No Ordinary Man

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Left to Right: Actor & Cultural Architect Charles Reese, Historian Leslye Joy Allen, and Actor-Director-Drama Professor Keith Arthur Bolden (Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.)

Left to Right: Actor & Cultural Architect Charles Reese, Historian Leslye Joy Allen, and Actor-Director-Drama Professor Keith Arthur Bolden (Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.)

When I learned that Mrs. Margarette Bolden passed on to the ancestors on Wednesday, October 26, 2016, I immediately thought of her son, my friend Keith Arthur Bolden.  I never met Keith Arthur’s Mama, but I knew her through him.  He spoke of her lovingly and often.  But then, that is Keith Arthur’s nature. (I call him by his first and middle name.)

An actor, director, Professor of Drama, and director of the amazing Spriggs Burroughs Ensemble at Spelman College that contains actors from all-female Spelman and all-male Morehouse College, I am highly familiar with Keith Arthur’s phenomenal work with young actors.  I had the good fortune to act as a Historical Consultant for him and this group; and the adventure was a lot of fun, and his asking me to do so was a supreme compliment.  But on Wednesday, October 26, 2016, Keith Arthur lost his Mama.  Yet…

In an act of unwavering devotion to his art and craft, he was up at 1:00 AM on October 27, 2016 for a late night/early morning rehearsal with his actors in the Spriggs Burroughs Ensemble.  One day after his amazing mother passed away from her third bout with cancer, Keith Arthur stated that his Mama would want him to keep working and perfecting his art.  This behavior might sound unreasonable to an ordinary man or woman, but Keith Arthur Bolden is not an ordinary man.

I have listened to him rave about how good his wife Tinashe Kajese is at acting.  “If you want to know how to get into a scene, you watch my wife,” he has said on so many occasions.  He could routinely brag about how beautiful his wife is (and she is a real beauty), but he praises her work all the time.  In that respect he is quite different from a lot of men.  Many men will praise a woman’s cooking and will talk about how pretty she is, or how supportive she is, but rarely do we women get praise for our professions unless the man has discovered some personal use of his own for our particular skills.  Even more rare is the man or husband who brags about his wife’s abilities in her chosen profession.  Keith Arthur Bolden is proud of his wife—as he should be, because Tinashe is a powerhouse of an actor.  He doesn’t mind telling everybody how proud he is of her as a professional.  In addition to that, he remains one of the most thoughtful men I have encountered…

When my cousin and theatre veteran Billie Allen passed to the ancestors in December of 2015, one of the first people to contact me was Keith Arthur.  When I had no money to attend the theatre, Keith Arthur made sure I saw Tinashe Kajese in the phenomenal play “Serial Blackface” about Atlanta’s late 70s-early 80s missing and murdered child cases; and actor-playwright Terry Burrell in her one-woman show “Ethel” about the life of the late Ethel Waters. (I have to add that Atlanta actor Margo Moorer is also another one of my theatre angels.  Margo came and picked me up and took me to the theatre to see Gabrielle Fulton’s “Uprising” and made me take some money.)  Keith Arthur adds even more love and light to the best in the theatre tradition.  He thought of me and got me tickets all while he managed and directed a college theatre group, while he taught classes, acted in a variety of television roles, while he had the regular duties of husband and father, and while he went back-and-forth to L. A. to check on his ailing mother.  I WILL NEVER FORGET HIS THOUGHTFULNESS.  So…

When I learned his mother passed away, I thought of the value of good parenting, the value of raising a boy to look for substance in a woman. Mrs. Margarette Bolden had to have been one hell of a woman and Keith Arthur’s dad was probably pretty smart for having married her…and now she has left the earthly plane to join the ancestors…

Keith Arthur would probably tell me that he has made some mistakes and that my compliments here are a bit over-the-top.  I would have to disagree.  Ordinary men rarely understand much about women, not always because women are that complicated, but often because ordinary men never really ask women any real questions, at least not any questions about what a woman wants to do for a living, particularly if what she wants to do professionally has nothing to do with the man asking the questions. Keith Arthur Bolden is not so self-absorbed and does not fit that description…

