We have all probably heard of the singing group, Boyz to Men, right? Sounds like a logical sequence of growth, don't you agree? Well, it seems we have another trend going for our Black males today, and that is growing from "men" back to "babies."
While they physically grow in stature, instead of growing in mentality as well, many Black men are regressing into children even as they reach physical maturity. Grown men, especially fathers, who dress, talk and act like teenagers are misguided at best. Check them out as they walk along with their sons; both have their caps turned to the side, both are wearing those short pants, which remind me of the little boy with the snotty nose that Martin Lawrence used to portray, and they wear the obligatory basketball or football jersey. If it were not for their physical size, you wouldn't be able to tell father from son.
Of course, we know that many of today's parents are really children themselves, not having shaken off the "street" mentality. They are still ensconced in partying and hangin' out; they have not yet put away childish things. In addition, a trend that has, in my opinion, done more harm than good to our Black men is the power of words. Historically, Black men were sometimes called "boys" by White folks, which in the 1960s was like signing their own beat-down warrant.
I remember the first day I reported for duty in the Navy. I walked out on deck for morning muster and the Boatswain Mate said, "Where you been, boy?" I was already 21 years old. It was also 1966, he was a southern racist and I was angry about being there anyway. Not a great way to have started my career in the U.S. Navy.
I was immediately put on report because I responded by saying, "Who are you calling a 'boy'? I am a grown man." For the next two years I spent on that ship, all the White guys knew the boundaries they could not cross when it came to the words they used to address me.
Out of 750 men on that ship, there were only about 50 Blacks. We knew we had to stand up for ourselves, especially in the mid-60s when many of the men in the Navy were really White "boys" themselves. Most of them came from the southern states and had no respect for Black people and the skills we brought to the table. During that period, the Navy was not so far removed from the years when Blacks were only allowed to work as cooks and stewards.
Our main strength was the willingness to stand up for ourselves, even in the face of sure and swift punishment from the captain of the ship. We were willing to fight, against the odds, when someone said the "magic word" we now call the "n-word." We were unwilling to be defined by someone else, especially a bunch of rednecks who found pleasure in ordering us around like we were still enslaved to their fathers.
Today, as I have stated many times, we allow others to define us. As grown men, many of us have become nothing more than little boys – in our dress, our language and in our demeanor.
When boys are supposed put away childish things and start acting like men, the mothers start calling them "my baby." The girlfriends and the wives refer to their mates as "baby." When grown men hurt, they are held and hugged by their ladies and mothers who comfort them by saying such things as, "It will be all right, baby," or "I know, baby," or "What's wrong with my baby?"
Words create imagery followed by action. We must teach our male children who and what they are as early in life as possible, so that as they physically grow into "men" they will also grow mentally. They will no longer speak, act and think "as a child." They will define themselves and speak up for themselves and their children.
Let's start calling our children, especially male children, "babies" rather than "men." And ladies, stop referring to your grown men as "babies." Maybe they will stop spending their money on all of the ridiculous things other folks are selling, turn their caps from sideways, stop wearing those droopy short pants that resemble knickers, make better choices, be real Black men, conscious Black men, proud of who they are and not intimidated by others, and stop committing acts of violence against one another.
James E. Clingman, an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati's African American Studies Department, is former editor of the Cincinnati Herald newspaper and founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce.