Come to Selfhood
How does one begin to challenge the misguided perceptions that decrease the quality of living for young African American men? Furthermore, how does the African American man position himself in a society that does not acknowledge his true identity? African American men and stories of their positive intersecting identities are not being acknowledged in forums that allow these positive images to become a part of the dominant narrative on African American men. As a photographic artist I chose to use contemporary portraiture, the vernacular image, qualitative data, and positioning to expose this narrative. Come to Selfhood explores African American male identity, masculinity, notions about the father figure, and the photographic archive by providing a frame of reference that visually articulates the numerous identities of young Black men. By delving into ideas of history, role models, and varied experiences, Come to Selfhood makes the previously invisible Black man, accurately and meaningfully visible.
Jamel Jones, left, and his father, James Jones, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2015
Wow. It'd probably be a combination of people and traits I find impressive. My dad’s super diligent, loving and one of the most intelligent people I know. My uncle Pete’s always involved in community as a leader. And my granddad Albert loved life and lived it to the fullest. He had this uncanny sharp memory, able to pick up a conversation at the exact point you left it. It’s surprising when he had seven kids and loads of grandchildren that he could give them all individual attention. I do have to thank my family for giving me a clearer picture of being a man.
I identify as a black male. I don’t see being black as a negative thing. For me, I get to be a part of a rich legacy of struggle and triumph. I’m a part of one of the most creative groups of people on the planet and a real leader of change. I’m good with that. I’m not going to let others color the way I view myself, my family and my history.
We’re extraordinary individuals regardless (and in spite of) oppression. Granted, if we weren't dealing with oppression we could accomplish a lot more in a shorter amount of time. We’re a monolithic group, but I find more of us tend to lead in out respective fields (art, science, psychology, etc) with great results.
Brittonius Lyle left, and his grandfather, Thomas E. Lyle, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2015
As a black nerd, super heroes were my ideal figures that represents black male masculinity. Given there were and still so few it really made it easier for me to choose, specifically, John Stewart as the Green Lantern, Virgil Hawkins as static. Both these men possess excellent qualities for young black males to lookup to: strong, bold, brave, resourceful, level-headed, talented and role models for their community. The fact that Static looked up to Green Lantern as a role model for black super heroes was inspiring. These characters helped shape me as a young black male today.
Johnathan Marshall, left, and his father, John Marshall, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
Human. Plain and simple. We cry, laugh, fight, create, love, sympathize, dream, just live like the rest of the human race.
My granddad is that figure of masculinity for me. I watched him work day today, provide for our household and coach my uncles and cousins into adulthood. He was reserved, funny and confident in his masculinity.
Positive self-talk, as well as setting goals, have always helped me ignore the bullshit America has to offer black men. Finding my place outside of having to rely on the dominant culture and relying on myself cements my positive identity.
Brian Lawrey left, and his father, James Lawrey, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
Masculinity as a black man is remaining genuine. Believing in your movements by moving with a strong moral purity. Having an innocence at the core of wisdom leading the male along his path and resonating his joy through action. A black male in America is tougher. I personally do not like America due to it sticking a target on my back. “America” is an adjunct of where I reside currently. I have learned the “idea” of freedom in its constitution, yet I rely on my own strength and history to create my freedom. America is a house to me as a black male, not my home.
Cameron Goins left, and his father, Keith Goins, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
We’re violent, we’re ignorant, we’re criminals, we’re loud, we’re aggressive, we sell drugs, we trap. These perceptions impact me every day because as a black male I am automatically stereotyped because of my skin as opposed to my character. I am constantly judged due to the medias perception. They have given me insight to how to bounce back and how to grow from experiences and turn the negatives into life lessons.
Christian Cody left, and his father, Ywahnos Cody, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2015
Andre 3000 came to mind first, so I’ll use him as an example. I admire how he exists within the Hip-hop world without selling himself to be the stereotypical rap icon. He has a strong sense of self expression undiluted by his surroundings. I like when men aren't afraid to show themselves. To me black masculinity is a liquid; loose and easily manipulated. It can take many forms. I’d say that my own identity as a black male would be characterized by intelligent, hardworking, and loving. That is who I am and what I have experienced.
David Chapman left, and his father, Earl Chapman, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
No, because I identify myself as a black man. The subtle yet distinct change in terminology from “male” to “men” makes all the difference between my physical and spiritual being.
David Williams, left father David Williams, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
There is no doubting my ethnicity. My skin is a smooth cocoa brown, my nose is round and wide, my hair is curly and I am blessed with talents with only a black man can have, and it brings me a greater sense of pride. My father, David Williams, came from poverty of Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Downfall in life was women. He is a father of 6-7. But he works everyday to make sure we were always taken care of. He had one son. Thought me what to do as well as what I shouldn’t.
Devin Hughes left, and his father, Philip Hughes, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
Setting a good example for the younger generation is vital. Being a minority in America isn't easy, having someone to look up to in a positive way can get you far. Having a strong male role model in my life molded me into the independent man I am today. I think being exposed to certain things at a young age shaped me early. I knew better when faced with them later in life because of my experience. Seeing negative things just makes me want more for myself.