I suspect that his mother had a lot to do with his thoughtfulness and genuine respect for a woman’s ambitions and talents.  I have little doubt that his tenacity and belief that “the show must go on” (which explains his early A.M. rehearsal) not only comes from the theatre tradition, but also from his mother who battled cancer like a champion, always with a smile and positive attitude.  I looked at the photos Keith Arthur would post of her smiling, even though her health was declining.  So I thank Mrs. Margarette Bolden for her shining example and also because she raised a man who is not ordinary by any definition of the word.  One day at a time, Keith Arthur…Rest in Peace Mrs. Bolden.  Àṣé.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Much To Do With Manhood

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

“Weary – Self Portrait, ” Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All rights reserved.

I strongly urge every one to read “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates in September 2012’s Atlantic Magazine; and “Barack X: Race and the Obama Presidency” by Atlanta’s own Jelani Cobb posted on October 8, 2012 in The New Yorker.  These are two superior essays that deal with the shifting attitudes about race as this nation examines the record of our current President Barack Obama.  While I cannot give you an analysis of everything Coates and Cobb discussed, I can say that these essays are masterpieces by two very thoughtful Black scholars.

It is worth mentioning that Coates noticed a definitive and more negative shift in the manner in which some members of the Right viewed and spoke about Obama once he came out and stated that if he had a son that son would look like Trayvon Martin.  He also stressed that the President did not point accusatory fingers at anyone, but simply asked for a thorough investigation of the killing of the unarmed teenager.  However, Cobb beautifully and uniquely compared Obama to the late Malcolm X.  Once Malcolm X returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca and reappraised his approach to dealing with America’s racial problems, he was confronted by many people, Black and White, who were not prepared to accept his evolution into an activist that would and could build multiracial coalitions to fight for racial and economic justice.  Cobb underscored that like Malcolm X, Obama simultaneously represents different things to different sets of people, almost none of who are prepared to grant him much wiggle room to change.

In both essays Obama appears as much set free by his racial identity as he is boxed-in by it.  Although Coates and Cobb’s commentary was deeply moving, I noticed how their and others’ discussions about President Obama and the death of Trayvon Martin have so rarely focused on gender, on the very idea of manhood and even Black manhood itself.

As a self-designated Black man—and please, let us not discuss the fantasy that Black Americans are racially pure because miscegenation, during and after slavery, ended that purity—President Obama has, according to many pundits, simply not been able to publically show anger because, God-forbid, he might appear to White voters as the stereotypical angry Black man.  Black male aggression (and violence) is fine on a football field or against other Black people or in the movies.  Yet, such imagined or real aggression is not acceptable in the Whitehouse or on a street in a gated suburban enclave: that is, if you believe the late Trayvon Martin was the aggressor against neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman who pulled the trigger on Martin allegedly in self-defense.

For Black men, any demonstration of a more forceful masculinity is fraught with dangers.  If Black men act angry and are loud, they risk stigmatization as “thugs,” or worse they might conjure up that age-old stereotype, the “Black Buck.”  The “Black Buck” was almost always a villainous rapist and/or thief and/or murderer or all of the above.  The stereotype is almost as old as the American slavery that allowed White southern slave holders to manufacture it, in part, to justify Whites’ continued enslavement and persecution of Black people.  Black people en masse, but Black men in particular, Whites reasoned, needed supervision.

President Obama knows this history of Black America.  Was Trayvon Martin familiar with this history?  Does George Zimmerman know anything about this narrative?  We do not know.  We also cannot know if Zimmerman saw (or sees) himself as somehow having transcended that category known as “person of color” due to his having a Jewish father.  The media first described George Zimmerman as, “Hispanic White” or “White Hispanic,” to the surprise and confusion of many enlightened members of an ethnically and racially diverse Hispanic American population, many of who have some African and/or Amerindian ancestry themselves.

When protests over Martin’s death became a national and then an international cause célèbre, the media pivoted and identified Zimmerman as the visibly brown-complexioned man of Peruvian extraction on his mother’s side that most of us already assumed he was.  So, what does all of this mean?  Well, it means that President Obama and George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin have much in common, even if their commonality is not strikingly evident.

