Lately, I have found myself writing more about my identity as a young quirky black man now living in America again. Since returning, I have been very cautious of police officers for fear of arbitrary shooting or abuse but I forgot there was another issue that I am more likely to face than a police shooting.
I have mentioned in a couple of previous posts that I do not fit in the “black” community mold. As a child, this bothered me but eventually I came to terms with it, accepted it, and began jamming it down other people’s throats. (Get it? I made a bad Republican anti-gay talking point joke!) Personally, I think if we are truly comfortable with who we are, faults included, then we have the right to figuratively jam it down other’s throats. We do this by the way we dress, walk, talk, and interact with others.
So what is this other issue that is so vexing?
I forgot that insecure people have the crabs in a bucket mentality. Author Balogun wrote a nice post on this but for the sake of brevity, this mentality is similar to the phrase “misery loves company”. If you are doing well, the insecure wants to make you feel bad.
I had this experience on the train here in Chicago recently. A guy got on the train smelling like beer and began singing bad rap lyrics. Everyone in the train car, including my wife and I, ignored him. A couple of stations away, the guy gets up and heads to the door. At that moment, from the corner of my eye, I noticed he was staring at us. Right away, I knew he was uncomfortable and what may happen next.
I assume this is a universal truth that applies to every group of people but insecure black man like to make themselves feel better by targeting someone they perceive as weaker than they are. I speak only of black men simply because most of the time I have experienced this, it has been from black men. No one else! Unless other kinds of people do so discretely. For some reason however, black men make it more obvious.
As we sat there avoiding eye contact, I just wished that he would not try to do anything to us. But you can stop insecurity’s ugly effects. He waves his hand to get my attention. S#*%! Here we go. He informs me that he cuts hair. Instantly I knew what he was doing by stating this seemingly benign information. He was being a crab by trying to make me feel bad about my look in front of my wife. It is an old trick. So I decided to engage him in the best way I could. I became teacher Louvie and asked “Why do you think I need a haircut?”
One thing I have learned over my short lifespan is that it is important to reflect over life and your future. This does not mean dwell on what could have been or what will be. It also does not mean living in the past. It simply means understanding who you are, your origins, and what you are doing now to achieve your goals. What do you find important? What is truth for you? Are you living what you preach or believe in? Asking “why” and “how” are great reflecting questions that can sometimes bring up your darkest fears. Once you face them though, those fears and insecurities lose power over you. In return, you become powerful.
The guy on the train became silent after I asked him my question and he looked away. Assuming that it was done with, I looked back out the window. As we approached the next station, the guy suddenly reengaged and told me that I need a haircut. Again, I asked why. As the train slowed, he yelled insults in his best attempt to make me feel bad and quickly exited the train. On the platform, another man tried to talk him down but the guy yelled profanity at the man and walked off. I could only shake my head but I still felt a bit shaken up.
I feel as black man who unintentionally stands out, insecure black men feel that they must try to make me feel terrible about myself through insults, profanity, provocation, or violence. I have met several men like this ever since I was that weird child who hid in boxes for fun. These are men, young and old, who live in the past when things were easier for them. These men will claim to be Christian while spewing insults or attacking others. These are the same men who are quick to point out the injustices they suffer by white people while doing everything he can to keep his fellow black man down with him instead of encouraging them. These men do not want to take responsibility for their actions when it has negative results. It is insecure black men that I am more likely to encounter that police brutality. And so far, only in America.
The train starts to move again and people who witnessed the encounter praised the way I handled myself. Some even complimented my hair! Whether or not they really like it was not important. My wife and I talked with other passengers on the train for a while before getting off at the next stop. Later, I realized something profound happened during that short unpleasant exchange between two black men on a train. He and I showed that not all black people are friendly towards each other, let alone the same. The people on the train saw firsthand the clash between a stereotypical and an non-stereotypical black man. One itching for confrontation. The other diffusing it. And it all started over seemingly nothing.
But that is not true. It started because one crab in the bucket saw another in the sea.