- Created on 27 September 2013
(CNN) -- "I was suicidal in college," a Harry Potter-looking hipster recently told me. The young man's words stunned me. It wasn't his age or gender or style that took me by surprise. It was because he's black.
Even though suicide is the third leading cause of death for black males ages 10 to 24, I had no immediate image, no ready reference for a young black man hurting so bad he wanted to die or for a black man so sick he was driven to kill.
The recent mass shooting by Aaron Alexis at the Washington Navy Yard was horrific and tragic. It made me think about the interior lives of black men -- about how little anyone knows how black men feel when they're in agony or depression.
Black man in pain is a story rarely told.
Hip-hop is considered a safe and powerful space to tell black men's stories. Yet Eminem is the rapper best known for narratives about suicide, addiction and emotional pain.
See video of Navy Yard shooter Before he was the Navy yard shooter
It's easy to imagine someone who looks like Eminem, Kurt Cobain or Alexander McQueen as suffering from depression. But Lee Thompson Young? Not so much.
There's no quintessential cult movie -- a "Black Boy, Interrupted" so to speak -- where we see a black man who struggles with depression or distress. There are even fewer examples of black men seeking help. "The Bob Newhart Show," "M*A*S*H," "Frasier," "In Treatment" and "The Sopranos" are all shows involving men in or providing therapy. They are all white.
It's hard to believe what you've never seen.
The conventional narratives about black men tend to be narrow and depthless. They are often presented in two distinct and superficial ways -- as the criminal or as the incredible. Sometimes you'll see them behind bars or in the courtroom. Other times you'll see them in the limelight. Just turn on the TV and the black men you see are actual or fictional lawbreakers. Or they are superstars.
Aside from these two stereotypical identities, we know nearly nothing about the inner lives of black men. Are they complex? Are they unknowable, untouchable, undesirable or unworthy of help in our collective societal imagination?
It is clear that Aaron Alexis was very sick. He had a "pattern of misconduct" while he was at the Navy. His symptoms weren't a secret. He even went to a Veterans Affairs hospital seeking help for sleep-related issues.
There's been a lot of discussion about him slipping through the cracks and receiving security clearance, being able to enter the Naval Sea Systems Command building easily. But what concerns me is the fact that even though his behaviors raised eyebrows, he wasn't checked for mental illness.
Alexis massacred 12 people like a mad man. The surveillance video showing him armed with a shotgun prowling the building is chilling.
The question is: Can we as a society become more sensitive to black men who need help?
We can start with the book "Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting" by Terrie Williams, which provides an intimate and honest exploration of the interior lives of black men. We can also encourage the media to look more closely at black men and their emotional complexities. We have to be familiar with one another's pain. Knowledge can reduce ignorance and enlighten us.
- Created on 26 September 2013
samule l. jackson,
The 64-year-old recently gave a candid interview to Playboy's Stephen Rebello. The discussion opened with talk of his new flick with Spike Lee, "Oldboy," and then turned to talk of linguistic errors in society today. Jackson told an anecdote about how, when he was younger, he always made sure to address his elders properly. Nowadays, he sees people on Twitter who don't even know the difference between "your" and "you're." (To which the actor asked: "How the f--k did we become a society where mediocrity is acceptable?")
Rebello raised the point that even highly educated people, including Barack Obama, consciously drop g's from words in order to sound more like the average Joe.
"First of all, we know it ain’t because of his blackness, so I say stop trying to 'relate,'" Jackson replied while chatting with the men's magazine in West Hollywood. "Be a leader. Be f--king presidential. Look, I grew up in a society where I could say 'It ain’t' or 'What it be' to my friends. But when I’m out presenting myself to the world as me, who graduated from college, who had family who cared about me, who has a well-read background, I f--king conjugate."
He then addressed comments he made last year to Ebony magazine, saying he hopes "Obama gets scary in the next four years." Alas, he doesn't think much has changed since then, due to the political deadlock in Washington.
"He got a little heated about the kids getting killed in Newtown and about the gun law," he told Playboy. "He’s still a safe dude. But with those Republicans, we’re now in a situation where even if he said, 'I want to give you motherf--kers a raise,' they’d go, 'F--k you! We don’t want a raise!' ... How do we fix the fact that politicians aren’t trying to serve the people, they’re just trying to serve their party and their closed ideals?"
(The actor's use of the f-word is not out of anger. He has said that using the term "motherf**kers" helped stop his stutter.)
Despite his harsh words, Jackson has long been an Obama supporter. Last September, before the 2012 election, he starred in an ad telling people to "Wake the F--k Up" and vote for Obama, dubbing Mitt Romney an "out-of-touch millionaire."
