Daily we are assaulted in the media with opinionated judgements regarding President Barack Obama and other political leaders, ostensibly offering up evaluations of some aspect of the president’s character. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those evaluations are nothing more than vapid vituperations based on hot air and gusty emotions. Messy and relevant facts controverting these blowheart opinions are readily ignored or merely denied in passing.
Such is the current state of our political discourse. It obscures the character of those in authority much more than it illuminates it. And as our grandparents impressed upon us, character still counts mightily in both the small and grand scheme of things.
But how can one gain any credibility and trust in those judgements most often rendered by political characters noisily masquerading as impartial arbiters of political conduct and thought? There is and will remain a great difference between characters and persons of character, no matter how much certain media voices try to obfuscate that issue.
This all brings up an “ah-ha” moment. In the 1970s, writer Ntozake Shange brought forth a choreopoem play-”For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide . . . “—whose final scene had a young Black man holding an infant out of a multistoried window, threatening to drop the infant if the young man’s female paramour did not assent to staying with him. Horrified, the young lady agrees to not leave this fool of a man. Well, with that agreement accomplished, the young man drops the infant to its death anyway.
A stunned audience regularly argued about the authenticity of that scene—who were those damaged Black men who could and would do such a thing? Most of the male members of the large audiences rejected the credibility of the character. Black men just wouldn’t do that, we said.
Enter 26-year old Mr. Richard McTear of Tampa, Fla. In 2009, he was arrested and charged with physically assaulting his girlfriend, then in a corresponding ride in a car with her, tossing the young lady’s three-month-old infant boy from the moving car onto the busy Tampa Bay freeway to further teach his girlfriend a lesson. In his first trial, declared a mistrial early in the process, public opinion had him convicted of all charges related to that series of incidents—especially the infanticide–and this week he was trying to avoid a second trial death-penalty conviction for his actions. His defense attorneys stressed that Mr. McTear had a particularly brutal and abusive childhood, and that his background should be considered in any jury and sentencing decisions.
What kind of Black man would do this? Richard Wright’s social monster, Bigger Thomas? How have we been reduced to this? We have survived the Maafa, slavery, slave breeding, Jim Crowism, an epidemic of lynching and disrespect. We have taken the worst that the U.S.A. could do to us, and we have yet managed to survive. But this? What kind of brother would act like that? And could we, any of us, no matter how much we “understood” the brother, support leniency for him if he is indeed found guilty?
Is this the new measure of our character as Black men? Black, evil, ugly and too crazy for words?
How can we protest and protect ourselves from the daily micro-racial toxins we continue to face when we have to admit that some of us, maybe way too many of us, have simply snapped? We’ve decided that shooting each other in the face, and doing other unspeakable things to each other, is not only okay but the new normal?
Hey, my brothers, we have got to reclaim our high ground. Those of us with character must step up and seize control over who defines us and who speaks for us. The clowns cannot be brought in to represent us anymore. It’s time to step up and speak up for our 21st century manhood.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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