More Than Black
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity."
-W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls Of Black Folk, 2-3
For me as a Black man, I want people to understand that there are so many different kinds of Black men, and men in general. I break stereotypes and reinforce stereotypes every five minutes. I like to skateboard, I like skater's clothes, I like skinny jeans, I like high fashion. I like to listen to rock music. I like to listen to hip-hop music. I have white friends. I like white women, I like Black women. There's so many different things that make up being a Black man. I don't think there really is a definition of what it is to be a Black man other than just being a Black man, you know?
There are certain stereotypes that are true and that I have no problem playing into, like being funny or athletic. I'm cool with those. And that's just unique to me, it's not unique to every black person in the same way that all the other stereotypes are unique to me like, I don't like watermelon that much to be honest. I don't like sweet potato pie. Everything's just unique to everybody's own individual experiences, not just cause you're Black or 'cause you're white, it's just the way you are and how you grew up.
I've always been a very conscious person about my skin color. Part of it is just because of how I was raised. I was a kid who loved to read books so, as a kid I was just reading a lot about Dr. King and Fredrick Douglass. I was reading those books like at seven or eight years old. I had a pretty unique experience, you know, I'd go to school where I was the only black kid in an all white class. I've been dealing with that since kindergarten. That's not new to me. I've always been a little bit different I guess. A lot classes just weren't that big and they didn't have very many Black kids so I was either the only one or one of two or three. It's an immediate difference, you notice it, but I didn't have any problems making friends or anything like that.
I can't dance. And it's really funny 'cause white people always want me to teach them how to do dances and I can't do them. And they look at me weird 'cause I'm supposed to be able to do it, but like, I can't "whip" or "nay nay", but for some reason they're like, "Yo, teach me how to do this new dance," or they try and teach me how to do it. And when I can't do it better than them they're like, "Oh, you're not really Black, or you're not Black enough." I'm like, 'cause I can't dance?
My first name actually means, "Largest African Antelope." My grandfather was a wildlife biologist and so he named me after that. So ever since I was born, as early as I can remember, I've always been addicted, kind of close to nature or wildlife. From a little boy, like from a baby, he would lay me on his chest and we'd watch Animal Planet and Nat Geo Wild. Ever since I was young, that's all I've ever want to do was work with animals and work outdoors. So as I'm getting older I realized not only do I want to work with animals, I want to teach children about the outdoors and nature and wildlife. What drives me is the support of my mom and my grandfather and little cousin. So it's kind of all weirdly connected from when I was a baby that I would end up doing what I'm doing.
It would be a cool job to be a fly-fishing guide to take people to catch fish and I've practiced with some of my friends. I even have a tattoo on my arm. This is the green-back cutthroat trout. There was this fish that was believed to be extinct and I hiked these high mountain lakes and was catching them and told this wildlife biologist at the Rocky Mountain National Park, "Hey, there are some populations up here." He said, "Good, because we've been looking for some more."
I'm very outdoorsy. I like hiking, backpacking, fishing, hammocking. I love fishing. Three years ago I was in class and after class I got an email that said, "Do you want to learn how to tie flies?" The guy that was teaching the class was my grandfather's advisor and then I called my grandfather and said, "Hey Grans, I'm gonna learn how to tie flies." He unleashed this room of fly-fishing stuff and gave me a rod and some materials and ever since then I dream about it, I talk about it, I'm in class and I study it. And I've gotten pretty good at it!
The biggest fish I've ever caught was probably like this big. It was a brown trout. I remember everything about it. I hiked this river on this guy's private land where he let me fish and I came around the corner and I saw a bunch of little fish rising. I threw a grasshopper into the riffle and into the run. Big fish, they don't make a lot of noise or make a big scene. Little fish do that. So he just kind of opened his mouth and slurped it in and I set the hook. It was probably like a five minute fight until I could get him in and then when I got him in I had tears of joy because he was so pretty.
I've asked my friends what they thought of me before they met me what they thought of me and everyone says I'm really quiet and I like to observe before talking. I think people always see me as this guy who is very indifferent and is very nonchalant, just kind of there, not really paying attention. I'm very much an introvert. I keep to myself unless I have something to say. I just don't talk to hear myself talk. I think I'm a lot like my grandfather. I think I'm stubborn. I think thats a big part of who I am. I don't like being told what to do. I don't like being told that I can't do something, or that I have to do something. I love to laugh. I love comedy stand-ups. If I had the chance to listen to comedy stand-ups all day I would. I think of myself as a comedian, but on the same aspect, I don't talk as much as I probably should. I think stand up comedy would be a cool thing to do. I actually have a notebook of jokes that I want to try out.
