The Need to Redefine Black Manhood


September 11, 1991|By GREGORY P. KANE

When we search for the reasons 6-year-old Tiffany Smith wascaught in the crossfire that snuffed out her life, we should not rush to judgment and automatically blame ''drug dealers.'' That was the mistake made in the shooting death last year of Jay Bias Jr. When the facts came out, it transpired that Mr. Bias died as the result of an argument he did everything he could to avoid.

The only fact we know in the case of Tiffany Smith is that she died as the result of an argument she had no part in. The argument may have been about drugs. It may not. But the common denominator in the deaths of Tiffany Smith and Jay Bias is that both incidents involved young black men who were hostile, quick-tempered and eager to seek permanent solutions to temporary problems.

With this type of mindset prevalent among young black American men, is it any wonder they have the highest homicide (( rate in the world? We can speculate forever as to its causes. White racism, the traditional whipping boy among black Americans, is almost certain to be pegged as one. Availability of handguns -- which has aroused the ire and passion of Jay Bias Sr. -- has been cited as another.

But I contend that macho, sexist attitudes among black men are the primary cause. Such attitudes are, in fact, now a greater threat to blacks in America than white racism.

That assertion will draw wails of protest from many blacks. I stand by it. I offer as exhibit A in support of my argument the dead bodies of Jay Bias Jr. and Tiffany Smith. I offer as Exhibit B the growing body count among America's black men.

When the writer Michelle Wallace made this charge in the late 1970s, black people chose to kill the messenger. The poor woman was condemned and excoriated by virtually every segment of the black body politic. One magazine reported the stress on her became so great that she nearly suffered a nervous breakdown. If so, at least she had the satisfaction of knowing that she suffered for saying something that was true. Had we listened to her then and taken steps to change macho, sexist attitudes among black men then, we might have avoided the terrifying body count we see now.

Let's not delude ourselves into thinking that drugs are the sole reason for the high rate of homicide among black men. Some black men are killed for reasons having nothing to do with drugs. Nor should we overestimate the impact of the candlelight ''Stop the Killing'' vigil held in the wake of Tiffany Smith's death. Until black men re-examine, re-evaluate and change the macho, sexist attitudes among us, the body count will continue to soar.

The very night of the candlelight vigil in memory of Tiffany Smith, I accompanied my father to my uncle's funeral. We were sitting on my aunt's porch, some two blocks from where Tiffany was murdered, when we witnessed an argument between a man and woman two doors up. The man stormed off, threatening to return ''in a second.'' He did, armed with a shotgun. It was only because the woman exercised the better part of valor and retreated indoors that a repeat of the gunplay that took Tiffany Smith's life was prevented. I have no idea what the argument was about, but I'm sure it was nothing worth dying for.

The guilt for Tiffany Smith's death rests on the shoulders of those African-American males who have decided to resolve violently conflicts that can be resolved peacefully.

It rests with those male rap groups who employ the lyrics of sexism and misogyny, and whose videos feature so much macho posturing and strutting that they must leave the viewer wondering if black men swagger in the womb.

The whole concept of ''black manhood'' needs redefining. It's too bad that, collectively, black men aren't men enough to start the process.

8.Gregory P. Kane is a Baltimore office worker.

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