Dravon McKinnie, left, and his father, Leo McKinnie, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
Sylvester, though not likely the idealized version of “black masculinity”, sylvester embodies what masculinity means to me. That means having the guts to walk, talk and stand in your own truth despite what others think. A man of color cannot develop a positive identity of himself unless those around him uphold and maintain his self worth.
Hasani Sahlehe, left, and his father, Vernon Morgan, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
I thought that I had to be big, strong, athletic, tough. I tried to be all of those things. I looked down on myself when I wasn’t. I thought that others would too.
When I was younger I wanted to be Tupac or Bob Marley. That’s where I got my philosophy. Two great men but now I see the world differently. I still love them both, but now I want to be Hasani. I’ve finally started to appreciate me for me.
My experiences have made me who I am today. Unfortunately, those that are traumatic seem to have the most impact on my character. Not feeling accepted for who I was contributed to a desire in me to be accepted by all. I’m beginning to become more comfortable with who I am. I am so happy that I am able to become more and more like myself every day. It is still a struggle but one thing I know is that I wouldn't want to be anyone other than myself.
Ian Benboe, left, and his Father, Michael Nelson Benboe, 1991, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
They are still black men, which is something that can never be erased. Being black comes with direct and indirect ties to the birth of the civilization we reside in today. I used to deny my heritage, hoping to be more mixed and diverse. Now, I fully embrace my ethnicity.
onathan Magee, left, and his father, Willace Demetris Magee, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
Everything in my life has helped me create a mold for the man I am and the man I want to be. Every trail brings new changes to my character. Every event evolves the nature of my soul. If I could change one thing in my life good or bad I couldn't do it because every single thing has created who I am today.
To me the ideal figure that represents black male masculinity is my father. All his life he has worked hard and pushed himself for his family and is always teaching me new lessons on what it means to be a man.
Do not worry about other people. No matter what you do someone in the world is going to hate you or what you have. So in the end, do not worry about it. Get yours, and have faith in yourself.
Kamall Browne, left, and his father, Venzil Rawle Browne, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
Only speak ebonics (slang)
All grew up in poverty
All have baby mothers
All have violent criminal backgrounds
I watch people’s first assumption of me disappear the second I speak. Perceptions make people look at me like I’m dumb or illiterate. So many people are surprised to hear how intellectual I am after taking the time to get to know me.
My father is the ideal figure for black male masculinity. He works his ass off just to provide for his family. He’s been married for almost 25 years, had 3 kids, and never cheated on my mother. He’s the most passionate person I know.
Lamar Allen, left, and his father, Glynn Sherwood Gaston, Jr., Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
Confidence, as well as education is key. A man of color with knowledge of his history will build is confidence. If a man of color can build his confidence, this will help him dominate in a society that does not fully support people of color. An ideal figure that represents black male masculinity is Steve Harvey. Steve Harvey is a true example of how back masculinity is portrayed. His ability to admit his mistakes, take ownership, his boldness, leadership and willingness to give back to the back community represents black masculinity.
For me, role models played an instrumental role in who I am today. I grew up with many mentors, and am blessed to have my dad in my life. Regardless of the various challenges I have faced growing up, I had role models who were able to assist me and to give me advise, molding the black male I am today.
Lindel Brown left, and his father, Medford Brown, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
In this photograph is a man of flaws like many of us, but who had great intentions. This man, who is my father, has been a great man to his children in teaching them the lessons that is necessary to live a decent life, more so to be an even better person. I am blessed and happy that I can say I have a father who loves and care for me and has been there when it mattered most.
Matt Cornwall, left, and his father, David Alexander Cornwall, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2015
I don’t truly believe there is an ideal figure of black male masculinity. Manliness is a series of qualities that we categorize into a certain group. No one can be 100% masculine though, it’s impossible. If anything, the black male who doesn't chase such ideals would ironically be an ideal figure.
Black masculinity is a phantom to me. I personally try to more towards it and I can never fully grasp it. However, my parents are black and I’m comfortable with the body I’m in right now, thats perfectly good enough for me.
Nicholas Johnson, left, and his father, Roderick Johnson ,Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
My father taught me what true love is. After the passing of my mother he had to play both paternal and maternal roles for my sister and I. He displayed strength and vulnerability.
Reeyon Rouse, left, and his Father, Larry Rouse, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
There are perceptions of men of color. Being scary, rude, disrespectful, mad and always up to no good. It impacted me by making me try not to be any of the things. I have had experiences where I have judged by my skin. It has opened my eyes to what the world can be.
Jeremiah Thompson, left, and his father, Joseph Thompson Sr., 2000, Archival Pigment Print, 8.5 x 11", 2016
I have been afraid to express my true identity in the past because as a gay black man I could potentially be threatened, beat up, or killed. I’ve had friends who've been jumped and harassed because of their identity. Not to say I’m ashamed of who I am but I have to protect myself. Being black is on thing, but being black & queer poses a different topic of discussion. This has shaped me into not hiding who I am, & understanding that representation is important because you never know who you are helping by being you. No one should live timid and afraid because of things they have no control over, such as skin color and sexual orientation. It’s also shaped me to be fearless & fight for true unity amongst the black community. Not talking about something doesn't erase its existence.