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Confessions of an Angry Black Man

June 7, 2013

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” – James A. Baldwin

Several years ago, when I was a lowly $10 an hour research assistant and occasional freelancer for the Baltimore City Paper, I was robbed at gunpoint on my walk over to City Paper’s Park Avenue office.

Like every young black male raised in an urban setting, I was inculcated to have a healthy suspicion and disinterest (downright distrust) of anything affiliated to “criminal justice” and had no desire to alert the police of the incident. After much cajoling by my editors (and of course, my darling mother) I called the police. I joined the officers in a quick sweep of the area during which they posed a fascinating question:

“Son, are you sure this wasn’t the result of a drug deal gone bad?”

And of course, it wasn’t, and I stated as much. An interrogation of sorts followed. It required great effort to keep my wits about me, to remain calm. This exchange was the very reason I had no desire to alert the police. Afterward, I described the exchange to my editor, and she posed a most innocent question:

“Did you tell them you work here?”

As if the profession of cultural and political journalism obscured my being young, black and male, with all of the assumptions and perceptions being young, black and male can bring forth in the minds of some–rather, far too many.

I bring this up to make clear I’m an angry black male. And, I would argue, I’ve every right to be. Like many of my peers– be they young and black, or female, or gay, or some other “other,” or even some combination– I spend a great deal of time making (for me) white people feel comfortable in my presence– some might say I go as far as to assuage white guilt, on occasion. It takes a psychological toll. While I’m generally a gregarious and outward personality, lived experience and even a modicum of consciousness suggests that I should not be so… congenial. When you must navigate the type of professional waters I navigate, being labeled as “angry” and “black” is a devastating blow. Of course, it begs the question: “Why shouldn’t I be angry?”

Much of my work brings me to the intersection of philanthropy and communities of color. For the past year, I’ve worked on a rather ambitious effort to celebrate and resource African American men working to bring positive change to their communities. I was struck, when one such man, commenting on philanthropy and grant-making as it relates to his efforts, said that while he and his peers might not be “certified” to lead transformative efforts within their communities, that they were certainly “qualified.”

It struck me because these men are intimately a part of their communities, and yet, they spend great time negotiating for resources from institutions as far removed from their communities as possible. And while their anger is demonstrable to me, it is often expressed as skepticism and weariness of philanthropic institutions instead. For what reason should these men not express anger? Do these men have no right to say, “Provide your resources and then follow my lead?”

According to Open Society Foundations and the Foundation Center, foundations contributed $29 million to programs exclusively focused on African American men and boys in 2010–or less than one-­tenth of 1 percent of the $45.7 billion awarded by American grant-making institutions that year. Still, $29 million appears to be an exceptionally high figure–but how does it compare, for example, to the material costs of incarcerating nearly 850,000 black men across the nation? Would that one-tenth of 1 percent increase substantially if more black men and women were positioned as gatekeepers and true decision-makers?

I would suspect so–but why listen to me; I’m just another angry black guy.

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