Four Book Recommendations to Help You Deconstruct the Negative Perceptions You Have about Black Men and Fathers.
Take inventory of your personal beliefs and make room for the possibility that they are incorrect.
During the first year of my Doctoral program, I picked up a book entitled, “The Assassination of the Black Male” Image by Earl Hutchinson. I was immediately drawn in by the cover. The copy of the book I had displayed prominent Black male figures from the 1990s like OJ Simpson and the Black Michael Trio (Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, and Mike Tyson). Today, I rave about how essential this book was in my development as a Black family scholar. Back then, however, I stopped reading about two chapters into the book and I had no intentions to pick it back up. Somewhere in the first couple of chapters of that book, the author asserted that when it comes to the assassination of the Black male image, Black women were not only accomplices to this assassination but that we were the ones carrying out the marching orders for it. I was offended by this statement, and I put the book down. I couldn’t handle the weight that came with such an accusation.
I was at the beginning stage of choosing a dissertation topic, and my dedication to Black vitality made it undoubtedly clear to me that I should study the deficits I saw in the Black family. Black fatherhood was the most obvious choice for me. By that age, I had come to the acknowledgment that my interactions with my father had heavily influenced the way I moved through the world. The same was true for many of my peers, and I wanted to understand why the one thing I had in common with most Black people I met was that we were raised by single mothers. I did not believe in therapy at the time, so my research took the place of that. I want to investigate the Black family and diagnose the pain points and bottlenecks that had us stuck. If I were to do this correctly, I could not shun discourse that made me uncomfortable.
A few days after putting down the book, I humbled myself and I made room for the possibility that the author could be right. I decided to do a short writing exercise. I took a piece of paper and I drew a line down the middle. On the left side, I wrote down all the things I believed to be true about Black men and fathers— good, bad, or indifferent. On the right side, I challenged myself to find the source of that thought to see if it had the origins of a reputable source. In the end, everything on my list was divided into three different categories: personal experience, things I heard from people I trusted, and things I heard from the media. To my surprise, many of my thoughts were not steeped in reality. Worse than that, I found that some media-based narratives about Black men were able to override my actual experiences with them. This experience was so transformative that I made it a habit throughout my academic journey to challenge my thoughts and to use the voices of Black men to help me to do so. Here is a list of books that aided me in that quest. I occasionaly use affiliate links for books I highly recommend to readers.
1. The Assassination of the Black Male Image — Earl Hutchinson (1997)
It’s an old one, but still very relevant. Sadly many of the accusations against academia, the media, Black rappers, feminists, and novelists are still true today. “The Assassination of the Black Male Image” is still timely and relevant.
2. Finding Fish: A Memoir — Antwone Fisher (2001)
The movie “Antwone Fisher” is undoubtedly a classic in the Black community. When I discovered it was actually a book entitled “Finding Fish”, I wanted to experience the story without the Hollywood fixtures. It was the first film that allowed me to see what trauma looked like for Black men, and the book contains all the gory details that were left out of the movie
3. Black and White: The Way I See It — Richard Williams (2017)
The father of Venus and Serena Williams is a hidden gem. He raised two superstars on purpose and he left a whole blueprint on how to replicate it. In “Black and White”, he is vulnerable enough in the book to admit how growing up in the 1950s in Lousianna made him develop a chronic fear of white people and how he had to conquer his fear of death to get rid of it.
4. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates — Wes Moore (2011)
The premise of this book is brilliant. It retroactively follows the lives of two Black men, both named Wes Moore whose lives were similar but also worlds apart. Three themes emerge in “The Other Wes Moore” that help to explain the lives they both went on to lead: education, expectations, and environment.
Each of these books slowly peeled away several layers on what I believed to be true about Black men. As a qualitative researcher, you are taught to reconcile with your personal beliefs before embarking upon a research study and to continue that throughout the process. Your brain is the research instrument that you will use to interpret any data you collect. To that end, you must ensure that it is sound. It’s obvious from my profile, but I feel like I should still state this: I am not a Black man. I do not walk the world as one and I will never fully understand their experience. What I was then and still am, however, is a stakeholder in Black vitality and the Black family. We can not have that without Black men, so I have a desire to better understand them, their needs, and their perspectives. With respect to Black men, I conduct research through the lens I have available to me — as the daughter of a Black man, a sister to Black men, and, as of September 2020 — the wife of a Black man.
- What is your lens?
2. What experiences have shaped your beliefs about Black men?
3. Do you make room for the possibility that you are wrong?