I recently received an email with a news link from my hometown. Click…..my heart sank a bit. My younger brother was arrested and is being charged with multiple felonies. At this point it’s likely my brother will be in prison for some time. Over the years I’ve repeatedly cautioned my siblings on these ridiculous “hood” logic, get rich quick schemes. Yet here we are. Him sitting in a jail cell and me sitting on a beach in Bali. Where did our paths diverge?
My brother and I are one year apart in age. Although he’s a very intelligent and compassionate person, he never could escape the grasp of our upbringing in an environment that’s purely toxic. One that never showed us what we could be but highlighted what we weren’t. An environment that feels the life of a young black man is less than that of an animal.
“According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.”
It would appear that the worth of a black man’s life can be measured in however they can serve the corporatized prison system. If one thinks Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice are anomalies think again. There is a system of marginalization in place that not only harms young black men but prevents the US from delivering on its promises of upward mobility and opportunity.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that the problems facing young black men are entirely external? That would be disingenuous and unhelpful. I’m not the most militant of us, and personally, don’t feel that the marginalization of black men in America will change anytime soon. So what’s to be done to ensure a future for our young black men?
Addressing the shortcomings within our communities and the teaching of young black men is the only way to save them. Travel is the world’s best education. Below I detail what I believe to be some of the primary lessons our young men can learn.
“He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.” Sun Tzu
Young black men are often depicted as violent and irrational by western media. Although this is largely inaccurate, we do tend to place a high value on violence. Being “hard” and “gangster” are traits we often promote and attempt to emulate. Often times our quick reactions can lead to life-altering, and sometimes deadly, consequences. Many young men’s lives have ended or been negatively impacted because of misguided emotional reactions.
Traveling solo as a black man teaches you that there is a time and place for controlled aggression. That anger never makes a situation better and is largely a pointless emotion. Traveling solo teaches you to control your emotions. Both positive and negative.
When removed from a position of comfort, your familiar, one begins to analyze his actions more thoroughly. Not allowing your emotional state to be dictated by the actions of others is one of the most important things young black men need to learn.
“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”
You’re more than sports and music. Mainstream media and the people around us tend to push these two endeavors on us. We are so much more than that. When young black men are told we have two choices and fail to become successful at either (which is almost a statistical certainty), it eats at our self-esteem. It tells us we aren’t good enough. When young black men are marginalized, beaten, and killed by the people who are supposed to protect us what message is being sent? That we are worthless. The life of a young black man is only worth what the corporatized prison population says it is. I say BULLSHIT to that.
Travel opens our minds to a world of WORTH. A world that values our contribution to the arts, medicine, and diplomacy. Exploration of moor history, the evolution of jazz abroad, and cultural exchange programs show how valued we are globally. Travel builds a sense of accomplishment that so many young black men lack. Self-esteem is the foundation of a well-rounded individual. Black or otherwise. Gang relations largely come from a “hive mind” mentality. One that becomes pervasive in those who choose not to, or can’t, think for themselves because they don’t feel they can. Travel empowers young black men to make choices for themselves and allows them to become far less susceptible to the control of destructive forces.
“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.”
We don’t instill basic discipline in our young black men anymore. During the Civil Rights movement we learned the importance of not only public discipline, in the image of peaceful protest, but personal as well. Young black men were expected to speak respectfully, show up on time, and the importance of keeping our word. Unfortunately, through the degradation of the black family that’s rarely the case anymore. When I speak of discipline I don’t mean blindly following rules. I mean having the personal control to do what needs to be done. When it needs to be done. And how it needs to be done. Discipline needs to be applied in all aspects of life.
If we aren’t disciplined while traveling, the world will soon show itself to be a harsh place. If you don’t get to your train on time. The train will leave and the world will keep spinning. Show up on time. If you decide to spit on the sidewalks of Singapore you will be arrested. Don’t break the law. Being a person of your word will create lasting relationships all over the world. Do what you say.
