforces the idea that we are to be feared. Since we are feared we can, for example, get shot by the police or others, while face down on the ground and handcuffed. To reinforce the story that we are to be feared, a certain question gets raised and bandied about over and over and over. Are there more Black men in prison than in college? Or the statement is made that “there are more Black men in prison than in college.” And Black boys hear this and hear this and here this! Every time that question is raised, or that declarative statement made, Black men get further linked, in the minds of black boys (and everyone else), to prison. Oh no, not to college, but to prison because so many people are prone to see Black men as criminals already. Not to mention that the very question itself is insulting.
We have to rewrite the above narrative in an entirely different way. First, it is important to understand that the fact that there are not more Black men in prison than in college and that the majority of Black men in prison are not there for violent crime but rather for non-violent drug offenses, does not matter! What matters is what people think is true because that is what influences their minds and hearts. How about rewriting the criminal narrative and replacing it with a student success narrative and talk about the fact that the number of black men enrolled in college has almost doubled over a ten year period. If prison comes up, talk about the fact that among 18-24 year olds, the college to prison ratio is 4:1.* Do you think it would help all of us if we thought more about the image of an increasing number of college bound Black men and shared that information over and over with our Black boys? I’m not saying some Black boys don’t have problems nor am I minimizing the prison issue; I’m saying if we keep focusing on the deficits of black boys were going to see more Black boys with deficits. We certainly won’t see heaven in their face nor will we motivate them to be better by continually citing negative statistics about people who look like them. I’m saying look at a person the way they could be and they become what they should be. As I heard recently at a program honoring Black boys, with the right encouragement we can teach them to fly even without wings!
With all the stereotypes, negative depictions and cases where the criminal profile actually does fit, it is hard to free our minds. However I’m reminding all of us that there is heaven in the face of Black men and boys all over this country. Look for heaven in the face of black men as much as you can. You will see it more and more and if you see it more and more, something inside you will change and you will feel good about it and better about people who look like me and in some cases who look like yourself. You will be part of rewriting the race story in America. Grab your pen! Also check out this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ik4vx1pUf0
*This information was obtained from the documentary “Hoodwinked” which I highly recommend and the producers got many of their statistics from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice.