By Nicholas Maurice Young, Ph. D.

Nicholas Maurice Young is a sociologist, writer, and independent researcher.  He is a former Fellow with the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University.   He holds a Ph. D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago.  Nick is currently writing a book about the network connections of the Underground Railroad.


An Open Letter To President Obama

Re: A possible path to Reparations for African Americans? Housing grants as the unfinished path of American Democracy

“To have given each one of the million Negro free families a forty-acre freehold would have made a basis of real democracy in the United States that might easily have transformed the modern world.” W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America, p. 602.

Greetings Mr. President. I hope that you and your family are well. It has been many years since I ran into, and chatted with you at the Hyde Park Hair Salon on E. 53rd St. in Chicago. It has been much longer since my last encounter with your great wife, Michelle. Please know that while it is still a little surreal for me to see you both in The White House, I have accepted the fact that a guy that I used to play ball with at The University of Chicago (The U of C) holds the most powerful position in the world, and his wife is the brilliant, First Lady of The United States.
But, I digress.

I write this editorial to share with you, the country, and the rest of the world my thoughts on how you, The President of The United States, can bring to conclusion the case of Reparations for African Americans. A conclusion that, journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates states recently in his impressive article in The Atlantic, would be just compensation for the “250 years of slavery, ninety years of Jim Crow, sixty years of separate but equal, and thirty-five years of racist housing policy” at the hands of The United States.

While there may be no widely accepted starting point for when the question of Reparations was first raised, the issue of compensating contemporary African Americans from whom originate from families whose ancestors were enslaved actors in the U.S., has never really gone away. Nor should it. To be sure, the question of Reparations became an issue of serious import for U.S. lawmakers after, if not before, the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation—the legislation that “freed” millions of enslaved “Americans” of African descent.

To be sure, while the Emancipation Proclamation (A Civil War measure that proclaimed the freedom of slaves in the ten states that were still in rebellion with the U.S. Government) did not “free” anyone, what the legislation did do was give Lincoln and his political allies in Congress the breathing room that they needed to craft the legislation that would eventually become the following Amendments of the U.S. Constitution: 13th (Abolishing Slavery), 14th (Granted U.S. Citizenship to Blacks, former slaves, and those born or naturalized in the U.S.), and 15th (Prohibits the federal or state governments from denying a U.S. citizen the right to vote).

As Kerry T. Burch points out in his book, Democratic Transformations: Eight Conflicts In The Negotiation of American Identity, the project of compensating the newly freed “Americans” involved promising over one million people of African descent that they would be given land (Forty Acres and a Mule) to help ease their transition from enslaved actors into a self-sustainable agricultural entrepreneurial class, dependent upon only themselves to live and become capable members of society. As Dr. Burch states, “The origin of the phrase is traced to January 1865, when General William Tecumseh Sherman, having just finished the devastating ‘march to the sea,’ issued Special Field Order 15. It set aside ‘forty acres and a mule’ for the newly freed along the coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia, a swath extending some 100 miles in length and 30 miles inland” (p. 56).

Unfortunately, after Lincoln’s Assassination, this “…officially stated promise…was ‘taken back’ by President Andrew Johnson when he began rescinding these federal lands in late 1865. Thus began the process of returning the federal lands (my emphasis) to the confederate aristocracy…For the newly freed, despite their eventual status as formal citizens, the consequences of enforced landlessness—economic and political dependency—crippled their ability to actually be citizens” (my emphasis; p. 56).

Thus, for the newly freed former enslaved actors, the ability to create independent and prosperous lives was taken away from many of them before they had the chance enjoy the fruits of their own labor from living in and on their own property.

However, President Johnson’s reversal of General Sherman’s action also had another effect: Johnson’s policy reversal removed from African Americans the possibility of forming a new middle class that would be built on their own labor. Unfortunately, the plantation sharecropping system put the planter class back on top of the economic arrangement, and hence, back on top of the political system, as well.
Therefore, because of the failure of Reconstruction, African Americans were forced to fend for themselves, and manage their economic and social lives without the benefit of a managed social structure to navigate them from the grips of Jim Crow policies.

