That Hated-On Man: In Honour of Henry Rodrigues and Other Black But Not Black Men
La Vonda R. Staples
I think the majority of Black men whom I speak with on a daily basis are not African American men. I regularly interface, via phone and internet, with Nigerian, Ghanaian, Haitian, and Puerto Rican dark-skinned, thick lipped, and very well educated brothers. This is in addition to the people I speak with on an ongoing basis over writing projects and publishing. I don’t know how this happened that most of my professional male contacts are black but not Black. But it has. It’s probably something to do with me and how I prefer to keep things congenial yet formal and also at the same time I expect complete respect for me as well as other cultures.
I’m like anyone else. I make off-color comments but mostly when I’m angry or confused or hurt. I’m not a person who enjoys ethnicity jokes and these men of whom I fortunate to know and hear their testimonies regarding non-Black black male interaction and Black male interactions. To put it bluntly, brothers from the rest of the African Diaspora are a totally different “type” than our domestic crew. They tend to invest more in their family at the expense of not looking so very stylish. They tend to not drive the flashy, expensive cars. They are, almost to a man, married. Black men (and I’m using the word Black to mean those from America) really are a polar opposite in terms of socio-cultural orientation. The African Diaspora men from around the world may look exactly like Black men but they don’t behave in the same ways in terms of spending, commitments, or even work.
Am I saying that Black American men aren’t hard workers? Hell no! Why would I say something as crazy as that? I’m saying that the African and Caribbean Black man is something more akin to a machine. I have a mentor from Sierra Leone, Dr. Abdul Karim Bangura, he holds five doctoral degrees and has published nearly sixty books as well as countless articles. It has been a long time since we’ve seen a Black American academic post such numbers in such a short time (Dr. Bangura is not yet fifty years old). I have interviewed a Nigerian academic, Dr. Toyin Falola, who, in addition to his teaching schedule has managed to author some 90 texts on his subject: African history. I don’t think Dr. Falola is 65 years old. I could give you each man’s CV, down the line, over and over again. Even my friends Kwaku Danso and Kwaku Kwakyi, both Ghanaian men, both moderately young. Do you know in addition to holding advanced degrees that both of these men also have very successful entrepreneurial endeavours? Yes. They do. It seems that the African and Caribbean man never sleeps.
And that brings me to my friend Henry Rodrigues. Typical diasporan. Puerto Rican parents and brought up in Brooklyn. Thick accent which meant that Whites didn’t consider him Black and Blacks didn’t consider him Black. By culture alone he’s in a type of limbo. The way he lives his life is a commitment to his chosen profession. Henry is a personal trainer. He’s also the trainer for my son’s Muay Thai team. He’s a father to those young men. He has coached my son to his first win in mixed martial arts and he also takes time to give me free personal training advice. He is a true sage in the words of the ancient Egyptian parable: A true sage gives what he has without pay and without secret.”
I’ve listened to Henry. At fifty eight years old he looks more like 35 and moves better than most 25 year old men. He is a miracle in muscle. But when you realize that most of Henry’s clients are White. His circle, other than from his home or in New York, in the Midwest is nearly all White. He’s still, after all of these decades set apart: his lack of Black-ness segregates him. It’s a tragedy. This man has so much to give. I wonder why we, Black people, will accept Italians as trainers, Polish, it just seems like we’ll take anyone but the people outside of the United States in the African Diaspora. After all, didn’t we come from them?
I don’t know if there’s any solution for this. I know that my son and his friends openly accept Henry and they don’t make any jokes about the myriad accents they hear when they answer the phone for me. Well, they do make jokes about my friend Nnanna Kalu when he calls from Nigeria. But that’s only because he doesn’t call me La Vonda. He calls me Amaka – the name their family gave to me. So, I guess it is excusable for them to laugh when they hear a Nigerian man bellowing, “Amaka, Amaka! Is this you? This is Nnnanna calling to you from Nigeria!” Yeah, that is worth a little laugh.
I don’t know why the sons reject the mother. I don’t know why the sons reject the mother’s other sons. How can the citizens of the same womb bear each other such ill will? They be hatin’ on them foreign dudes all the time. And I can’t understand what would be a valid reason why. All I know is this, I’ve exponentially increased my opportunities by expanding my horizons. My dreams are not bound by the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic, the Pacific and Niagara Falls. My dreams are so big I can’t carry them all alone. I know, if you think about it, you’ll feel the same way I do. And you know what’s really outrageous about the entire separation? We elected a Black man to the highest office in this land who is the son of an African Diaspora man. So, we vote for the son and we shun the immigrant father? Something to consider, if only for a moment. Something to consider, indeed.