The Stories We Tell About Black Boys in America
by Mychal Denzel Smith
ot a player, but he’s interested in sex. He’s not a preacher, but he’s concerned for his soul. He’s Kendrick Lamar, and he’s just a black kid from Compton who wants to survive. With good kid, m.A.A.d city, he wrote a new script for our understanding of black male life.
When I first sat down with my agent to discuss the book that would become Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, my first, I told her I wanted to model it after good kid, m.A.A.d city. Partially, I meant that I wanted to copy the album’s narrative structure, which isn’t strictly linear, but has a clear story that we’re meant to follow. But beyond that, what I meant was that I wanted to write a new understanding of black male life. I’ve listened to the gangstas, and will continue to do so. I’ve listened to the veteran activists, and will gladly continue to sit at their feet and learn. I’ve heard the preachers, and the players, and the Kendrick Lamars. What I’ve not heard enough of is an interrogation of black male identity that directly reckons with living in a culture of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, untreated mental illness, and a host of other American problems. This is not to say no one is doing that work, but so often the narrative we fall back on in order to counter the one that turned Trayvon into hoodie-wearing thug is the one where black men are victims of white supremacy. It’s a true story; it’s an incomplete story.
We need more stories that don’t leave out the parts of ourselves that we would rather turn away from. I tried to write that book. I’m hoping there are people who are ready to read it.
Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and a contributing writer for The Nation magazine. He has also written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, Feministing.com, The Guardian, The Root, theGrio, ThinkProgress, and The Huffington Post, and he has been a featured commentator on NPR, BBC radio, CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera America, HuffPost Live, and a number of other radio and television programs.