Obama, Martin, and Zimmerman are (and were) manipulated and trapped, by real and perceived definitions of masculinity—masculinity viewed through the prism of race and certain inter- and intra-racial expectations.  All three males are confined not only by their own definitions of manhood, but also by classifications that come from others who place certain expectations on them for reasons that have everything to do with their race and gender.

Zimmerman has a police record.—He once fought a police officer that tried to arrest one of his friends.  Such a brawl appears, on the surface, as one example of swaggering male bravado.  If Trayvon Martin did in fact confront Zimmerman—the man who was following him—he probably did so in order not to appear weak or afraid.  Remember, Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend, a young woman who told him to run.  How many boys, to say nothing of men, want to appear weak or afraid in front of women who are important to them?  While we will never have a complete account of that tragic night in February 2012, it is plausible that Martin’s flawed teenage wisdom incorrectly told him to “Stand His Ground,” pardon the pun.  How many fathers and men (and mothers for that matter) have you heard tell sons, nephews, and any male friend or family member to, “Protect yourself; protect your mother, your sisters, your girlfriends, your wives.  Do not start a fight, but do not allow anyone to push you around or run you away.  BE A MAN!”  For most of us, the opposite of being a man is to be a coward.  And then…

There was President Obama’s polished and fact-filled, but rather lackluster, performance in the first Presidential debate of 2012.  Critics rightfully thought he should have hammered away at some of Mitt Romney’s falsehoods.  Instead, Obama seemingly held back, and people on all sides of the political spectrum saw Romney as the winner.  The president appeared to many people as weak.  Was he tired?  Maybe.  Has his notoriety as being cool and level headed, restricted his responses?  Perhaps.  We do not know.  Yet, there is such a thing as being too calm or even too cautious.  I would not wish the balancing act that the President has performed for nearly four years on anyone.  However, there was something about the glee coming from many folks on the Right, that made Romney look like the Great White Hope—all puns intended—a man that had the stamina to beat a Black man.

I do not know what may happen in the next debate or in November 2012.  Perhaps everything I have written here will become obsolete in just a few days.  Yet, I do know this.  At this late stage of the game, President Obama has little to lose if he shows a flash of righteous anger.  In fact, I believe he is entitled to it.  And here is why: In a gated community in Sanford, Florida, neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman might not have followed a Black female for no other reason than her being Black.  It is easy to dismiss a Black female as harmless even when they often are not. Zimmerman did not follow Trayvon Martin because of something Martin did or was doing.  He followed Martin because of what he thought Martin might do.  And Black males always might do something, right?

I do not want to give the impression that we Black females have not been and are not subjected to some of the worst brutalities and indignities.  Yet, Black females, are too often dismissed as non-threatening simply because we are women.  WE Black women fight for our personhood, not our womanhood.  And because we are often dismissed, those of us with brains can use our inconsequentiality to get away with any number of things that Black men might be reprimanded for or killed for attempting to do.  It is no accident that it was Black females who first refused to relinquish their seats to White passengers on those buses in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 (and there were several who did it before Rosa Parks).   A Black man or boy might simply have been killed.  WE sisters have always known how to use our persecutors’ varied and negative definitions of us against those same persecutors.

Now, too many folks followed President Obama in the mistaken belief that the sheer virility of his Black manhood, with all of its alleged hyper-masculine implications, would cause the earth to spin in a different direction and the “Magic Negro” would appear and solve everyone’s problems.  Throughout history Black folks have often been viewed simultaneously as having some special qualities all the while being villainized, often by the same people.  This is not new.  When folks on the Left and the Right discovered the President to be a mere, albeit talented and highly intelligent, mortal Black man, the disappointment resonated everywhere.  How dare he defy that racialized masculine stereotype of what Black manhood must be, should be.  George Zimmerman bought into the flip side of this fallacy and followed and subsequently shot and killed an unarmed Black teenager in alleged self-defense.  He has arrived at this tragic moment in his life precisely because he mistakenly believed that the boy needed to be followed in the first place.  Yet, Zimmerman himself could not/cannot escape the stigma(s) that follow “men of color” either.  He was first conveniently a “White Hispanic.”  He became a “Brown man” the moment public opinion turned up the heat about the killing of Trayvon Martin.  So here is my message to President Obama:

