To be a black male is to be always at war, and no flight to the county can save us, because even there we are met by the assumption of violence, by the specter of who we might turn on next."
So saith Ta-Nehisi Coates in his brilliant memoir The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. Coates is correct, but he might have added this: Young black males are always at war because there's a guarantee that someone will be in their faces - 99.95 percent of the time another young black male - seeking to prove his manhood by testing theirs.
There really is no "specter" of who young black males will turn on next; we know it's most likely to be another black male, especially here in Baltimore. Coates' memoir makes reference to several incidents from his adolescent and teen years when other young black men were in his face, harassing him, challenging him to fights, wanting to do him harm, testing his manhood.
And for no good reason.
What if young black men just learned to chill with each other? What if the ones who are inclined to always be in the faces of others just stopped doing it? You'd be surprised how quickly the war would end if that select group of young black men always looking for conflict simply changed their ways. Can somebody give me an amen?
Yeah, I thought not.
As the body count of young black males dead from homicides by other young black males continues in cities like Detroit, Newark, Philadelphia and Baltimore, Coates' commentary should be the starting point of any discussion about how this sorry state of affairs came about. Indeed, one could argue that it should have been Coates, not Michael Eric Dyson or Susan Taylor, who gave the keynote speech at the Call2Action5000 summit held Sunday at the Convention Center.
The summit was called by a group of black men in Baltimore who are rightly concerned about the rate at which young black men dispatch one another on Baltimore's streets. The effort was to get 5,000 black men who would "re-establish relationships with their wives, their children, their families and then with their communities."
That quote is from Alvin Gillard, one of the organizers of the C2A5000 summit and the head of Baltimore's Community Relations Commission. Once the men have re-established their relationship with their community, Gillard said, the hope is that they "will sign up to volunteer their time, their talents and their resources" to organizations devoted to either ending violence or to finding jobs, job training, housing and health care for those young Baltimore black men who are at most risk of ending up either shot dead in the streets or landing behind bars for shooting someone dead in the streets.
That effort was, and remains, a noble one. But for a keynote speaker, Coates was the most logical choice. Not that Taylor and Dyson were all that bad; I just have a hunch that Coates would have been better and would have brought a much-needed perspective.
Taylor has made a nationwide call for mentors to step up and mentor black children. She started her speech by showing a video featuring people like Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee, Harry Belafonte, Terrence Howard, Danny Glover, Mariah Carey and Sean "Diddy" Combs advocating mentoring as a means to stem violence among young black men.
Yes, Combs himself was charged with shooting up a nightclub years ago - and leaving rapper Shyne Barrow to take the rap and do the time, the scuttlebutt goes - but that's OK: I love irony.
Taylor then made a reference to Haitian history that seemed sharply at odds with what I remembered reading in C.L.R. James' classic The Black Jacobins, but that was OK, too. Giving a history lesson wasn't her main objective.
Dyson totally confused me. He attacked "patriarchy" and urged black men to abandon it. Condemning "patriarchy" is the language of radical white feminists, and Dyson rocked it passionately, in front of a group of black men on Father's Day, no less. He also condemned sexism, misogyny and "macho-machismo stuff," but praised rappers, some of whom are the worst purveyors of sexism, misogyny and "macho-machismo stuff."
A suggestion for summit organizers: You should challenge all those who volunteered Sunday to recruit five volunteers, and then have a second summit. But if you insist on having a keynote speaker who's going to push a white radical feminist agenda, here's an idea:
Get a radical white feminist.
Those who want to volunteer can go to www.c2a5000.com or call 443-984-4039.
Find Gregory Kane's column
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