Unfortunately, as many African Americans made their way to Northern cities to avoid the aggressive grip of Jim Crow, their happiness was short-lived because, as Mr. Coates states in his article, The Case for Reparations (2014): “In Chicago and across the country, whites looking to achieve the American dream could rely on a legitimate credit system backed by the government. Blacks were herded into the sights of unscrupulous lenders who took them for money and for sport.”

Thus, with this background in mind, I should like to propose the following limited remedy to the Reparations problem: awarding housing grants to needy African American families, to be used for creating new homes or improving existing residential properties.
Mr. President, the creation of these properties, built on federal lands, would provide African Americans with a legitimate chance to form a sustainable black middle class; one built on the basis of their own ethnic heritage, struggle, success, sweat, and tears.

If done correctly, this Presidential program could take the form of a new Presidential Proclamation; a policy that acknowledges the previous mistakes and failures of past Presidential administrations to compensate African Americans for what was promised to them. Further, such a program could redress the problem of land ownership for African Americans seeking to build wealth through home ownership. Such a policy could also help improve the U.S. jobless rate by hiring Americans from different social and economic groups to build and or improve these homes.

In short, I believe that you, Mr. President, represent the last chance for the United States government to fulfill the promise that it made to newly freed Americans of African descent to become property owners in this country. Sir, you are on record for saying that the United States keeps its commitments, not just abroad, but also to our fellow Americans. Therefore, your Proclamation could transform the United States into the democracy that Du Bois imagined. Please know that I, for one, hope that you will use your executive power to help grant home ownership to African Americans; American citizens, after all, whose ability to be landowners was systematically denied to them after the Civil War. I believe that such a proclamation could help establish a sustainable African American middle class. I hope that you will see the importance of creating such a program for African American families that seek this form of redress. All of them.

Take care,

Sources cited:  Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “The Case for Reparations.” The Atlantic. May 2014.
Burch, Kerry T. Democratic Transformations. New York: Continuum Books.

Nicholas Maurice Young, Ph. D., is a Sociologist, writer, screenwriter, Community Activist, and Independent Scholar. He is a former Fellow with the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University.


Mr. President, It Is Time


By Nicholas M. Young, Ph D.

Mr. President,

When you were elected in 2008, I immediately told a female friend that you would go down as the greatest President in the history of the United States.  I based my prediction primarily on what I saw of you when we played basketball together during my graduate school, and your faculty days at The University of Chicago (The U of C), I came to know you as a bright, tough, and kind guy that was a tough defender on the basketball court.  Outside the court, I saw you as concerned member of the Hyde Park and U of C communities that was a smooth and effective politician.  Although watching you assume the highest office in the land is still a bit surreal for me, watching you win the 2008 election showed others what we in the Hyde Park and U of C communities already knew about you: You are the type of guy that had the ability and courage to rise up to, and succeed at, any challenge.

To be sure, while you continue to use these skills to lead the United States out of a horrible recession and toward greater social and economic prosperity, the events of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre has provided you with a new challenge that the social and political skills that you sharpened during your Chicago days may not have prepared you for: Taking on the powerful U.S. gun lobby.

As I am sure you, and other Americans know, the gun lobby in this country bases it history, and basic existence on the presence of the Second Amendment–a Constitutional reality and relic that guarantees the right of every American to own a gun to protect her or himself and household.

However, I, for one, do not believe that the Second Amendment was conceived to allow a deranged, private, U.S. citizen to own a gun that has the ability to wipe out many innocent people.  From what I know about this part of the Constitution, the founders of this great document did not anticipate an episode like the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre occurring, and. if they did, I suspect that they would have included a checks and balance provision in the Constitution to address this possibility.  Two possible ways to prevent a Sandy Hook Elementary School—like massacre from ever occurring again is to ban the sale of assault weapons, and limit the sale of ammunition that gun purchasers need to power these weapons.  For instance, those buying these weapons can be limited to a small number of bullets.  They can even be asked to show what, who, when, and why they choose to use their guns.  While all Americans have the right to own a gun, their right to own the ammunition used to power these weapons of mass destruction is not guaranteed by the Constitution

So, Mr. President, if I was you, I would contact the leader of the American Gun Lobby and tell him the following: “Your days of supporting the sale of assault weapons to our citizens is coming to an end.  The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre has shown the country the limits and danger of the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution. The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre has also shown the limits and danger of organizations like yours in causing harm to the American public.”

