Last weekend I attended the Corcoran Gallery’s exhibit called Question Bridge: Black Males. I will admit as woman I don’t always understand the male point of view. The interesting thing about the exhibit was that I learned that men often don’t understand each other’s points of view either. The exhibit is more of a documentary where Black men and a few boys ask questions that are answered by other Black men. Some of the responses were heartfelt, such as Andrew Young’s response of how he knew that he met the love of his life. Some responses were heartbreaking, such as when a gentleman shared that his brother died of cancer because he refused to see a doctor. Some were puzzling, as with the man who stated that he believes the n-word will change for the better just as Samaritan did. All were fascinating.
They interviewed men from every age group, socio-economic status, geographic region and education level. They interviewed men in prison, doctors, teenagers, rappers, actors. A very huge cross section. I couldn’t tell how long the interviews lasted. It could have been hours. We sat transfixed for two hours, losing track of time, listening and processing. I think the key to the interviews is that we are not a monolith. Black men are not a homogenous group that is easy to pinpoint and stereotype, despite what others may think. I could see the simple things that divides the group: if you grew in the suburbs vs. the projects, if you grew up pre-civil rights era or during the crack-infested 80’s, if you attended an ivy league college or the school of hard knocks.
I do believe I learned something. It is not something easily identifiable such as I learned that Montpelier is the capital of Vermont. I learned how men articulate themselves, what gets under their skins, what they say and what they are afraid to say. I realized that each of the men interviewed had something to say even if what they said isn’t something I completely understood or agreed with. I don’t “get” prison culture but neither did some of the subjects. I don’t comprehend the respectability politics that is laid at single mothers’ feet when it takes two to make children. And again neither did the other subjects. Lately, mainly because of some really vocal members of “Black Twitter” I had grown weary of hearing any opinions on any subject. The vitriol and rancor spewed on topics as simple as Valentine’s Day especially from Black men exhausted me. But through this exhibit, I remembered that we, “the Blacks” are not a singular community and for every Negative Neal there’s a Positive Paul and that’s a good lesson.