Before I started this course I did not know what the definition of what a progressive black masculinity was. This is the type of black masculinity that exemplifies an alternative type of masculinity than what we hear about in popular culture. The back male that I decided to interview that I felt exemplified these very qualities was my father, Eric R. Bob. I decided to choose my father because I wanted to know more about him and understand the struggles and triumphs that he has gone through in his life. My father was born February 5, 1963 in Oakland, CA. He has an older brother and two younger sisters. My father has always strived to be the best, he was never entitled to anything, has always worked hard and earned everything he received. He was taught that being a man meant to care for your family, provide for your family and always have a job to support yourself and your family. For my entire 26 years I have been on this earth, my father has been there and has always been cheering me on and has always told me to strive for the best and something he told me as a child has always stuck with me. He told me, “You always have to be ten times better, remember that!” As a child I did not know what he meant by that, but as I grew into a woman I began to realize exactly what he meant. As I began this interview I did not know where to start, but then I decided that I should start by asking my father how he viewed black male masculinity growing up and then the conversation began to turn into a story about his life that I was unaware of. I was able to learn who my father was and by the end of the interview I had a better understanding of who my father was as a black man, as a father, as a son and as a grandfather. Here is a transcription of the interview:
How did you see black male masculinity growing up?
As a man, he was masculine by taking care of his family. He worked construction jobs and provided for his family and kept food on the table. The people on the television were not what I looked up to, the men in my life were the ones who exemplified the masculinities that were opposite of what was in the media.
Growing up, who were black males/females that you looked up to and why?
My father was the biggest role model I had. He was a hard man, he was a very hard working man. He taught me what it meant to have a job, keep a job and what it meant to be a man. My father told me on the first day of work at the Merritt Restaurant in Oakland, “you’re not going to work to make friends, you’re going to work. If the man wants you to work more hours after your shift, you work more. If he likes you, you’ll get the job.” My father was highly respected at the Merritt restaurant, he was a cook at the restaurant until he retired. Everyone loved Preston Bob, he was known by all. Any family member that needed a job would get one, all he had to do was give the recommendation and they would begin working within a few days. As I grew older I realized the punishments were for a reason. If we couldn’t respect the rules of the house, how would we be able to respect the rules and laws of the world? I also learned that a man could survive without someone else taking care of him. Meaning, my father cooked, cleaned and shared other household responsibilities. He did not solely depend on my mother to make sure things were done. It was a shared effort to keep the household going.
Eddie Washington, my uncle was a man that loved his family and he was the type of person that if he knew someone didn’t have enough money to pay him for a job he had completed he would discount them. “He discounted himself too much, he was worth more than what he was charging.” Eddie was from Mississippi and knew the importance of family and working hard to provide for them. I looked up to him because he gave me knowledge about life, I saw how he interacted with people and he always had compassion for others. He taught me that as a black man I needed to: watch out for the police, watch out for people because you can’t trust everyone, he taught me about the road because we traveled a lot, he taught me how to fish and safety about the water and how to be a mechanic. Eddie was a role model in more ways than one. He was always there for me and I was always there for him when he needed me.
There were two teachers at Elmhurst elementary school in Oakland. One was a gym teacher named James Chapman. He taught us boys something he learned in the military, S.S.S, which was “shit, shave and shower.” The coach wanted us to know that after gym class was over that we would be going back to school and needed to be clean and presentable at all times. It was his own way of showing us boys, some of which did not have fathers and or positive male role models at home that these were some of the basics that we all needed to carry with us for life. He always made sure that he gave a life lesson and he tried to build boys into men. He was a hard man, a tough man a very dark skinned man. He told us not to worry about what other people thought about you, because it shouldn’t matter. One day while our class was in the gym and the coach pointed out to the class that someone had tagged graffiti on the wall and it was directed at him. It read, “Blac ass chapman.” Coach Chapman told the class, “See, whoever wrote this couldn’t even spell black correctly.” My dad said that people are always going to have something negative to say, people are not always going to like you whether it be because of your skin color or just because. Another teacher I looked up to was Mrs. Lewis. She believed in me and that made all the difference in the world. She always had my back and she was a powerful black woman. She always encouraged me and gave me credit where it was due.
As a black father, what did these positive black male role models teach you about being a father and what were things you wanted to do differently as a father?
I would always tell my children that I loved them. My father didn’t tell me he loved me until I was almost thirty years old. I lived in a different time, my father came from a different era as well. I wanted to make sure that my children heard me tell them that I loved them. I saw my father and uncles with careers and I wanted the same for myself. I wanted to do something in life that I could be proud of and for my children to be proud of. I wanted to give my children morals and values so that when they went into the world they were able to go through life knowing what right and wrong meant. Without morals people can lose their way. Having guidance and God in your life allows you to have a different perspective on life. I wanted to be closer to my children, understand them and what they were going though. I didn’t want my children marching at my beat, I wanted them to be independent and have free will to make their own mistakes. I wanted to give my daughters all I could.
