It initially started as a piece of sexy, chocolate guy candy someone recently shared with me on Instagram. Aside from the brotha’s exquisite handsomeness and smile, I didn’t really pay much attention to the photo’s context or the source. Later the same day, my feed showed more beautiful pictures of black men. I soon discovered the pictures’ connection to the latest trending topic: #BlackMenSmiling. Still, I didn’t give it too much energy. I thought it was a cool campaign idea, but not enough to make me look further than the hashtag. I just figured, here’s one more Black thing that we have to do as Black people. I mean, every day on social media, there is something we have to address, critique, fix, defend, fight, discuss or explain. Yes! EVERY DAY!
For many of us, the constant reminder of our race starts and continues as early and as long as we can remember. It is our life’s prerequisite. Ignore it… you are considered a sell-out. Affirm it…you are deemed a rebel. No wonder we don’t know whether to smile or frown or use laughter to cover tears. We are constantly in a state of trying to be or not to be too something in order to make or not to make somebody feel some kind of way about something (just reread it slowly this time LOL!) It’s crazy! The pain and trauma are covered with passed down coping mechanisms and our facial expressions become one of our tools for protection: Smile to appear less threatening and frown to appear less fearful! Whew!
So yeah, aside from gawking at beautiful black men smiling in pictures, I didn’t give much thought to the whole #BlackMenSmiling platform. I assumed it was no different from black women being told to smile whenever we are apparently in Angry Black Woman face, which is said to be most of the time by those outside our gender and race. However, when requesting smiles for a picture I prepared to take of two young men, one in the second grade and the other in the seventh, turned into an unexpected conversation about boys not smiling, I had to blog about it! I could not believe the whole notion of #BlackMenSmiling had made its way to the table while on a play and pizza date night! Noooooo…not the babies too! DANG…DANG…DANG! You mean to tell me that our children can’t even smile for a photograph without having to confront connotations of their boyhood or maleness while enjoying the most comforting food…PIZZA!
And I mean, these two men-children were adamant about smiles not having a place in “cool” maleness! “Cool” was the operative word and the two of them, without saying one word to each other, knew they shared identical definitions. I sensed the word “cool” had a double meaning for them, but their gestures and smirks at each other suggested either they didn’t trust me enough to further explain or they lacked the words to explain it. Either way, I totally understood what they meant. Yet, I was curious about how much they really understood about what I thought they meant. I audio-taped the latter part of our table talk and made a poor attempt to bait them back to a few thoughts they had previously shared. I desperately wanted them to circle back, but I forced myself to accept and enjoy the unrecorded moment!
Regardless of age and sex, it is rather evident that many Black folks suffer from a Smiling Syndrome, as so eloquently expressed in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s, “We Wear the Mask” . No matter our specific or personal reasons, we are obviously disguising our smiles out of fear when it is LOVE that we most need. So for this Black Love Day, I’m going to cheeeeeeeeeeeeeez extra hard no matter how angry somebody makes me by accusing me of looking angry just because I’m a Black woman with a lot of shit on my mind! More important, from this day forward, I’m going to encourage any black boy I see to feel FREE and SAFE enough to smile back at me, especially if I’m taking his picture!