Sir, it is time for you to cash in the political chips that we gave you to lead us.  It is time for us to not expect another massacre like the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy to ever again occur on our soil. I hope that you recognize that the time has come for you to be the leader that we envisioned when we elected you in 2008, and reelected you in 2012.  I hope that you recognize that the time has come for you to find a way to impose a permanent ban on assault weapons.


The Bus Driver: A Brotha with A Mission

By Nicholas Maurice Young, Ph. D.

A few weeks ago, the media in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio revealed to its viewing and National audience a cellphone video confrontation between a 52-year old African-American male RTA (Regional Transit Authority) public bus driver and a 25-year old African-American female passenger.  The video captures the young woman and the bus driver being belligerent toward each other—cursing at each other, and making withering and disparaging comments about each person’s physical features.   It appears that the verbal jousting began when the young woman, who the local press erroneously referred to as a “girl,” refused to pay the required fare for riding the bus.  The driver asked her more than once to pay the fare, but she refused to do so.  The next few moments after this exchange the young woman began cursing at the bus driver.  Eventually, the bus driver began to do the same.

The young woman then assaulted the bus driver while he was driving the bus.  She spit on him.  She slapped him on the back of his head.  At that point, the bus driver told the young woman that she was going to jail for assaulting him.  Amazingly, he raised up out of his seat, walked over to the young woman, and dropped her with one of the greatest uppercut punches in the history of uppercuts.  To be sure, the bus driver knocked her up in the air, and off of her feet.  Upon knocking her off of her feet, the bus driver made the following statement: “You wanna hit a man, I will treat you like a man!”  Incredibly, the bus driver picked up the young woman, and threw her off of the bus.  Surprising, the young woman came back on the bus and threatened physical harm to him, by way of an attack by her father and or boyfriend.

As a result of these events, I decided to conduct an unofficial, random poll in the Cleveland area about the incident.  I asked a combined total amount of 100 Starbucks and Lifetime Fitness customers the following question: “Did the bus driver do the right thing when he uppercut that young woman?”

I chose those two locations because of the following factors.  First, I spend much of my time at both locations.  As a writer, I do much of my writing at the Starbucks that I conducted the poll.  Further, I work out on a regular basis at a Lifetime Fitness location in the same neighborhood.  Thus, I am very familiar with both locations.  Secondly, both locations are usually populated by middle class to upper-middle class customers.  Third, the neighborhood has a good mix of Blacks and Whites that patronize the Starbucks and Lifetime Fitness.  Thus, I hypothesized that due to the geographic and economic similarity of both of the patron groups, there would likely be some similarility in their responses to my question.

I asked about 100 African-Americans (about 50% men, 50% women) my question.  Surprisingly, 47 out of the 50 African American women that I spoke to stated that they agreed that the bus driver did the right thing, compared to 20 out of 50 African American men who said the same thing.  When I asked each person to expound about why they chose to agree or disagree with the statement, I received the following responses from women: “That Bitch got what she deserved;” She should have known better to hit that man.  What did she expect him to do?;”   “He should not have done that; From men: “That was wrong.  A man should never hit a woman; Damn!  He fucked her up.  I bet she won’t hit a man again!;  She deserved it!

Exactly why more women than men believed that the bus driver did the right thing when he punched that young woman confounds me.  What does that say about the condition of the African American man and women in today’s society?  What does it say about what African–American woman think and feel about themselves, and other African-American women?  What does it say about how African American men think and feel about themselves, and other African-American men?  Are we currently witnessing the dismantling of our community?

In short, like most of the African-American men that I have been around, I was taught that a man should never hit a woman.  Never.  However, I must ask the following questions: Should a man allow a woman to beat and disrespect him the way that young woman did without retaliating against her?  When should a man be able to protect himself from a woman that is abusive toward him?