Your enemies will not acknowledge your triumphs no matter how gracious you are, no matter how genteel you are, no matter how big the victory, no matter how much you love and respect your wife or spend quality time with your daughters.  Some of your allies worry that if you show any anger you will frighten someone–mainly some already nervous White folks.  But here is the dilemma, you already frighten a lot of people for reasons we all understand.  No matter how skinny or seemingly innocuous or peaceful or tempered your demeanor and responses may be, you remain a threat, a Black male threat.  (WE also know that if you had been 17-years-old in Florida and walking back from the store wearing a hoodie, you too probably would have been followed or worse.)  Now, I am not suggesting that you show up at a campaign rally or a staff meeting or a debate and punch somebody’s lights out.  I have no desire for you or any other Black man to be violent, loud or profane.  I expect decorum at all times.  However, since you are already perceived as a threat, you might as well turn up the heat.  History has shown that turning up the heat is all our enemies truly respect.  WE, your sisters, know what real dignified Black manhood looks like. WE have been warmed by it, loved by it, respected by it, protected by it and defended by it; and WE have your back!

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All rights reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

 

A Stranger in the Neighborhood – The Worse Case Scenario

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

*

(Update 6-24-2013: When I wrote this blog last year the public only saw a photo of George Zimmerman in an orange prison suit where he clearly weighed roughly 250 pounds.  When he finally appeared in public, I, like everyone else was shocked to see that he had lost weight. (Of course he appears in 2013 to have gained much of it back.  I mentioned Zimmerman’s size in this blog and have left it as it is because I think it is important to note that our impressions are based on the kind of information we have access to.  My opinions have not changed and neither has the blog below.

*Update 3-29-2012:  When I wrote and published the piece below on March 25, 2012, news reports stated that there had been a physical altercation between Martin and Zimmerman in which Zimmerman had a bloody nose and blood on the back of his head.  A new video obtained by ABC news showed Zimmerman being brought into police custody, also showed that he had no signs of physical injury or blood anywhere on his person.  Then in a couple of days there were new accusations that the video had been doctored–a new video showed Zimmerman with gashes on the back of his head.  I am, however, leaving the contents of this blog “as is” because there are some questions that need to be answered that have little to do with how badly Zimmerman was allegedly injured by Martin.  A hyperlink to the “first” ABC video is provided at end of this blog.*)

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I will not bore you by retelling what has already been reported about the fatal and tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.  If you have been anywhere near a television or the internet, you know several stories about this already.  I would like to share my take on what questions need to be asked about this case and to share my own personal experiences with fear.

I remember the first time I called the police because I saw a person walking around my neighborhood who I had never seen before.  The person stopped at every house, looked in a few neighbors’ windows, and they did not seem to be selling anything.  I called the police, looked out my window at the person and wrote down everything from what they were wearing to how old I thought they were.  I have done this a couple of times, once when the person was Black like me and another time when the person was White.  As a police officer once told me, “You ladies should not be taking chances.  Call the police when you see anything out of the ordinary.”  In each instance the person had a legitimate reason for being in the neighborhood, but I let the police question these individuals and then waited for the police to stop by my house to let me know what they discovered and to assure me that I had nothing to worry about.

Right now George Zimmerman is under fire for his fatal shooting of Black,17-year-old,140 pound Trayvon Martin whom Zimmerman claims attacked him from behind.  Most people are reasonably having a hard time understanding how Zimmerman, who weighs 250 pounds, was over powered by what is obviously a slender teenage boy.  That Zimmerman had a bloody nose when police arrived on the scene does raise the possibility that Trayvon might have, at some point, hit the man in the face.

Friends of Zimmerman have come forward to paint him as someone who was certainly not racist; someone who mentored a young Black boy; and a man who has been crying and feels very bad about what has transpired.  He should feel bad, because if the police had properly conducted their investigation, Zimmerman might be in a jail cell where he would probably feel much safer than he feels right now.  He and his defenders understand his suspicions about Trayvon Martin, but there has been no statement from Zimmerman or anyone in his camp that suggests he has the faintest understanding that his actions probably frightened the hell out of Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman and all other parties also need to understand that even if he is not a racist as he and some of his defenders have claimed, that many people who are not Black and who bear no particular ill-will against the Black community often harbor some dangerous and downright stupid stereotypes about Black people.  You do not need to be a virulent racist to harbor stereotypes about any group of people.  I have met many White and allegedly non-racist liberals who have assumed certain things about ALL Black people, only to embarrass themselves when they discover their mistake.