I think the biggest issue I face as a Black man is this, this depiction of me being a monster, and me being this villain. I have really close friends who I've talked with about politics and stuff and whats going on with Black men getting shot. I had a friend literally say that if he saw a black man coming down the street, that he would grab onto his gun just because that's scary to him. I was like, "Why?" And he was like, "Well a big Black man coming toward me, like I'm probably in a bad part of the neighborhood." So he kind of just went from this idea of Black men as being this evil thing just because of their size and the color of their skin, to the idea that maybe he was in a bad part of the neighborhood, and that the Black man probably has a problem with him. And I was like, "Well, what do you think of me then?"
Usually you have this clean-cut look, but then I was like, I want dreads, I wanna start this journey. But it's just like, "They're dirty, how do you clean them, you wont get a job." Then I just had this feeling that we've gotten past that and that I could do it. I should be able to wear my hair the way I want it to be, kind of in its natural style with a little bit of maintenance. But every time you hear about people in the news with that kind of hair its like, "Oooh, a Black man with dreads." If you're Black and you have dreads, then you're like, crazy threatening. The thing is, when you're my color, they're like "Bob Marley!", but then when you're skin is darker then you're seen as a predator.
I'm from a lower socio economic status background. I grew up in the Projects, my mom was on food stamps, we were on welfare. But I think when people look at me now, that's not something that they would naturally think, that me being from that background, would be who I am now; the way that I talk, the type of job that I have now, the type of schools that I went to and the type of school that I even work at now, wouldn't be possible for someone like me with that kind of background.
I'm passionate about the environment, specifically environment sociology. I played soccer, I played baseball for like 12 years, I'm a lifeguard. I spend time working at the pool, but I do enjoy swimming. I wish people knew, just how normal I am. I don't know. I'm just a normal guy who thinks about the environment. I'm kind of awkward, a little shy. But I do like being extroverted. I work with Defend Our Future here on campus, so that pushes me to go around and talk to more people. And I like it; I thought I was gonna be uncomfortable, but it's awesome.
I think when people first see me they see me as a happy person, a very outgoing person. One of the things that you'll see about me is the way that I dress. I always wear ties. That was something that I think I picked up from being Southern. Also, being a Black male, you have to represent yourself in a certain way and so that's something that I think people kind of pick up on. I think that sometimes because of the way I dress and because of the way that I carry myself, I don't get a lot of the negative perceptions that people make of Black males based on the way that they dress and the way that they look.
I have limitless opportunities, I have something to give the world. Part of the reason I'm doing what I'm doing now, working in education, is because I want to be an educator, I want to be somebody that gives back to other people. I could be doing many other things that could probably accumulate a lot more money, I think my place in the world is to be an educator and to be someone that gives back to other people.
I want to be senior level Student Affairs Officer. So that could be a Dean of Students, that could be a Vice President of Student Affairs, but I see higher education as my passion. I see higher education as my calling and this is what I think I'm meant to do. I want to be in a level and in a place where I feel like I can change policies and enact different things to make students lives better. Make sure they have great educational opportunities, and basically give them the same opportunities and outlook on life that I feel like I've been able to have.
One time I was walking from my apartment over to the LSC and it wasn't too late, but it was dark. I was passing a car and as soon as I got closer, and got ready to pass it, I heard the doors lock. And I was like...that's interesting...'cause that was the first time that ever happened to me. That had never happened before.
Aside from school, I like comedy and acting. I love it. My cousin is an actress and she's going to be in the new Baywatch film with Zac Efron and Dwayne the Rock. I'm kind of a nerd. I like video games like the Dark Souls game series. Manga and Anime, I like that too. There's a good handful of shows that I like to watch and I like to read. I'm a fun guy, funny, I like to joke around. When I'm really comfortable with my boys, I'll roast the life outta them. I guess sometimes its a little mean. But it's all in good fun.
Just this last weekend actually, my friend Jordan hits me up and he's like, "Hey man, you tryin' to go get some pizza?" And I'm like, "Okay yeah that sounds good." So he comes to my place, and we go get the pizza. When we get out of the car and start walking towards the place, this guy's leaving Chipotle next door and this guy sees us and he's like, "Oh, look its a hillbilly and a cotton-picker." And we turned around like, "Hey, what'd you say?" We called him out and we walked up to him and the dude started shellin' up. He was shook, like he was scared. So we're telling him, you know, "You cant fuckin' say that dude. That ain't cool." He said he was sorry and was scoffing and stuff. He wasn't worth any trouble so we just went to go get pizza. But I guess after we left some other people who saw what happened said that he was saying, "Hail the White Knights" or something stupid like that.
