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Even President Obama gets ‘angry black man’ label

President Barack Obamholds baby Tuesday during campaign stop Delray Beach Fla.  |  Alan Diaz~AP

President Barack Obama holds a baby Tuesday during a campaign stop in Delray Beach, Fla. | Alan Diaz~AP

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Updated: November 26, 2012 7:15AM



I am an ABM. No, not an anti-ballistic missile.

An “Angry Black Man.” Or so some have called me.

I am a native son, born brown-skinned in Bigger Thomas’ town. How often I have stared into the psychological looking glass that has led too many brothers down the road of self-destructive pathology.

The personification of rage, some have deemed us as black men. Villain. Mugger. Beastly. Menace to society.

Images hard to shed.

Even when we are smiling, this curse can loom overhead like a storm cloud. Even when we are educated. Prim. Proper. Or president.

Even for a black man like Barack Obama: fair-skinned, of mixed race, born of a white mother, Ivy League-educated and possessing a golden voice laden with serenading bass. Truth is, the existence of Obama as president is itself cause for hope — evidence that so many now see us beyond the veil, even if some stereotypes die hard.

It hurts to always be seen as the boogeyman, the ogre.

No matter how hard we have worked to escape the label, we are always just one act, one cross word, one frown, one altercation, one moment away from reaffirming it.

That was the worry recently of some Obama faithful amid the presidential debates — conscious that even his tone of voice or posture as a black man could tip the scale against him. That he might come off as a bully, overly aggressive, an ABM — thus scaring away some would-be white voters.

In my 52 years, I have found the ABM label to be our cross to bear, an image indelibly stained in the psyche of America, one perpetuated by fear.

I am aware that who I am as a black man is constantly at odds with the historical misperceptions of who the world says I am as a black man.

I am ever conscious that the stigma follows me like my shadow, even as I stroll down Michigan Avenue in my silk tie and white shirt — the potential walking menace, even in a business suit, even sometimes among my own kind.

I cannot elude this image ingrained in our culture — from history books to modern media that often depict black men as prone to rage, ravaging, violent, even if some of us sometimes do little to help our own case. But that is no reason to judge us all.

Once, a newspaper editor — who happened to be a black woman — remarked at a function, “John, you are so angry.”

“I’m not,” I replied.

“You are angry, John.”

“I’m not.”

“You are . . .”

“I am!” I barked back finally. “Any black man in America who isn’t angry about something has got some real issues.”

My pen and my accessibility to language and my deepest feelings have long been my way of untangling the web of implosive anger and hurt that left unresolved might otherwise become rage. But what about other brothers?

I wonder. No, I know. I have seen in bloodied streets the rage and destruction.

I am angry — over socioeconomic inequities, over injustice and discrimination; angry over the carnage of black folks murdered at the hands of black folks; angry over the abuse of children and the elderly and the continued existence of racism in a so-called post-racial America.

But in all of my anger, I am neither killer nor criminal. It is a human emotion as natural as my hurt, symbolized by my tears. And like so many of my brothers, we are sons, fathers, lovers, mentors, friends. We are gentle, tender, simply men.

And if we are angry, we are also so much more.



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