In 2008, Jackson helped raise $10 million for Obama, according to The Hill. Both he and Sharon Stone donated $50,000. Other donors included Halle Berry, Jamie Lee Curtis and Jamie Foxx.
- Created on 23 September 2013
In any movie, tv show or book, the toughest guy is always the one that never actually has to draw his weapon. In old western movies, you always knew who the tough guy was, he just walked into the bar and everybody started finishing their drinks and running. You watch "The Wire" and all somebody had to yell was "Omar's coming" and folks scattered. By the time Samuel L. Jackson shows up in any scene most people are already looking for an escape route (even the snakes). The point is, that in the movies, just like real life, the tough guy is the one who makes things happen without having to lift a finger, his mere presence or even the vaguest threat is enough to get things done. Even though we all know the Hollywood tropes, some political analysts and Washington D.C. insiders insist on attacking President Obama about his Syria policy. The reality is, he is now and has been the tough guy throughout this crisis even though very few are willing to give the President any credit for it.
The Syrian Civil War is a legitimate concern for the United States even though like most Mid-Eastern policy the majority of the country has no idea what is going on in that part of the world. After decades of rule the Syrian people grew tired of Bashir Al Assad's family running the country like their personal fiefdom (he has been in power since 2000 essentially taking over for his father). Generally a civil war in a nation that funds terrorists (according to the U.S.) would be a good thing, unfortunately the situation has become so volatile that nobody, including Assad's neighbors really knows what to do. The Civil War has been going so badly for the Assad regime that after years of denying he even know how to spell the word "chemical weapons" Assad used them on a group of rebels in late August. At that point President Obama felt he needed to get involved.
Most Americans aren't aware of the facts above, and certainly our national economy, healthcare and other issues take up more of our time and energy. However the president doesn't have the luxury of only focusing on the United States, his job is to take a look at everything all of the time and determine how that might affect America. The last month of Syrian statements and speeches from the White House and hearings from Congress have been Obama's attempt at making it clear why America has a vested interest in Syria and why using military bombing on Assad's weapons capacity would be in our best interest. Nevertheless the narrative from most of the press over the last month falls into the following three categories. 1.) That Obama was unclear and confusing in his foreign policy goals for Syria. 2.) That Obama was going to "lose Congress" on any authorization vote. And then after last week's 11th hour deal brokered through Russia that 3.) Obama was outmaneuvered and essentially 'Punked' by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. None of these things could be further from the truth.
The President said he wanted to punish Bashir Al Assad for using chemical weapons, get rid of the chemical weapons and at some point get Assad out of power. These are neither conflicting nor unrealistic goals. At this point it looks likely that both goals one and two were accomplished without firing a shot. The president was likely going to win approval for Air Strikes on Syria in the Senate, at least until Secretary of State John Kerry's awful performance in the Senate Foreign Relations committee. However there are a couple of things to remember regarding the president and Congress. First, (at that point) using the War Powers act of 1973 Obama could have sent air strikes to Syria and not needed Congressional approval for 30 days (Clinton did that in 1999 with the Balkans.) Second, Congress, especially the House of Representatives universally votes against anything the president calls for, which explains why Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John McCain and several other Republicans in the House and Senate were all in favor of military action against Syria UNTIL President Obama was on board. Then suddenly it was bad politics. Finally this notion the Vladimir Putin outmaneuvered President Obama is not only patently not true but brings us back to our "Tough Guy" rhetoric that we all know too well. The President merely threatened the use of force in Syria, and suddenly the Russians, Syria's most powerful ally comes running with a peace plan to avoid conflict. That's right, Obama didn't have to lift a finger and the Russians jump in to provide a peace plan. There is absolutely no way that the Russians would have gotten involved in this crisis if they didn't fear American military force under Obama. What many analyst fail to acknowledge is that many of Syria's weapons systems are coordinated by Russian engineers, so any attack on Syrian weapons would have killed Russian citizens and Putin did not want to show and prove his tough guy image against the United States. In other words, the president brought two powers to the negotiating table without firing a shot. That doesn't sound like a weakened presidency to me, and certainly not to anyone else who actually paid attention to what has happened over the last month without an axe to grind. The President's policies on Syria have not always been great, or pretty, and we know they have as much to do with natural gas as with a humanitarian crisis, but he certainly comes out of this situation still looking like the Commander in Chief of the world's most powerful military. Even with a hostile congress, skeptical public and muddled narrative he can still send nations running just by opening his mouth, and by most American standards that should be 'tough enough'.
Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College. You can reach him at Drjasonjohnson.com and on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson