"I move in, and y'all must move on
'Cause I move too strong
And I know what my feet move for
Made it go without a brand new car
Made it fresh without a brand new song
And give a fuck about what brand you are
I'm concerned what type of man you are
What your principles and standards are
You understand me y'all"
- Mos Def "Sunshine"
In addition to being the mother of a lovely and exuberant little girl who will be seven next week, I also have a nine year old son, whom I affectionately refer to as "Finge." Finge is a terrific little guy; a little shy at first glance, but brainy and personable. This morning he looked at me and said, "Did you know the word gymnasium is actually Latin, and it meant 'school for gymnastics'?" He is lanky, awkward, makes straight A's in math and science, collects Pokemon cards, loves music, and plans to attend Johns Hopkins. And yet, I worry.
Despite my worring and potential difficulties, I still have to shape this boy into a man. Of course, there is no sure-fire method. I've seen young men with the best of circumstances get sentenced to life in prison; and those with the worst go on to become prime examples of black manhood. At the end of the day, it depends on us as parents, knowing, educating and loving our sons.
In the March 2008 issue of Essence, Bill Cosby was interviewed regarding the deterioration of his hometown, Philadelphia. He addresses that much of the pitfalls are due to a lack of character in our young men; more specifically, the lack of parenting to develop that character. One of the biggest lessons taught to me by my father is that when character faces off against consequence, with time, character always wins. When your character, and not the consequence, motivates you on a principle, you are far more likely to adhere to that principle. So are we teaching our children not to steal and kill because they will go to jail? Or are we teaching them not to do these things because they are not theives and murderers? I urge you to not dismiss this as simple semantics.
It is said that mothers "raise their daughters and love their sons." It galls me when I see mothers poo poo the absolute antisocial behavior of their sons as them just being boys. That lack of direction spills into every aspect of their lives. I know that some people are against corporal punishment, and that's fine if that works for you. However, I'm a firm believer that, though my son is a good boy (and he is), he will test me by doing some off the chain shit, and I will not hesitate to put my foot in his ass (figuratively of course; not every issue can or should be solved with an ass whupping). How many times have we seen a boy being sent up for armed robbery, rape, or murder, only to hear his mother decry the charges because her son "was really a good boy." Maybe he was, but if you don't correct his character, that will only get you so far.
Respect for Women
I read another article in the above referenced issue of Essence, in which the editor expressed concern for the state of todays music; among her concern was the sexual overtones. Her seven year old was singing that Solja Boy "Superman" song. Of course, as any mother worth her salt would, she told him that he shouldn't sing that song. Conversely, as any seven year old worth his salt would, he asked her why. This is where things get tricky. She read him the "because I said so" act, because she couldn't "explain to him why it was inappropriate to sing about ejaculating on young girls." She's right, to a point. He wasn't ready for the raw dog explanation. However, it is never too soon to teach our young boys that girls are to be respected, and that song referenced a disrespectful act. The lyrics in the song say "then Superman that ho." He was too young to be told that ho is a disrespectful term? You can't entirely blame the music when you are shirking your teaching responsibilities.
Answer your children's questions about sex. I mentioned in an earlier post that Finge recently asked me what it meant to masturbate, and I told him. After I explained what it was (in a manner appropriate for his age, it's not like I was sharing technicques), he said, "Oh, because my friend said it was [insert absurd explanation here]." Two things happened here: (1) I gave him an honest answer to a potentially tough question (I'm sure he didn't want to talk about choking his chicken with his mother any more than I did) without freaking the hell out; (2) I established that I know more than his friends, making it more likely for him to ask me questions later.
We need to be more cognizant of teaching our sons that their sexuality is not what defines them. The going message is that black males are little more than sexual beings, meant to conquer as many "females" (a term that goes through me, but I'll explain that when I discuss our young girls) as possible, as early as possible. The number of men that I know who lost their virginity before the age of 12 is staggering. And more often than not, it was to someone much older than themeselves. If you are a man and this has happened to you, you were sexually molested. You're not "lucky;" it's quite possible that you need counseling. We ignore these travesties, then wonder why so many of our boys are sexually immature, with multiple baby mamas.
The other night, my son was griped to me and asked, "Mama, why did you teach me to speak this way? I speak TOO proper." Knowing that he was regurgitating what some other idiot told him, I asked where he got that idea. Surprise, surprise, it was his idiot father. It took me a moment to reply. I first had to conquer the overwhelming urge to say, "First of all, tell that dumb muthafucka that you don't 'speak proper', you 'speak properLY'." I instead told him that there was nothing wrong with the way he spoke, and just because some people don't like it, that really means little, because at the end of the day, if you like yourself, that's what matters. He then said, "Well, I think something might be wrong, because half the time, I don't understand what [idiot father's name] and the rest of them are saying." So then, of course, I had to again go to battle with my inner self, so as not to say, "That's because your soul has not been possessed by the spirit of powerful niggardry." Again, I was victorious.
Isn't it high time we stopped buying into the slave mentality that certain things are "for white people?" (Well, except for boxes of wine. Y'all can have that one white folks.) Can we just be glad that we have a kid who just MIGHT decide to be his own individual?
A lack of standing up for our boys explains why so many of them never quite make it to becoming men. I will not pretend to have all, or even most, of the answers. But I do know that if we don't change our tactics on a macro level, we are doing our boys a grave injustice.