To the ladies, I say the following: If a man hits you, you must protect yourself from such an attack.  But please know this: If you hit a man, make it count, and please make sure that you are not around when he wakes up.


Race Does Not Exist

In the early 1970’s, a white American journalist once asked the late Haitian dictator, Papa Doc Duvalier what percentage of the Haitian population was white. Duvalier told the journalist that Haiti was 98% white.    The startled American journalist, certain that Duvalier had either misheard, or misunderstood his question, asked the Haitian dictator the question again. Duvalier assured him that he had heard and understood the question perfectly well, and had given the correct answer.  Thus, struggling to make sense of this incredible piece of information, the American finally asked Duvalier: “How do you define white?” Duvalier answered the question with a question: “How do you define black in your country?” Receiving the explanation that’ in the United States anyone with any black blood was considered black, Duvalier nodded and said, “Well, that’s the way we define white in my country.”

What conclusion(s) about race—what it is, how it is determined, and the implications of this determination—can be reached from this story?  I believe that race is an ideological creation determined by the social context one lives in.  Some folks believe that it race is an unchanging, observable, physical fact that is determined by biology.

What do you think?


She Was A Superhero

Nicholas Maurice Young, Ph. D.

Harriet Tubman is considered one of the greatest liberators to ever walk the planet.  As many of us have been told, she rescued hundreds of slaves from Southern plantations, and delivered them to freedom in Northern States and Canada.  At least, this is the story that I was told.

As a child, I remember learning about Ms. Tubman, and her amazing accomplishment.  I, and my fellow elementary school classmates were told that Ms. Tubman traveled with her Underground Railroad (UGRR) passengers through the South, and into the North during the night.  To be sure, while our teacher was right to tell us about Ms. Tubman’s amazing story, she was incorrect to make us think that Ms, Tubman rescued at least 300 slaves, and achieved her tremendous feats without help from others, or the benefits of a managed social structure.  To be sure, the fuller story about this amazing woman is more complex than this elementary school interpretation of her story.

However, to gain a better understanding of Tubman, and the ways in which she accomplished her legendary feats, it is important to know a little about her background before she migrated to upstate New York, the eventual place of her burial.  As Historian Kate Clifford Larson states (Larson 2004: xvii) Tubman, who was enslaved on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, spent much of her adult life suffering from epileptic seizures that came as a result of a blow to the head by an angry overseer.  She appeared to recognize at an early age that establishing the “right” relationships could serve useful to her later in life.  With the assistance of an organized group of contacts she made during her childhood and early adult years, and the help of the North Star in the sky, she escaped from bondage when she was 27.  According to Larson (2004: xvii), Tubman “relied upon a long-established, intricate, and secretive web of communication and support among African Americans to effect her rescues.”   Over the next ten years, she developed a web of interracial associations across at least 5 states that would help assist her in helping at least 70 or more enslaved actors find their way to freedom.

Tubman built her network through two primary experiences. First, like many of her enslaved comrades, she became accustomed to being “hired out” by her owner to work at another plantation.  This practice often led to many enslaved actors traveling back and forth between plantations.  It was during one of these visits that she received her near fatal blow.  The accident also had another consequence.  As Historian Kate Clifford Larson states, “The head injury also coincided with an explosion of religious enthusiasm and vivid imagery” that was rooted in Methodist teachings.   Tubman believed that these episodes allowed her to predict the future. This behavior created in the minds of some that she had spiritual powers, and often brought her closer to those whom she encountered during her “hired out days” that shared similar religious beliefs.  Eventually, she gained the trust of the plantation owner, as he allowed her to hire out her skills after paying the owner a set wage for the year.  This process may have led to her discovering the importance of assembling a network to escape her situation.

