Photo: Femi Matti | Words By Dominique Matti
I have written and erased a piece entitled "Black Boys Need Two Talks" three times, now. It's been weeks since I started and I could not get it right. I could not get it right because I felt guilty openly criticizing Black men. So I didn't just say Black men. I said "some Black men, some Black boys, some straight Black men, some cis Black men." But it didn't sound right. Because it wasn't.
Black boys need two talks, because all Black girls are at risk. They need one that teaches them about their own oppression, and one about how to avoid becoming oppressive. Black boys need a talk about what police need consent to do, and what Black boys need consent to do. They need a talk about the problem with respectability politics -- the false notion that how they present themselves affects how they deserve to be treated. And they need a talk about how not to use that same set of respectability standards on Black girls. They need a talk about how to spot and dodge all of the emotional and physical violence of white supremacy and its perpetuators. They need a talk about how not to perpetuate the emotional and physical violence of patriarchy, as well. They need a talk about how society feels entitled to dictate their lifestyles, they need a talk about what they are and are not entitled to.
We live in a world where my saying any of this means I can expect and will endure insults, threats, and rage for advocating for Black women instead of protecting Black men from accountability. But Black girls deserve to feel safe more than Black boys need to feel like they have inherited Black girls' bodies for consumption.
I wrote a piece about my father's incarceration recently and my biggest fear about publishing it was not exposing my own trauma, but unearthing my father's flaws. I feel the same way about this piece-- because I love Black men. And I want to hide any of their shortcomings from the white gaze-- but I shouldn't have to hide the parts of me that need protecting, too. I know that there must be nuance in the conversation -- a space between silencing women and saving men.
I have a Black son. We live in a white neighborhood. At the park sometimes he walks up to other toddlers and tries to grab their faces and kiss them. Their mothers often flinch or cringe or snatch their babies back. I always freeze at this interaction. My initial response is maternal defensiveness. I don't know that these mothers are hesitant to interact because my son is Black, but I do know that my son is going to be made out to seem dangerous or scary or threatening one day. Society will make sure of it. I don't want him to feel the effects of that. I want to protect him from that. But I also want my son to understand boundaries, consent-- that he is not entitled to enact his urges on others. Because society will tell him that girls are his playground, and I want better for my son than becoming a person who believes that.
Freezing and contemplating is okay for now. My son is one, and too young to understand racism or consent (he doesn't even understand the word "no" yet). I redirect him-- to the swings, or a snack, or a trip down the slide. But when he is older we will have two talks. Because white supremacy will traumatize my Black boy, and patriarchy will encourage him to traumatize girls in return. Both will try to teach him to suppress the best parts of himself. I won't allow him exposure to either without preparing him. Black boys deserve better than that.
I will have failed my son if I allow him to grow into the kind of man who doesn't regard women as equals. I will have failed him if I don't teach him about boundaries, about respect, about consent, about autonomy, about self discipline. I will have failed him if I ever utter the words "boys will be boys," because it insinuates that he is incapable of being thoughtful enough to not do damage.
I erased this piece three times because I thought it was a disservice to Black men and boys, that in the wrong hands it would be misconstrued as bashing. But this piece is an act of love, for Black girls and boys alike. Because both deserve better than the roles society assigns them. Both deserve to be liberated from the broken standards we endow and enforce. I will teach my son that his liberation is inextricably linked to the liberation of all Black people, that we all deserve protection from oppression and being oppressive.
Dominique Matti is a 23 year old writer, poet, and mother based in Philly. Her central focus is social justice. Her favorite pastime is drinking copious amounts of coffee.