“I have no right, by anything I do or say, to demean a human being in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him; it is what he thinks of himself. To undermine a man’s self-respect is a sin.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Many won’t want to hear this but as young black men, we come from a racist, homophobic, and misogynist community. We are taught to not like or trust whites. Which I can understand. There is quite a bit of mistrust there. The media teaches us that Arabs are terrorist and Italians gangsters. Hence why so many black rappers take up Italian “street” names (Capone and Gotti). Homosexuality has largely been seen as a degradation of our community and women are treated like sexual objects in 90% of our music videos. Tyler James Williams, a phenomenal young Black Actor, recently spoke on the mass hatred he received from the black community for his portrayal of a gay man in “Dear White People”. A film that explores racial dynamics on a college campus. These people clearly missed the point. Our community perpetuates the cycle of marginalization without realizing it.
Young black men will learn how to live, interact with, and respect people from all cultures and backgrounds. Through EXPOSURE. Young black men have been largely miseducated, misrepresented, and misinformed. A lack of access and exposure has created this internal struggle within them. By nature, people are accepting and kind. By conditioning, we become bigoted, fearful, and combative. Solo travel begins to bridge the gap between human nature and conditioning for young black men.
“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.”
I’ll attempt not to marginalize anyone’s struggle, my own included, here. But something we need to realize in the U.S. is that we don’t hold a monopoly on oppression. Young black men can only truly understand what racism and discrimination are when you see it from the outside AND the inside. We need to understand that systemic racism is real and pervasive in our world. That genocides are happening in Africa, NOW. That racist policy in the Dominican Republic is setting Haitians back generations. Young black men need to see these struggles in order to put their own in perspective. Racism and classism aren’t only African-American problems. They’re global issues.
Young black men need to see what others have done with less. What TRUE poverty is. The U.S. poverty line is luxury compared to the slums of Rio, India, Haiti, and Poland. Our community is poor. Yes. But we also have massive resources in the U.S. to lift ourselves out of said poverty even though we are largely marginalized. The opportunity IS there. Many around the world can’t say the same.
International travel will expose young black men to places that have a community of multiculturalism. Sarajevo is an example of Christian, Muslims, Black, Whites, and Arabs living side by side in an effort to preserve their history and culture. We have to see what our community CAN be if we put forth the effort not only to better ourselves but the people around us also. International travel shows young black men that we are ALL part of a mutual struggle regardless of race, religion, gender, or nationality. There are courageous struggles all around the world that we don’t know about. Exposure to other heroes and other causes help us to better understand our own and realize we aren’t alone.
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
Oh, how the world wants to see you. I can’t explain the enthusiasm when a 14-year-old Chinese student FINALLY gets to meet a “real-life” black man. We are like unicorns globally. A very rare find. And that needs to change. Many other journalists of color have taken me to task for saying this but let me reiterate this point. AFRICAN AMERICAN MEN DON’T TRAVEL. A few Facebook groups do not a trend make. Statistically speaking, African American men make up a very small percentage of Americans that travel internationally. Americans that travel internationally, in general, are already a small group with only 31% of us even having passports.
The media representation of young black men is FALSE and racist. We are often depicted as ignorant criminals. Good only for sports. The world needs to see more young black men. To understand what our culture truly is. That we aren’t all thugs. That we are intelligent and capable of great things. And it starts with our community realizing the far-reaching benefits travel has for our young black men.
I’m speaking to all the young black men reading this. If you take nothing away from this article but this piece of advice I feel I’ve achieved something. The best souvenir you can get from travel, regardless of your race or socio-economic status, is a better understanding of yourself and of those you thought you knew. It’s important for you to evolve beyond just being black, or American. But to become a citizen of the world. To understand your place in the human species and what you can do to improve the future for others. Only then can you truly reach the potential engrained in each and every one of you.
NOTE: I want to thank all of the brothers whose images you see in this piece. These are black men I know who travel internationally and understand the importance travel has on young black men. If you want to speak to any one of them send me a message and I’ll be glad to put you in touch.I’ll be regularly adding images of brothers abroad as I get them.
What other lessons do you think young black men can learn from travel? Don’t forget to Share