Michelle Smith takes a candid view as to why in an even predominantly black educational institution, a black male is expected to fail without even being given the opportunity to thrive.
“The thing about me is that I wanna like, wait ‘til I’ve done more. I feel like I haven’t done enough yet.”
I find inspiration in his inadequacies. He is a black male and he thinks he hasn’t done enough; I think he’s done more than enough. Through my darkest days, his light and laughter pushed me to keep fighting until he taught me something. Fighting isn’t the solution — love is. Self-love became our philosophy; “positive vibes only” is our mantra. He laughs a lot, but I see a lot of sadness in his eyes — partially because of the system that attempts to convince him that being a young black male with a dream is not enough in twenty-first century America.
He laughed as he explained to me that being a black male is constantly being fought and pushed back while only trying to take one step forward. Academics were a struggle; athletics are where he thrives, but his goal is to show other black boys and girls that there is more to African American culture than athletic excellence.
“Nowadays, it’s like athletics has become the top priority…It’s kinda crazy, but everyone has a dream of going to the NFL or NBA. That’s the dream…but you do realize that there are other things, right? Getting an education isn’t really cool; that’s not ideal. It’s not drilled into black males at all.”
Running from the norm
“I always ran from the norm.” From family to friends, a rigged penal system has claimed the lives of his loved ones. A young, single mom with three boys constantly pushes him to be his best. His love and appreciation for her are heartwarming. It is obvious that she pushed him away from the heartache that became too familiar to her. She pushed him to dream.
I asked him what he would do if he knew he could not fail. He said end poverty. My answer was selfish — I said I wanted to become a physicist, but his desire to end the pain that plagued him throughout his lifetime motivates him.
I will never fully understand his struggles — why he laughs when talking about being hungry and without food, or why he told me the story of being shot at in the same way that I talk about the weather on a mundane day.
I was asking him questions, and then he asked me what being a black women is like. I hesitated, partially out of fear. I don’t come from the same background that he does, so I felt that my answer was invalid.
I felt as if my struggles in America did not fit the stereotypical black narrative, so somehow, it was wrong. He pushed me until I answered. This is what I wanted to tell him:
I feel objectified daily. Almost every black female on television is either angry or sexy — no in between, except for the rare Claire Huxtable. I get catcalled regularly; “beautiful” is usually exchanged for “thick” or “fine.” Professors are shocked when they find out I’m an honors student. My skills and talents are invalidated daily either because of my race, gender, or both. Being a black woman is frustrating.
It’s heavy — I feel the responsibility to look out for both my sisters and brothers, but I worry that there is no one looking out for me.
This is what I actually told him:
I don’t know how to answer that. Let’s change the subject.
Then, I asked him about injustice in the criminal justice system. He laughed — again, and I laughed, too. In our laughter was a mutual understanding that the system was built to destroy us, but here we are making it.
A few days ago, I sat in the library with him studying algebra. He told me that he was never taught the information that he needed to know to understand his professor’s teachings. I did my best to explain everything to him, and he caught on almost immediately. His brilliance mystified me almost as much as realizing how hard the system is fighting to destroy him.
Even in predominantly black educational institutions, a black male is expected to fail without even being given the opportunity to thrive.
We heard a commercial that said that the number one leading cause of death among young, black males is homicides and violence. I hugged him because I realize the value in his life. Past his race, past his gender, he is an inspiration. He is a soul worth fighting for — a story worth telling, and so am I, and so are you.
Read more: What Does It Mean To Be Black In America?