Looking back, it’s disturbing how as a young black boy growing up in the hood, you couldn’t just be yourself without being accosted by those that looked just like you.
Childhood experiences were poker-faced and oftentimes unsmiling. You were allowed to be an unsullied boy inside your parent’s house, for the most part, but outside that semi-safe space, you were not.
Any behavior you exhibited that fell outside of the bounds of the accepted and respected social norms echoed in the wind like a dog whistle, and was dialed in on, ridiculed, shamed, and attacked.
Something as simple and benign as a laugh or smile at the wrong place and at the wrong time could incite a fight.
“Oh, you one of them clown-ass n*ggas, huh? Always laughing. What’s so f****** funny? Ain’t nothing funny around here, n*gga.”
So, like Langston Hughes, those black boys deferred their dreams and abbreviated their happiness. Those black boys hid their smiles. And those same black boys grew into the shells of black men who forgot how to smile and how to express any emotion other than anger.
Their questions, their angst, their worries, their weaknesses, their concerns, their feelings of inadequacy, their cries, and their frustrations were all internalized all because they were not allowed to smile, and to be someone different than who their environment, for the sake of their survival, forced them to be.
I empathize with those boys.
I empathize with those men, too.
I was once that boy.
I was once that man, too.
But now I’m free and I’m glad I’m me.