Let's Really Converse About Black Self-Hatred: A Semi-Open Letter to Brother Orville Douglas

Everyday, we are bombarded with images that perpetually show black folks in a negative light, explicitly and implicitly. When black is shown positively, it is clear that it is the exception, not the rule.
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I was surfing the web for articles as I normally do. I was looking for great articles that I would then repost for my friends, students and mentees to digest as they waded through the noise that can be Facebook at times when I came across an article written by brother Orville Douglas and the title punched me in the eye. Twice! I have to admit, I haven't been struck by a title in this way in a very long time. When I saw the title: Why I Hate Being A Black Man I sat up straight from my relaxed state and instantly grabbed my tattered notebook and a led pencil. I had to see what the good brother Orville was spewing. I was going to need to take notes.

As I read it, my heart softened. The firm grip at which I held my pencil to take notes loosened and I suddenly appreciated this brother for bleeding all over his computer. His painful passages were meant to be daggers in what Douglas feels at times were faux 'my black is beautiful' moments. He called BS on the notion. Brother Douglas had some very candid moments in his article. His hate came from both the external and internal.

Brother Douglas said:

...the truth is, the image of black is ugly at least its perceived that way. There's nothing special or wonderful about being a black male it is a life of misery and shame.

Brother Douglas hates that his skin is black. He openly questions who on Earth would want big lips, a broad nose and is despised by the world daily. The truth is, this brother wasn't born feeling this way. There were a series of intensive events and experiences that occurred that molded his thinking into a solid structure of self-deprecating discord with himself.

I mean, I had to take breaks when I was reading his words. I had to stop a few times. I've never seen someone feel this way about him or herself... and that's when the appreciation came. The appreciation came because I have seen it. I've seen it quite often. I've seen it with the young men I work with that spend their days on the corner with hopes of being the next Nino Brown. I've seen it with the women I see walk up and down San Pablo Ave in my hometown of Oakland. I've seen it as I've worked with addicts that tip off needles and shoot warm heroine into their veins. That self-hate knew no bounds. The only difference is that many of the folks I just referenced were not able to articulate that self-hate like brother Douglas.

Let's look at how deep this self-hatred goes. Everyday, we are bombarded with images that perpetually show black folks in a negative light, explicitly and implicitly. When black is shown positively, it is clear that it is the exception, not the rule. Our politics are dripping with racial undertones. Think about it, when I say foodstamps and welfare, what face comes to mind? Be honest with yourself. For 9 out of 10 of you, it's a black face (for that 1, you know lying is wrong, right?). This political-racial branding is so strong, that we KNOW that there are far more white folks on welfare than blacks and yet we still associate welfare with black and lazy.

However, brother Douglas doesn't stop there. His feelings of self-hatred are not only perpetuated by 'the system' but by other black folks. Brother Douglas basically said that he isn't accepted by black culture. He discusses his hate for hip hop and love for rock. He discussed how he hated sports and many other stereotypes associated with the black archetype. I am more than sure that he has been chastised for not being black enough. I am more than certain that brother Douglas was made to feel as though he did not fit in throughout his life. I can see it taking a toll.

Draw the appropriate connections. The nihilistic outcries from our black youth at times is deafening and as adults we do what we always do, deflect blame. It is never our fault. The sad irony is that we are constantly yelling at our downtrodden for not accepting responsibility. I know the power I hold. I know that I can affirm or destroy another person at will. I know the impact I have when I work with youth and I push that young person to see the value and worth that he or she possesses. How different would brother Douglas be if at every junction that chipped away at his feelings of black there were two people that affirmed him that told him NOTHING was wrong with him? What if there was someone to tell that brother that rock and roll was created by people that are flesh of his flesh and blood of his blood? What if there was someone there to pull him to the side as he was trying to figure out who he was in a world that effectively hated him and said YOU MATTER? What if there was someone to tell this brother that before sports were even a thought we were inventing algebra and conducting brain surgeries in Egypt?

To be an educator means to teach and sometimes the best way to teach is to lead by example, so allow me to do just that. I am the reason that brother hates his blackness. My very reaction to reading the title of what he wrote. I judged that brother as I sank into every word and that is the very thing that he has experienced throughout his life. My anger at his raw emotion was unfair and pompous of me. I am not the bouncer of black. I cannot ever discount someone as being black especially when they are pouring their heart out! Yet I do it all the time. Now don't get me wrong, I know there are uncle Toms, I am just accepting that it is possible that I helped create them.

Listen, I don't know brother Douglas and I don't need to know him. But here's something I do know. I know that discrimination often times hurts more when it is coming from your own. I know this from my own experience. I know what I went through as a black male with an advanced degree. The double-conscienceless struggle is real, yo! I endured the questions about the black experience. I understand that I have been a pioneer in my family as it relates to both my education and my career. I have been called 'one of the good ones' by white folks that saw nothing wrong with that statement. It isn't right or okay but I can deal with that. It has nothing on the pain of when you come back home and you are now the 'cat that's too good for the hood'. I wasn't ready for that. Many of us aren't. Yet I judged this brother the entire time I read his emotions. Who is embracing that brother? Hell, who is affirming his feelings now?

Here's the truth. I do love being black. I do enjoy the complexion of my skin. I embrace the struggle. I feel a strong sense of responsibility for my community. I am far from as good as Oakland deserves for me to be. I carry extra weight at work and beat myself up when my work isn't better than my counterparts. I often worry that if I screw up an opportunity that I am doing so for black folks that are coming after me. I hate that the people feel that Love and Hip Hop is an appropriate representation of black folks rather than just being a group of individuals that make bad decisions on camera for a paycheck. I hate that the most loved black woman in pop culture at the moment is a very intelligent black woman that can only seem to love white men whilst one of them is married, effectively degrading her to be the perpetual side piece (Oh Scandal, you slay me). I do love that Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes are both successful. I am saddened that brother Douglas hates that he is a black man but I love that he was able to articulate it.

I. Love. Being. A. Black. Man.

We all play a role. We can effectively help people love who they are and where they come from. That means correct people when they need to be corrected. It means displaying positive images of black people. It looks like affirming a black child early and often. It means stop playing the role of the black bouncer as I don't think any of us are getting a check for it. It means holding each other accountable. It feels like black fellowship. It looks like reengaging in black traditions. It means creating new traditions. It all starts with each of us taking responsibility for our role though. By not taking that responsibility and reaffirming you are perpetuating the problem. Yes, you! It's your fault, yeah, I said it.

Brother Douglas, I call you brother because (1) you are my brother and (2) because you belong. I may not agree with you, but no one has the authority to take that away from you and I hope you slay whatever demons you are battling.

Now I know it just got real black, but this ointment applies to all groups so apply it liberally on all infected areas.

Peace. Cole Out.

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