I don't want to be perfect, just better...

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Young Black Man is Normal or Why My Kid Feels the Need to be Hard

Talking with my fabulous sister in law, @totallybougie the other day I was able to articulate something that has been bothering me for the last few weeks.

I have a normal kid. Well, Superhero is as normal any young black man with Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity and an auditory learning style.

He also has a penchant for science fiction and fantasy books (ask him about the Percy Jackson/Ranger's Apprentice books and you will get a dissertation), comics excuse me graphic novels, a humongous appetite and size 14 feet.

However, it isn't his ADHD or his auditory learning style that are the root of his problems at school.

In popular culture, young black men are only one of four things - athletic, gay, gangsters/thugs, and nerds.

There is no country for "normal" young black men in popular culture. 
This is Superhero's sophomore year in high school and I guess that the other boys have segregated themselves into groups and he has started to feel left out.

On top of the perceived exclusion, he is often bullied just because of his normalcy. I know, Superhero is well over six feet tall; who would bully him? Whole groups of boys, that's who.

My son has to feel lost and out of place because he isn't playing sports, a gangster/thug or a nerd. Yes, he like all the other kids has a capacity to be any of those things but those categories aren't his primary personality or identifier.

I literally don't know what to tell him some days. I can't force on him the knowledge that other people's opinions don't matter when we know that sometimes in life they do matter very much. I can't tell him to ignore them because he obviously can't or won't.

Superhero has taken to sagging. He knows that this is strictly not allowed in this family, not with my father in law the former Master Sergeant around, nor two more former military members and my own sense of aesthetic. However without fail he comes home from school showing the band and more of his underwear trying to emulate those around him. I think he does this to try to escape feeling so different. How can I explain to him that he is different - not better, not worse just different. 

I'm tired of this drama but have few limited options. There is no book out there "How to teach a young man NOT to sag" because it seems like the more we make fun and ridicule those saggy disgusting ass men and children aping them; the more and harder they feel the need to show their asses.

Myself, when I felt different in school found others like me which isn't what Superhero wants to do or he feels there aren't any like him. What do you tell your child who has problems fitting in with those around him?


  1. My younger brother used to give this same headache to my mother. I tried to help her out by introducing him to my friends who were college-aged at the time, and doing productive things.

    It took a great deal of time, but eventually my brother got up on his own, went to trade school, and is a successful machinist. I would never have thought that's what he'd pursue, but it's worked out.

    I think seeing other young black men with options and choices other than gangster foolishness helped him figure out who he wanted to be in the world.

    God bless with you and yours.

  2. You know, this brings back some memories. Personally, well, I'll write about that eventually, but I knew I was different as a kid but because my parents were always joking and sharing stories about previous generations and how they were "different" and portrayed those stories as strengths, people couldn't make me feel like being different was a bad thing. I knew different was different but my family history said that different was strong, it was better, and usually it was right. It wasn't that I felt like I was superior, it was just that I knew I had worth as a person so there was no way someone could tell me that I was "too little" "too skinny" "reads too much" or any other supposedly negative characterizations and have the satisfaction of it affecting me.

    And you'd better believe I didn't suffer bullies in ANY age or stage of school. (I had at least one boy/with his group backing him from afar try to pick on me at every single school. That ended quickly.)

    And I grew up with a young black man who didn't really fit into any of those molds either.

    I met him in the third grade and we were friends all through high school.

    He was fit but not an athlete, he was smart but not a nerd, he was definitely not a gangster or a thug and wasn't gay.

    He was an amazing *artist*, though and that set him apart as well. He had friends in the various groups anyway. Me = NERD, Asian and black friends were nerds, other black friends weren't nerds, we spanned the spectrum.

    I feel like he had a strong influence in his parents being confident in who they were, understanding that he was a kid or a teenager as we got older, and he found niches for himself in each community.

    Seeing friends, him among others, who didn't really fit molds, be moderately weird and
    "stupid" (goofy), be high achieving, be athletic, be in band, or any other combination of things was really helpful too - maybe Superhero could stand to be exposed to more positive community influences so that he doesn't feel like he's isolated just because he's not solid with a single group.

    High school dynamics can be really weird but with a lot of confidence and knowledge that the world is much much bigger, it doesn't have to turn into a situation where he values those negative interactions more than they're worth.

    I dunno, it also probably helped me that I wasn't a fan of society in general and thought most people could go you-know-where if they were bullies and told them so. Comic books helped teach me that. :)

  3. P.S. This is partly why I wrote my recent article on "Types." There aren't people like us, sometimes, and that's fine. You just want to be friends with people who are still ok with that - you don't need to be alike to be liked. Or you shouldn't, if you're a good enough person to see what's really important.