I don't wear the stereotypical clothing that would depict a Black thug. I've gotten comments about that before in regards to the way that I dress, like people just saying that I dress like a white guy. The way that I speak doesn't reflect "Black dialect." I don't think I fit that stereotype or the stereotype that all Black people are from the hood and come from thug lives. I know I don't meet that as well 'cause I don't come from the hood. But people have made that assumption about me because I'm Black. So there's some stereotypes that I think I meet and some that I don't. Like I can dance, I can sing, I can play sports. So all of those that come along with "being Black" I feel like I meet, but other ones I don't meet.
In one instance in high school, I received a text message from a buddy of mine on the baseball team. His teammate took his phone from him and I got a text message that said, "Listen here you little nigger, white power!" That was probably the first blatant experience I've had with racism.
I know that I am well-spoken, I know that I articulate well. But often times people have preconceived notions about me otherwise. So I've gotten comments like, "Wow, you're really well spoken" or "Wow, you speak really well." That micro-aggression holds the assumption that I wouldn't speak well. Like I speak English, I communicate well, so why would you assume that I wouldn't speak well? That's something that I battle with everyday because of the way that Black men in society are painted, as thugs, as always slurring our words, not communicating well. That's probably the biggest challenge that I face, is just trying to break down those stereotypes that have been built up over such a long period of time.
I posted something on Twitter that got a lot of controversy after one of the shootings and after the post I got a lot of backlash from the community that I didn't even know about. I was called into our football offices and they told me that they got over four hundred emails from people in the community about what I posted and how upset they were and that as a student athlete I need to stay in my place and not have an opinion and just be appreciative of my opportunity here. Basically that I should just keep my mouth shut.
I was told to remove the post and watch what I post in the future, not so much because my football team didn't endorse it, but I should try and keep attention off myself and keep those issues from arising toward our team. But it was just a weird situation. I expressed myself about something I was frustrated with and the way the community reacted was interesting, especially to a student athlete- someone that on Saturdays, they praise, they can't wait to come out and support us, and they pay money to watch us go out and play these sports. It was like once they realize these kids have opinions and are human then they want to tell them to shut up and keep their mouths closed and just play football.
I'll just tell a little story. My little brothers were born. Prior to that, I was not very close with my mom, but I had so much love for her, 'cause she's my mom. I've understood everything that shes ever done for me and how hard she's always worked for me. But I hated school, like I would never want to do anything with school. If this was seventh grade, my little brothers still weren't born, and I didn't know they were gonna be born, I would never have thought that I would be here, getting ready to graduate from a university.
Before my little brothers were born I was a troublemaker, I was terrible. I didn't ever want to go to school, I was hanging out with students that thought the exact same, they thought school was pointless, I thought school was pointless. I was doing a bunch of bad things and out in places I wasn't supposed to be- just fitting the stereotype of a young Black male, like getting in trouble all the time, constantly defying authorities and stuff like that. I was like, "Okay, well I'm Black, this is the way its supposed to be." And so I always had that image of the Black male just being some thug, being a person who didn't care, a person who wasn't supposed to go to school, or show that he cares or was smart.
Then my little brothers were born finally and I realized that I was gonna have these two little guys looking up to me and I needed to be that role model to them because no one else was gonna do it and no one else did it for me. My father was never around so I didn't have that male role model. The one who showed me right from wrong and how to do everything was my mom. I wanted to be able to give them that service that I didn't have and be able to help them out and show them that they didn't have to be trouble-makers. They didn't have to stay within this mold of what the stereotype of being Black was. They were born, and then I got everything together, they just became my world. I wanted to be their role model and be their mentor and the way I knew I was gonna do that was by going to college. So ever since then, my first year of coming to college, thats where my passion for higher education came from and wanting to show individuals who identify the same way I do, that it'd be possible for them to come to a university, finish, and graduate with a degree.
I'm an artist. I really like to draw. This guy here on my hat is one of the first main characters that Ive made. In high school I started to shy away from talking to people too much cause I felt like people felt threatened by me a little bit, like I wasn't approachable or something. You see all of these cliques in high school and I didn't really belong to one. I floated around a bit and thought there must be something wrong with me then if I can't find that clique of people.
So I made this guy. Basically what he was made for or to represent is your genie in a bottle type of guy from Alladin, that kind of best friend he had and could just talk to. But it was more of me drawing him and myself in situations and him just talking me through it. His name is Hana. It means flower in Japanese.
Sometimes I feel like people have to hold up a guard around me. I think I'm a pretty nice guy. I think I'm pretty cool, if I do say so myself. I think I'm pretty friendly. But it seems like people have to have their guard up like I'm going to do something, like they're scared of me. But I'm like, "Why?"
One year my brother and I actually got a skateboard and my dad didn't anticipate how much of an influence the board would have on me and my brother. We both got a Birdhouse board one Christmas and then the following year we're just skating with our homie down the street. Every day, just skating, skating, skating everywhere. And he didn't like it, so it felt weird. And people would say something about it, they'd be like, "What are you doing skating? Aren't you Black?" So it was just kind of strange, people would see it as weird. And I'd be like, "Well I guess I'm just gonna pick up basketball and start ballin'", and I love basketball, don't get me wrong, but I stopped skating altogether, all throughout high school."
