I know some young Black men who are just starting out in life – some young Black men I’m fond of. They’re in their twenties, and they’ve got to find a way to make it, not only in a rough economic climate, but in a society that very often thinks the worst of them.
When I think about what they have to deal with, I can’t help thinking of my father.
When my father was a teenager, a long time ago, there was no such thing as the Civil Rights Movement, as it is thought of now. There was no such thing as affirmative action. No such thing as political correctness.
Nobody in the society he lived in cared about the concerns, needs, or problems of Black men.
If you were a Black man, your family and your friends surely cared for you. But once outside that circle, you were in hostile territory. Openly hostile territory. You were in a place where not knowing your proper role could get you killed.
Black men like my father got very good at controlling their impulses. And repressing their urges. It was a matter of life and death.
Nobody was going to cut you any slack. There was no such thing as an “even break.” It was stacked against you, and you knew it. You knew what these people thought of you, and you learned early on the pitfalls of dealing with them.
When my father was young, the Whites around him didn’t feel that they owed Blacks anything. The most he could hope for from these people was that they would pretty much leave him alone so he could go about his business. That was it.
Forget any other expectations. And there was no such thing as demanding anything from them.
And so no matter what his apprehensions were, my dad went out into this environment full of people that didn’t give a damn about his survival and made a life for himself.
I’ll never know some of the things my dad might have seen, or experienced, as a young man making his way in the South, at a time when no one would have conceived of his civil rights. He didn’t talk much about those days. I don’t know what complaints he made in private, or how he may have felt about the situation he faced.
But I never once, ever, heard him complain about “the system,” or about the raw deal White America had given him. And it did give him a raw deal. If anybody had a right to complain about White people and White America, it was people like my dad.
But we never heard it.
Men in his generation, in general, probably just didn’t complain about what life dished out to them. Maybe what he learned from his father and the other Black men around him was that complaining got you nowhere. It was a waste of time. Nobody cared.
Just keep doing what you have to do. Find a way. If you can’t find a way, make a way.
That was how life worked.