The second, and perhaps most important experience that allowed her to see how building a network of trusted relationships could aid her efforts to free herself and others, came from her work on a timber gang.  It was this experience that exposed her to the secret communication networks that were the province of black watermen and other free and enslaved blacks.  While she interacted in this exclusively male world, she learned what they learned—the safe places, the routes that each took to travel to and from each community, the sympathetic whites that these men knew, and the dangers that these men learned about from their travels.  Taken together, these experiences helped Tubman build her network of trusted individuals and information that helped her along her path of freeing others.  To better understand this, please consider the following.

The night that Tubman escaped to freedom she was helped by an unnamed white woman, whom she had met during her previous travels.  Later in her journey, she was aided by another white woman who some believe was a Quaker, because “it was Quakers who gave escaping slaves the most aid”  (Larson 2004: 84). Although not every Quaker was as sympathetic to fugitives, many were critical in providing social and financial resources to those in need and in “providing a groundswell of activism to end slavery throughout the young nation, in addition to establishing a loose network of like-minded individuals who could be tapped to help freedom seekers find their way north and provide support and shelter once they arrived” (Larson 2004:84).   Thus, Tubman became exposed to an “existing local network of abolitionists and others, including free blacks and other slaves, who were willing to help slaves make their way to freedom” which was “functioning well on the Eastern Shore by the time Tubman took her liberty.” (2004: 84).

Tubman eventually made her way to Philadelphia, where she connected with William Still, Conductor of the Philadelphia UGRR station.   She and Still eventually traveled to Albany, New York, where they met up with Stephen Myers, who then directed her to Frederick Douglass in Rochester.  It was because of Douglass, and his association with the Women’s Rights Movement, that she eventually met several others who served as agents and friends of the UGRR in New York City: J. Miller McKim, Robert Purvis, Edward M. Davis, Lucretia and James Mott; the Mott sisters, and Myers, John H. Hooper, and others in Albany; and Samuel J. May and J.W. Loguen of Syracuse (Larson 2004: 94).  Ultimately, the communication network that functioned between Baltimore and the Eastern Shore, and between Talbot, Dorchester, and Caroline Counties, was dependent upon people Douglass and Tubman both knew.  Through her association with Still and Lucretia Mott—a Quaker and abolitionist, whom often “provided for Tubman’s financial and physical needs,” (Larson 2004:94) Tubman gained access to Isaac and Dinah Mendenhall, Allen and Maria Agnew, John and Hannah Cox, Martha Coffin Wright (Lucretia’s sister from Auburn, New York), and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Taken together, these actors helped organize the first women’s rights convention (Larson 2004: 107).

Tubman used these contacts, the communications network that she developed from her experience with the African American lumbermen, and the knowledge that she received from her experience traveling through the swamps of Maryland to make at least 13 successful trips back to Maryland to free family members and friends (Larson 2004; Bordewich 2005).

A few years ago, I published an article about Ms. Tubman titled, Even Superheroes Need a Network: Harriet Tubman and the Rise of Insurgency in the New York State Underground Railroad that provided a social-capital interpretation into how Ms. Tubman managed her network contacts to rescue her family and friends from bondage on a Maryland plantation.  In the article, my co-authors and I did something that was never done: We put together the network that Ms. Tubman used to rescue her family and friends.  We also developed a way to quantify her impact in her network.  We attempted to tell a more complete story about the greatness of that incredible woman.  She was a Superhero because she did something that most of us cannot do.  I call her a Superhero mainly because she is one of the baddest muthafuckas that I know about that recognized that she was the baddest muthafucka that she knew about.


Make Em’ Clap To This: (Young) Black Men and the De-Evolution of Hip Hop

By Nicholas Maurice Young, Ph. D.

            According to several sources, the musical genre known as “Hip Hop” began in the early 1970”s in the Bronx.  Students of the musical style argue that the founder of the music is someone known to Hip Hop enthusiast as  “DJ Cool Herc,” a Jamaican DJ from Kingston, New York.  According to Blogger and Hip Hop Historian “Davey D,” when Mr. Herc moved from Kingston to the area called West Bronx he created a new musical genre that involved reciting improvised lyrics and rhymes to current reggae music.  But, while this version of the story about Hip Hop’s history is mostly undisputed, others like “Blastmaster KRS-One” argue that the musical style began in the area called “South Bronx.”

