Autumn’s onset signals the return of a few routines: the kids going back to school, workers getting back to the daily grind, and the weekly ritual of guys huddling in their respective caves to watch weekend college and professional football.
The cooler weather of the season also signals the impending holiday season and the anniversary of my birth, prompting a reflection on the passing summer season and the year that was.
A verse from the religious texts of my Roman Catholic upbringing recurs in thoughts these days, with its pertinence and veracity becoming ever more obvious:
1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
The quoting of this Biblical verse on life’s changing seasons is not to make some grand self-revelatory statement, as if I’ve fully grown into whatever “a man” is or have attained some sort of divine enlightenment.
As the hot days end and the leaves turnover, though, the verse strikes a searing cord. Manhood, growth, adulthood — whatever — is fundamentally grounded in responsibility of and for oneself.
Ultimately, there is great clarity and empowerment in the knowledge of understanding that the trajectory of my life is most effectively guided by my own actions; and that fact ain’t so bad.
Top photo: Flickr/Ken, September 2005, New York City
Blue Ivy, Shawn and Bey.
©August 2014 MTV
Los Angeles, California
Jay’s holy grail.
My mom was a housekeeper, and dad was an alcoholic. Times are different now, but the life created in me by those two humans informs who I am today.
As we look back on the 50 years since the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I can’t help but reflect on what those 50 years have meant for me being a black man in America.
My experience is among the most marginal of the marginalized. I was the sole Haitian American male in the Columbia University Journalism 2014 master of science program where most of my fellow black male cohorts were “straight up” African American and HBCU grads (read: descendants of “Cliff and Clair Huxtable”) or from “the continent” (read: sub-Saharan Africa).
This marginalization prompted a social isolation of which I’d never experienced. Not only could I not relate to people who ostensibly looked like me but, beyond athletic runners and college football enthusiasts, it was practically impossible to relate to most of the guys at the J-school.
Now, for purposes of transparency, my experience of “blackness” in America is different from most.
Both of my parents descend from over two centuries of free, non-colonial existence in Haiti; a history where, unlike darker-skinned brethren on the North American mainland, my ancestors overcame Atlantic high waters and scorched earth for access to the promises of the French Revolution, to which they felt apart as French colonial subjects and, thereby, French equals (Haitians generally lack an “inferiority” complex).
Led by generals Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Toussaint L’Ouverture, the milieu of gentry usurped power toward self-governance, demanding their rights in an insurrection which reverberated throughout the Caribbean and colonial slave-trading Europe.
The Haitians declared their freedom from those oppressors eight score and a decade ago, becoming only the second non-colonial republic in the Western Hemisphere after the United States.
The price for freedom Haitians paid came with an insurmountable 19th century debt of billions from the former French slaveholders in recognition for independence, so the Haitian economy floundered.
An island nation that once was the richest colony in the world for its sugarcane, harvested by the slaves and distributed by the slaveholders, was left economically destitute indefinitely.
But the pride possessed in them: their triumph, their varying brownish hues, their West African and Western European roots retained and combined with French Roman Catholic sensibilities, all came together to bolster a people who should have otherwise faltered.
It is in that vein my parents emigrated from Haiti to the United States in the wake of political and economic turmoil following the death of Haiti’s Black Nationalist “President for Life” François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and the succession of his comparably inept heir and son, 19-year-old Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, in 1971. My dad arrived in Miami at age 16 in 1973 by way of the Bahamas.
My mom, the upper-middle-class first-born of an industrious Port-au-Prince seamstress mother and an occasionally present but stern Haitian army general father, took a more direct route. Months after turning 18 in 1979, my maternal grandmother sent the woman who’d become my mom off to live with her paternal aunt in New York City in October 1979.
I was nurtured to excel, and by junior high school was enrolled full-time into the smaller class sizes in a gifted education program, and fatefully took a typing class with a certain Mrs. Alsobrooks, who encouraged my writing and reporting and hand-picked me to be her teacher’s aide for my duration in middle school.
By high school at South Miami High, I’d become a prolific communicator, becoming the lead anchor of the televised, school-wide newscast, the senior male pep rally announcer, and a leading Advanced Placement student, almost always excelling as the lone brown-skinned black guy in my coursework among mostly white and second-generation Cuban Americans.
Confidence in myself and my abilities grounded me in media pursuits at the University of Miami, becoming both a regular DJ and executive producer of UMTV political debate program for “We the Students.” By college, I’d always be the lone black person to hold one office or another, occasionally encountering one or two other brown-skinned fellows in high positions and either eying them with competitive scorn or latching onto them for mutual self-assurance that our hard-work, even in isolation, wasn’t for naught.
Following a year off and an incredible experience interning at Miami’s AOL office, I pursued a capstone degree in journalism at the arguable crown-jewel of prestige in journalism education: Columbia’s J-school.
The experience was great, but my aspiration of engaging in an enlightened, yearlong philosophical discourse on the merits of international and inter-ethnic relations in communication, disappointingly, fell short.
After a first semester of interacting with the most global cohort of classmates in my lifetime with nearly every world region represented, I found my growth stunted during New York’s worst winter in 20 years while completing my master’s thesis-equivalent.
I venture to say my unique “blackness” made it difficult to connect with some in my J-school cohort.
Maybe I wasn’t black enough? Didn’t fit the stereotype of what “blackness” should be?
I don’t know.
Ultimately at Columbia Journalism, many white peers, with whom I most identified with most growing up in the white and Cuban American power structure of Miami, didn’t welcome me unreservedly. As for fellow blacks, I was never truly a “brother.”
Post-racialism? It’s not just a black man oppressed by a white man state-of-mind. Systemic racism stems from all sides. It’s a consciousness to which we all have a part in changing. We are all responsible for the change we hope to see in moving toward a more “colorblind” society.
The Heights: where the life is.
Midtown Manhattan skyline from Washington Heights
©January 2008 Flickr/Susan Sermoneta
©2014 Interscope Records
Call Robin Thicke a chauvinist, a ladykiller — throw stones with clean hands. Thicke is a man atoning for his mistakes and mourning the lost love of his youth in his latest studio effort, Paula, an album named for his divorcing wife of nearly a decade, Paula Patton.
In the video for the lead single of the album, “Get Her Back,” Thicke reveals himself at his most vulnerable moment. This is a much different guy than the cockiness of “Blurred Lines.”
The exact reasons behind the Patton-Thicke breakup aren’t clear, nor should they be as their intimate relationship is a private matter. But of the very public display in this video, Thicke is just a man trying to find his way again with or, as it seems lately, without his first great relationship.