I'd still watch and still look at it, but it just felt weird doing it. I came up here to start long-boarding and then I started skating more. I was like, this shit is tight, and I got in with a lot of Black skaters. I started to really feel like me, I feel like now, I'm 100% me, like nothing is different and nobody is changing me at all. I feel like once I got up here, I just kind of found it again. And that's when I was like, "Oh ya, this is what I should be doing 'cause if I liked it way back then and now, and nobody's telling me I can't be doing this, I'm going for it."
"One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."
-W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls Of Black Folk, 2-3
People immediately, like at first glance are like, "Oh, he's Black." So, depending on what I'm wearing and depending on how I look, or even my mood a little bit, people could be like, "Wow this dude is scary." I've seen people cross the street from somebody like me. It's not like I'm huge and really intimidating. It's not like I have weapons on me. They literally cross the street cause they seem that shook up that I'm around. If I'm on the sidewalk coming their way, I've seen people look around like, mad frantic, and they just cross over. It's really weird, but people will judge you off top just because you're Black.
You gotta kind of justify your way through society.
I think discrimination takes different faces. I think some of it's direct and some of it may be indirect. Whether or not there is malintent behind it. Specifically, I can think of little things like being pulled over and being asked, "Do you really live in this neighborhood? Is this your real address?" Stuff like that. I spent time in a school where I wasn't the majority and it was that same thing where people look at you. There's racial tension, and people use the N word. I've done a pretty good job of handling conflict in my life. You know what, actually, if we really want to be dramatic, I would say, the injustice I had was coming up in an environment that doesn't give you options. And there are plenty of options. You're in an environment that doesn't give you any options. And there are people that are responsible for the existence and development of that environment. So they did me, and they did a whole lot of people, and still are doing a lot of people, injustice.
I hope people know that I'm genuinely invested in them, regardless of whether I just met them for the first time. I think people perceive that I wanna know them as people to the point where I'm willing to make people uncomfortable. I think I can be perceived as somewhat awkward and weird at the same time. Definitely that. Maybe even a little arrogant, because I speak very firmly and my opinions tend to be pretty convinced, and I speak with a lot of conviction. So I can definitely rub people the wrong way and be perceived as abrasive. I think my wife perceives me as someone who is learning and trying, and who wants to have a good life with her and do the right things even when I don't know what to do. She encourages me and she trusts me.
We are made in the image and likeness of God, so every life has intrinsic value, value that's implied just by its existence. But I definitely think when you look at it from a surface level, that my skin matters. It's interesting in our world, people that don't look white- I don't know, people just look at us. It's weird how that works you know? So yeah, it matters. I can't explain that. But they look at us. And you're either white or you're not.
Growing up in Buffalo, I talk to friends and family today that are still there, and the one thing I noticed in my own life experience and what I've noticed in their experiences in talking to them, is there is no perception of option. Someone is now deceased and before they died, someone approached them about leaving, and they said, they'd no longer be alive if they were to leave. Even though leaving was the better option. I think about my siblings and I think about conversations that I've had and even the mentality that I carried, where you don't perceive to have options. There's no options outside of life as you have it. Your options are declared by the TV. And that's not how it works. I don't even know how I figured out that I had options. I knew my mom didn't want me to be a "knucklehead," as she would put it. So I knew I had the option of being one or not being one.
The reality is that we have an option on how we address this issue. And I think that's where Color. comes in. I wanted it to start a discussion. I don't have all the answers but I do know that the answer is not, not addressing it, not talking about it. Basically Color. says that there are issues at hand, there is discussion needed, information needs to be exchanged and there's action that needs to take place. People matter. That's what I see it being about, being about bigger than just T-shirts. T-shirts are great, they're cool, but, they're not gonna set people free. But a T-shirt can start a conversation. A T-shirt can communicate information, and maybe encourage someone to take action.
To learn more about Color., click here.
"The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self...He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.”
-W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls Of Black Folk, 2-3.
A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T S
This book was created as a space for these men to share their stories in order to reframe the way our society views Black men. It was developed from a series of emails, meetings, interviews, and photographs.
I would like to thank my professor and colleagues for their creative input and encouragement throughout the process of making this book. Thank you for your positive feedback and helpful critiques.
I could not have done this book without my dear husband who listened to my small idea and encouraged me to execute it. Thank you for the way you love me and embolden me.
Mostly, I would like to thank the gentlemen who are pictured in this book for so willingly sharing their time and their stories. This book would not have been possible without you and your support.
All Images © Copyright 2017 Hannah Butler. All Rights Reserved.