To be sure, regardless of the music’s origin, the genre that they created evolved into a dominant musical tradition; so much so, that the music produced by some of today’s Hip Hop artist currently dominating the music charts, by young Black men like “Drake,” “Little Wayne.” “Young Jeezy’” and “Wacka Flocka” (What is a “Wocka Flocka?”).   Amazingly, music produced by artist like this group of young men have replaced the musical genre created by DJ Cool Herc and others like the “Sugarhill Gang” (“I said a Hip Hop, the Hippit…”); “Kurtis Blow” (“Clap yo’ hands everybody, if you got what it takes, cause I’m Kurtis Blow, and I want you to know that these are the Breaks!); “MC Lyte” (“Milk is Chillin,’ Gizmo’s Chillin,’ What more can I say, TOP BILLIN?”); “Eric B and Rakim” (“I came in the door.  I said it before.  I’ll never let the mic magnetize me no more”);  “LL Cool J” (LL Cool J is hard as hell!  Battle anybody I don’t care if you tell!  I excel!  They all fail!  Gonna come excel, Double L must rock the bells!!!); Lauryn Hill (“It’s Funny how money changes situations.  Miscommunications lead to complications.  My emancipation don’t fit your equation.”); “Big Daddy Kane”  (“Rappers steppin’ to me.  They wanna get some.  But, I’m the Kane, yo’ you know the outcome…”) “KRS-ONE” (“Criminal minded, you been blinded, lookin’ for a star like mine, you can’t find it”).  However, despite the great music produced by this creative contingent, and others like them, the Hip Hop tradition has devolved into a wanting, boring mix of deliberate and predictable lyrics (Using the “B” and “N” words) and music that leaves the creative imagination hoping for a return to what is now is being called “Old-School Hip Hop.”

Folks, how and why did this happen?


The Courage to be Different

By Nicholas Maurice Young, Ph. D.

Recently, I watched the movie Act Like A Man.  It chronicles the lives of five men, and their dealings with women.  The movie is based on a best-selling How-To manual for women in dealing with, and dating men.  The book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man attempts to provide a philosophical blueprint for women that want to understand the thinking and behavior of men.

The movie follows the lives of the five men and the women that each man desires.  It shows the inherent fallacy of many male-female relationships: Men pursue women with the hope that they will have sex with her; Women pursue men to connect with “Mr. Right,” or the guy that has the right bank account, and social status.   Or, so the story goes.

Why are men and women engaging in this destructive dance of indiscretion?—an exercise that leaves both parties emotionally deficient and intellectually insecure to see the error of their ways?.  I believe that many men and a growing number of women behave this way because many of them lack the courage to be different.

For me, the courage to be different comes in at least three forms. The first form involves being able too see differently about the object of your affection.  For me, the primary problem in this area involves around seeing a women as nothing more than a sexual object.  When I was six or seven years old, I often admired the girls I was around.  While I was initially attracted to a girl’s personality, I almost always was more attracted to her physical features—her breast and ass.  Especially her ass.  Much like the other boys I was around, I always found a woman’s ass the object of my sexual fantasy.  As I got older, my friends and I always measured a girl’s sexual readiness by the circumference of her ass, and the size of the “gap” that we believed existed between her thighs, below her vagina.  For us, having sex with a girl was the primary measure of our maturity and our readiness for manhood.

The second area of courage that I believe is lacking among some Black men involves the ability to think differently about women.  As I suggested above, not being about to think differently about women has led many of us to think that women can be viewed as sexual objects, instead of objects of our genuine affection.  The thinking behind the development of this opinion can be located, I think, in the conversations that many men have with their uncles and fellow young men.  Personally, I do not know many, or any fathers that give their sons this kind of advice.  This possibility is due in large part to the absence of fathers in the lives of young Black boys and men.  I believe that the perpetual paucity of Black fathers in the lives of young Black boys creates a void in the hearts of young Black men about the proper way to think about and see the beauty of a woman.  Hence, the ability of many men to do the third, and final component of courage: acting differently.