What qualities exemplify that you’re a progressive black male masculinity?
I feel I exemplify a progressive black male masculinity because I know what it takes to be a man, raise a family, and provide for a family, support my family and I have the drive and the will to continue to overcome struggles I’m faced with in life. I have the will to change and become a better at anything.
Why do I feel my father exemplifies a progressive black male masculinity?
A man that has compassion for others, helps family members when they are in need, provides for and supports those in in immediate family and also helps supports friends when they are in need. He is not a selfish person. We are all human and we all make mistakes in life. My father is not perfect and owns up to mistakes that have been made. He does not try to assert his masculinity through violence, he is not ego-driven and he has learned how to assert himself as a dominant male by doing things contrary to popular belief. He was able to assert his masculinity by allowing himself to care for others, having intimate relationships that allowed himself to open up and get to know people on a more personal level without feeling his manhood was being questioned. My father’s life contributes to the argument that black males are not limited to the stereotypes that plague men in the media. In the media black men are portrayed as not being positive father figures in their children and communities, they are said to be lazy, unemployable, unemployed, weak intellect, weak will, irrational, and unintelligent. My father is the opposite of all of these stereotypes. He learned from those black males in his life that it was imperative to hold down a job in order to support your family. Education was important and without it would be harder to achieve certain goals in life. My father left Oakland, CA when he was 18 years old and drove himself to Arizona to attend DeVry College. There he became certified computer technician. A professor once told him while he was attending the school that “he was not cut out for the computer technology industry.” He took that negative comment and continued to excel in all aspects of his field. After graduating from DeVry, he worked for Flextronics and upon leaving he was going to take his award for completion of courses and recognition. He was told my upper management that the certificate was not his because they paid for the class. My father told me that is when he began to truly understand the business side of the industry. He came to the realization that “they could only take one thing from me and that was my job, not my smile or the knowledge that I gained from school or job experience.” He left that company and began working for XEROX, where he received a Regional Management award and fro 6 months in a row he received the Customer Service award. My father never let the negative words of others get him down. He was able to achieve anything he set his mind to. While working at XEROX, he also became a mentor for students at various challenged schools in San Mateo for two years. He spoke to the students about the challenges he faced, what his job was like and what they could do in order to make it out and become successful. Because he too came from similar backgrounds as some of those students. He was the youngest black male doing the mentoring for new employees that were being trained. He would take them on ride-a-longs, teach them how to communicate effectively with clients. He also took students on ride-a-longs on various career days. In my father’s current profession as a Real Estate agent, in 2011, he was recognized for his outstanding accomplishments as a real estate agent. The CENTRAL VALLEY ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS, Masters Club for 2011. In order to qualify for this honor the real estate agent has proven to be the top producer amongst their peers in the San Joaquin Valley. Out of all the real estate agents in the organization, my father was the 1st out of 14 other people who made the Master’s Club. He has made a way for other family members as well to enter the real estate business with him.
In popular culture males assert their dominance, especially in the Hip-Hop culture by using violence such as physical and sexual dominance. These are all misconceptions of dominance. Males do not need to assert their dominance through these outlets. There are many ways the black males can assert their dominance. A male that exemplifies a progressive black male masculinity is one who is able to develop trust, uses intimacy to strengthen manhood, and is loyal, acts as a supportive system and also is a supportive system for family members and those in their community. In a movie we watched in class called Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, and Laurence Fishbourne says to Darryl, a young black male who he mentors, that “As a black man you will always be outnumbered and you will always be outgunned, so always stand up for yourself and never be ashamed of that!” This quote is very important to me because I feel it is the truth. There should never be a reason why any man should feel ashamed of standing up for himself. There should not be a reason why you can’t stand up for the truth, what is right and as a black man there are odds against you before you begin life’s journey. Another character, Willie, tell Laurence that “I’ve been paying for men like him all my life, and my father’s been paying for men like me.” Black men are continuously paying for someone else, this is based on stereotypes that plague the black male in America. These negative stereotypes perpetuate the ongoing negativity that is portrayed in the media. Many black males are not the same as what is seen on TV. But because they internalize these stereotypes, they in turn become the stereotypes. Some knowing it and others not understanding why they are feeding into the hype. Having a progressive black male masculinity is something that should be attained and sought after, not looked down upon as something that shouldn’t be attained because it exemplifies a type of masculinity that is opposite of what the media portrays.