There are some questions that should plague everyone about this fatal shooting.  First, let us suppose a HYPOTHETICAL scenario where Trayvon Martin jumps George Zimmerman from behind and actually physically gets the best of him.  If this scenario is true then the next question is what motivated Trayvon Martin to attack in this way?  What would you do if someone continued to follow you and you were not near your house?  If Zimmerman was safely driving in his SUV with a loaded gun, following Trayvon Martin, then why did Zimmerman not just crack his car window, say, “Hello” to Trayvon and then calmly ask the boy what he was doing in the neighborhood or if he lived in the neighborhood.  And if the person walking in your neighborhood seemed so threatening, why not follow from a safe distance and wait for the police.

I remember driving one night, with a car following me; the experience was unbelievably frightening.  I drove until I found a well-lit parking lot, populated with several people.  The car followed me into the parking lot, made a U-Turn and then quickly sped away.  My heart raced with fear, but I hurried home glad that nothing happened.  I do not know what I might have done (or might do) if I were out walking and suddenly discovered someone was following me in a car.  If you are walking, you cannot outrun the vehicle.  Then, what would you think if the driver exited the car?  Certainly, I might be convinced that the person was trying to harm me in some way.  Being followed also provokes feelings of vulnerability and anger.

George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin when he did not have to do so.  WHY SHOULD ANYONE EXPECT A BOY WALKING DOWN A STREET TO STOP FOR A COMPLETE STRANGER  THAT THE  BOY BELIEVES IS FOLLOWING HIM?  If Zimmerman’s account of what happened is correct: that Trayvon Martin jumped him from behind, then Zimmerman should be prepared to explain why he thought Trayvon Martin did this, and how such a small framed boy managed to over power a 250 pound man.  I must admit that when you think your life is threatened, fear will make you much stronger than you ever knew you were.  If Zimmerman’s account is correct then he needs to explain his role in provoking such a response from a boy who was a good student and who had no criminal record.  The key word here is “boy.”

We probably will never know exactly what was said by Zimmerman or Martin.  It is always possible that a nasty verbal exchange took place between them; this would not come as a surprise.  However, that Trayvon Martin told his girlfriend over his cell phone that he was being followed is frightening.  She too is an adolescent who told him to run.  He said he would just walk fast.  Black boys who “walk fast” are not always doing so because they have done something wrong or fleeing the scene of a crime.  But anyone who is afraid will walk fast or possibly run.

Even in the worst of all possible–not actual–scenarios, no matter how mature or responsible Trayvon Martin might have been in his too short life, his ability to reason like a mature adult was still a year or two away.  Some maturity comes with time and experience.  Some mistakes in judgment are expected when you are a teenager; and no one expects a 17-year-old boy to never make the wrong decision.  At the risk of invoking a stereotype about all adolescent males, can someone tell me whether they have ever met a young teenage boy who has not had at least one fisticuff over something silly or even something serious?  Yet, it was completely rational to try to walk or run away from someone Trayvon believed was following him.  For Zimmerman to assume that his following someone walking down the street would not be frightening to that person is about as absurd and irrational as anyone can get.

The public may never know the exact details of what transpired on that tragic night in February.  I freely admit my anger over this boy’s death.  Yet, no matter what happens next or whose story becomes the narrative of this tragedy, there is still one clear fact that no one can escape or ignore, and that fact is that George Zimmerman was not/is not a teenager, but A GROWN MAN who should have known better.  Trayvon Martin left this world, his family, and his friends while he was just a boy.

(*This is a hyperlink to the surveillance video of George Zimmerman being taken into custody by the Sanford, Florida police on the night he killed Trayvon Martin: http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/trayvon-martin-case-exclusive-surveillance-video-george-zimmerman/story?id=16022897)

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.