I see the ability to act differently as the most important aspect to finding and or locating the courage to be different; however, it is a skill that is dependant on the first two phases of courage.  Acting differently first requires the ability to see a woman and admire her intelligence, kindness, beauty, and recognize that she is the most beautiful creature on the planet.  Second, a man must recognize that he does not have to be like other men.  He must recognize that he can be his own person.  Thus, in doing so, he must see that calling a woman a “Ho” or “Bitch;’ stepping out on his woman; believing that making love to his woman is the same as fucking her (although some women like to be treated this way) is usually the wrong way to show her affection.

In short, I believe that the inability of some men to recognize that some of our problems with women can be found in our inability to recognize that some of us lack the courage to see, think, and act differently about ourselves, women, children, and other people around us.

Your thoughts?


I Feel With My Hands

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time around my Grandfather, Edward Ivey.  He was a good man.    He was also the only man that I knew that could drink a 12-pack of Old English beer and not be sloppy drunk.  However, despite his many gifts, he would always do something that I found very strange. Whenever I asked him how he felt, he would always say the same thing: “I feel with my hands.”

Privately, I said to myself, “What the heck does that mean?  I didn’t ask about how and what he felt with is hands!  Doesn’t he get that?  What does he mean?  Doesn’t he get that I am asking him about how he feels emotionally and physically?

I was 7 or 8 when I first heard my Grandfather respond to my question that way.  Amazingly, I allowed him to respond to me that way several times before I asked my mother to explain to me what he meant.

When I asked my mother to explain to me his response, my mother told me that men my Grandfather’s age often responded that way to show that they were tough, and were devoid of human emotion.  I never asked her to explain further why men that age always felt the need to show strength in responding to a basic, human question.

My confusion about this issue became even more confusing to me when I heard Fred Sanford (That’s S-A-N-F-O-R-D Period) respond to his son, Lamont, who asked him the same question.  On the show, Sanford and Son, Fred (Redd Foxx) plays a bigoted, racist, sexist old man that despises almost everyone and everything.  Like my grandfather, Fred Sanford almost always resisted any attempt to show emotion.

However, like my Grandfather, who showed toughness until the day I found him in the kitchen wailing over the death of his wife, Rosa (my Grandmother), Fred Sanford cried in one episode in remembrance of his beloved, deceased wife, Elizabeth (Elizabeth!  I comin’ to join you honey!).

Why did Black Men during my Grandfather’s and Fred Sanford’s generation believe that they could not show emotion in an emotional situation?  I believe that there may be at least two reasons for this.

First. I sense that Black Men that grew up during my Grandfather’s and Fred Sanford’s era likely developed their emotional position as a result of the treatment that many of them faced under the harsh hand of racism during the first half of the 20th century.

During that time, whites treated Black men as if they were still subhuman.  To be sure, Black men were viewed as ignorant, unintelligent humans, that were rarely, if ever, given the chance to become legitimate citizens of society.  Perhaps this is why my Grandfather, Fred Sanford, and other men of that area responded to questions like the one that I posed to my Grandfather when I was younger.

Second, I believe that Black men during that era developed that thinking as a form of avoidance, or coping mechanism to avoid dealing with their emotions about being viewed as a second class citizen in this country.

I believe that one of the primary consequences of this type of thinking is the Gansta Rap philosophy that began in the late 1980’s, that unfortunately still continues.

Young Brothers during the heyday of the gangsta rap tradition found it pleasurable and acceptable to call women—mainly our Sistas—Bitches and Ho’s (Whores).  They also found it acceptable to not show emotion—at all, and definitely not to a woman.  Many of them showed emotion only to their fallen homies, and maybe, just maybe, to a beloved family member.

But, why are many of them continuing to believe that they can only show emotion to a small set of people?  Why do so many young men believe that showing emotion is a sign of weakness?  In doing so, why are so many young, Black men continuing to believe that the saying, “I feel with my hands” has social currency?  This phenomenon continues to confound me.  What can we do to change this thinking?

Your thoughts?

By Nicholas Maurice Young, Ph. D.

