You have not been born or conceived. As of now, you are still an idea that exist somewhere inside my imagination’s universe. I saw you tonight with skin as brown as my own eyes, as I read this New York Times article, and a fear for you grew from within the cosmos of fatherhood and I realized you and I need to have our first father-to-son talk.
My first lesson to you is this: Feelings, violence, and communication do not have a gender preference, but society has created and reinforced misconceptions of masculinity that could lead you to believe fighting for respect is what a man is supposed to do.
You do not have to choose between masculinity and femininity. Accepting that you have to choose between the two is to embrace a false dichotomy.
I am not naïve. I know society will present to you attributes of being male and attributes of being female as a set of binary options. You will think you have to choose to fight because that’s what a man does for respect and talking about your feelings is what a woman does because women are emotional.
If you have to choose between fighting like a man to preserve your respect, which is a way of saying, “male respectability is not preserved by talking like a woman”; I implore you, don’t fight like a man. Talk like a woman.
Asking you to be nonviolent is a difficult burden to lie on your shoulders and I am afraid that my advice may put your body in danger. I fear that I will fail you as a parent.
All parents do not teach their sons to be nonviolent and because of this, you will be teased and violence may be acted onto you. Someone’s child will call you soft, sensitive, or a sissy, and try to test your “manhood” through violent means.
I am asking that you withstand those insults and reject the premise that respect and masculinity can be measured in fisticuffs.
I am not asking you not to defend yourself; I am trying to teach you to realize that there is nothing inherently respectful, masculine or gendered about fighting or self-defense.
The article I read in the New York Times documented “Streetbeefs,” a backyard fight club, which was created by a man named Chris Wilmore, as a way to curtail gun violence in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
After losing a friend to gun violence, Wilmore began recruiting participants who have “beef” with each other. The setup is simple: participants put on boxing gloves, take their arguments (which is just an exchange of diverging views) into a yard and fight each other to settle the beef before guns become involved. The fights are three rounds, they are refereed and there are rules: no eye gauging, no biting, no drugs or alcohol, no guns etc…
Streetbeefs is an earnest attempt to reduce gun violence, and I do not want you to think that I am not sympathetic or that I do not empathize with Chris Wilmore. One day you will learn that I, too, lost a friend to gun violence. I, too, experienced the nihilism, depression and despair of loss and I, too, did not have the tools to expel those toxins from my body. I, too, wanted to resort to violence as the default way to purge my emotions, but I heard Cornel West say this about Emmett Till’s, mother:
She walked to the lectern. She looked over at her baby whose head was five times the size of his normal head. Then she looked in the eyes of America as well as the folk at south side Chicago, she said what — I don’t have a minute to hate, I’m going to pursue justice for the rest of my life.
I took those words to Courtney Graham’s funeral and if you ever suffer such a loss or have the desire seek vengeance, I will repeat Dr. West’s words to you and I hope you will find the same solace as I did.
If you decide to take the nonviolent approach, people will say to you, as Wilmore said in the video, “humans have been fighting since Jesus walked this earth. That’s a fact. There’s certain people that’s how they’re wired. They are going to fight no matter what I do.”
That is the premise you must reject. Do not accept that because violence is a part of human nature that it is necessary for or necessitates humanity. This will be critical to your survival; especially, when you enter the professional world. Fighting will not be an option. You will need to learn to use your words, and use your intellect to express your feelings.
There will be moments when you will want to “fight it out”, but again, challenge this. “It” is your emotions and “out” means expelled from your body. It is okay to get “it” “out” through talking and not violence. It is okay to get “it” “out” through crying and not yelling. It is okay to be overwhelmed with emotion to the point of tears. It is okay to be emotional.
It took me years to learn this and I’m still working on it. I am under the influence of thirty years of social programming, and sometimes instead of talking “it” out I hold “it” in. I was taught to handle emotions like a man, by burying them inside myself so as not to be emotional.
Do not fall for this trap. You must not view womanhood, the state of being a woman as the antithesis of manhood, the state of being male. Being emotional or displaying emotions is not emasculating. The idea of emasculation is really about being womanized. By “womanized” I mean made into a woman, to made feel like a woman, which is to say “not like a man” and since men should not feel like women, emasculation implies that the feelings women display are lesser or perhaps more trivial than the emotions men display (do not be fooled, anger is an emotion too).
I am telling you this because Streetbeefs may get picked up for reality television and I do not want you to develop your ideas of masculinity from “testosterone porn”. I don’t want you to develop a habit of being entertained by watching men who may be hurting, who may not know how to cope with their emotions, or deal with conflict engage in inflicting blunt force trauma to each other’s heads. I do not want you to think violence is the primary way men handle their disputes.
This is not to say that all men fight on the show. In fact, one of the main “beefs” in documentary was solved nonviolently; however, nonviolence felt like the second option and one of the fights that did take place on camera was over a woman. There was no mention about the implications of what it means for men to fight over a woman (women are not property), and I do not want that to be your example and I am afraid it will be the example of boys you may encounter one day.
I was bothered by the video because it reinforced destructive syntaxes of masculinity. You do not need to default to fighting to heal your bruised ego. If you can, walk away or talk it out. There is no shame in not wanting to fight. Nonviolence is the best alternative to gun violence.
Yes, fighting is better than shooting someone; but, do not let that be your standard. Because fighting is better, it does not mean it’s best, and you can never settle for better.
If you cannot find the words to express yourself, we will find them together. You can show me you are angry. You can cry on my shoulder and tell me that you are hurting, and I will do the same because in raising, and loving you I find masculinity, and I want to be your example. If I want you to be better, I need to do better and I will. Please, hold me accountable for this.