I am a 45-year old African American man.  I have accomplished many things in my life.  I am a father.  I am well-educated.  I have traveled extensively—domestically and abroad.    However, despite my many accomplishments, I believe that I am a failure as a man.

One of the reasons why I consider myself to be failure as a man is that I never fulfilled the requirements and expectations on being a man.

For instance, when I think of the meaning(s) and requirements, of manhood I think of the lessons I learned as a child; that is, what a man is supposed to be, and supposed to do, with his life.

My first interpretation on what a man is came from my father.  He died when I was eleven. He was thirty-four.  He was an alcoholic. He began drinking when he was fourteen.  He began to drink at that young age as a result of his father, my grandfather, telling him that he would become a man if he learned how to drink alcohol.  He drank everyday from that fateful moment until the day he died of multiple organ failure. When my Dad died, I lost my best friend.  Although my dad did not spend a lot of time around my sister and I, he was my counselor.  He was my confidant.  He was the only person that showed me unconditional love. I was a kid that missed, and needed his Daddy to show me how to live.  I needed him to show me how to survive.  I needed him to show me how to love.  I needed him to discuss with me how to love a woman.  When he died, I was forced to learn how to do these things on the fly.

Learning these lessons meant that I would be taught about manhood from my mother, my uncles, and the streets.  I learned from my mom that a man is supposed to take care of his family.  I learned from my uncles that a man is supposed to show toughness—in any situation, regardless of how touch the problem or foe is.  I learned also from my uncles that a man is supposed to provide for a woman, and his family. Interestingly, in retrospect, I learned also from some of my uncles that a man should never follow his heart, for doing so is a sign of weakness.  This weakness, as I was told, was a sign that you were a sorry muthafucka.  Some of my uncles told me that a man should never follow his emotions.  I learned that a man should never expose his emotions to a woman.  Instead, I learned that I should never shy away from the advances of other women.

Similarly, the streets taught me that a man is supposed to be a whore.

My thinking about these issues changed in March 1998 when I realized that I was in love with Susan.  Seven years earlier, I pushed her away from me because I was too ashamed to admit to her that I did not know how to love her.  I pushed her away also because I could not handle the fact that I was unfaithful to her.

Since seeing her in 1998, I have lived with great shame in my life.   Part of shame is based on the fact that I followed the advice of my uncles.  So, why didn’t my relationship work?

Since that fateful day in 1991, I have been told by several women that my infidelity, and the failure of my relationship with Susan came as a result of me “being a man.”

I recently listened to Lenny Kravitz talk about his dad telling him that, like him, Lenny would also be unfaithful to a woman.

As I listened to Mr. Kravitz speak, I thought to myself: Hmm.  This sounds familiar.  I asked myself, “Is this the behavior that falls under the rubric of a man doing what he is expected and SUPPOSED to do?”

Every day, I also battle the feelings of depression that have haunted me since I pushed away Susan in 1991.  The primary reason why I pushed her away is because I could not handle being unfaithful to her; which was, in retrospect, part of my miseducation about being a man, and treating and loving a woman. While I was in graduate school, my infidelity was a function of my inability to defeat the urge to resist the many advances I received from the women that I was around.  Unfortunately, being unfaithful was a way for me to fit into the community of men that I was a part of. I allowed the pressure of being like most of the men that I was around, who were unfaithful to their women, to shape my behavior.  When it came to loving her, I did not have the courage to be different.  To think differently.  To be faithful—to my woman, and to myself.

But what does that phrase mean?  Is that what Lenny Kravitz’s dad meant when he told Lenny that he would be like him–that he would also cheat on his wife?

I have learned that being a man is about expectation.  My failure as a man was the result of my ability to recognize that a man is expected to behave a certain way.  I have learned that often this expectation of behavior happens without explanation of how to behave, how to think, and how to know.

In short, I believe that a man is a person that recognizes that he is an intelligent, loving, tough, strong, and compassionate human being.  A man is someone that recognizes that he is not the most important person on the planet.  A man is someone that recognizes that the most important person on the planet is a woman.

What do you think?

2 Responses to “NICHOLAS M. YOUNG”


  2. thomas brown Says:


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