Stories influence both individuals and entire people, groups. Since 1619, we have all been told a distorted story about black men in America. Yet, many black men have chosen to take back the pen and write a better story for themselves and their descendants.
The value of an African American male’s life has become a mainstream conversation in the 21st century. We Want A Different Story engages this critical conversation with hopes of cultivating healing and empathy in our society.The stories, facts, and solutions will assist readers from all backgrounds in deconstructing a false narrative of black inferiority.
Read the Excerpt Now.
“…The narrative about black men evolved over time. Black men in America went from being portrayed as foolish to being portrayed as dangerous. Black men went from being viewed as pets to being viewed as threats. The image was then mass-distributed by the majority culture that had the power to control the narrative. Since then, the narrative has morphed and reinvented itself over time. The man who was once called a savage or brute is now called a “thug” in the 21st century. The language has shifted, yet the concept remains the same. The thug label is profane yet appropriate enough to be used in television interviews, dinner table conversations, and classrooms. The label is usually given to individuals who for whatever reason are unable to live up to mainstream standards of decency. The term thug is dangerous because it takes away a person’s humanity. Thugs must be dealt with. Laws are written for thugs. Guns are bought to protect us against thugs. When the thug has been identified within a community, resources are directed toward containing him. The media then does the work of broadcasting the thug’s image over its various channels of influence. America begins to make a correlation between skin color and criminal activity. The thug has a face now. This is heartbreaking and constricting to a generation of boys who had no choice. The young men with whom I have had the privilege of mentoring in Memphis were born into a story. They didn’t choose this story, though they do have the opportunity to rewrite it.
Forced into the Role
Having only limited experiences with black men, many Americans draw their conclusions of what they believe from news media, pop culture, and urban legends. Even black men draw their own conclusions about what it means to be black from these limited representations. As a whole, we Americans tend to make large generalizations from minimal information. We know far too little about the people that we make generalizations about. In the case of black men, most of the minimal information that is shared about them is negative. Therefore, a negative stereotype case is built. This creates a narrative. The narrative then begins to permeate black communities and drives itself deep into the hearts of black boys. The story is bought and recycled through generations. Older black men teach younger black men what it means to be a “real black man or real n**ga.” Whites and blacks alike buy into the mythology of black inferiority, hyper-masculinity, and lack of intelligence. Before a black boy is able to develop any concept of self, he is already given a mask to wear. He is told by his older siblings, his uncles, and even his father to be “hard.” He is told that he has to be hard in order to make it where he is from. The music that he listens to and the images that he sees in the media begin to enforce this mythology. To break out of this mythology will require much effort. He is already labeled and expected to play a certain role in society. As a result of this mythology, the value of black lives have been questioned. Black lives are left undefended by the law. In many cases they are the unprotected ones because they are viewed as the ones to be protected from.
In various areas of life, black men are told to “put their hands up.” They are constantly putting their hands up as they interview for jobs, meet with families, hand police officers their I.D.s, enter crowded elevators, walk down streets at night, move into neighborhoods, and apply for schools. Even the most educated and sophisticated of black men bend to the pressure of this narrative. It drains them of their dignity as they have to constantly convince others that they are not a threat. They have to convince people that they are not a threat to their bloodlines when trying to marry their daughters. They have to convince people that they are not a threat to their company cultures, as they interview for jobs. They have to convince people that they are not threats to their neighborhood as they unload the U-Haul. Black men feel the pressure to prove that they are not threats to people’s religion as they visit their churches. As they sit at Starbucks waiting for a friend, they are watched with caution. Imagine that. Quite often, they feel as if they are on a visitor’s pass in America. Constantly having to prove your innocence can be overwhelming. I am tired just writing about it. It makes you want to retreat and just live amongst your own. This narrative puts unnecessary pressure on situations that should be normal. Interacting with police, cashing a check, applying for a loan or driving through a “nice” neighborhood, become high-stress activities….”
Terence June Gray, M.Div, is a Pastor and Writer from Memphis, TN. He is currently a Church Planter at Downtown Church which serves the evolving community of Downtown Memphis. He has served the youth of inner-city Memphis and Dallas as an artist, pastor, case manager, and mentor. He is the Author of the Book “We Want A Different Story.”
The book is about identity formation among African American men and how historical, political, and theological narratives shape identity. Terence is married to the love of his life Ashley Gray.
Get to Know the Author:
What inspired you to write “We Want A Different Story”?
I feel like if I didn’t write this book my head was going to explode. I didn’t have a choice but to write it. The proverbial need of the hour in our country is empathy and understanding. We don’t get each other. I’m just telling my part of the story with hopes of helping someone better understand the black experience. Too often the story of African American men in this country has been distorted leading to a lack of empathy from our fellow Americans. I wanted to write something that would help us unlock the story of black men in America and ultimately lead to people breaking free from false ideologies and myths.
What would you say to someone who says that talking about race only further divides us?
I would assume that the person answering that question does not understand the repercussions and implications of history. I would also add that maybe they have benefited from certain aspects of American history that lead to them enjoying the privilege. That, of course, is just my assumption. It is a privilege to not have to talk about race. But, a teenage girl who gets the N-Word written on her locker at school has to talk about race. She has no choice. The mother of an unarmed black boy gunned down by police has to talk about race. This issue has made its way into our living rooms and dinner tables because of modern technology. We have to talk about it.
Was there any particular incident that made you say, “hey I have to write this book now”?
Yes. I was in Downtown Dallas when the 12 police officers were shot in 2016 at the Black Lives Matter rally. It happened about two blocks from my apartment, and I watched it all play out right in front of my eyes. My heart was broken for the officers and their families. The reactions to that event created even deeper polarization and tribalism in our country. It made me realize that people were giving up on one another. The Dallas shooting showed me that we were a long way away from understanding each other’s pain.
Some would argue that African Americans are victimizing themselves by talking about racial trauma and critical race theory. How would you respond to that?
I think that the term “victim” is often misapplied to people who have the courage to speak up about their racial trauma. I often hear people say, “don’t be a victim” or “stop making excuses” or “get over it, you had the same opportunities as me”? Unfortunately, I believe that such people are arguing from the perspective that all things are fair. You don’t have to look back too far to see that we didn’t all begin at the same starting point in America. There are obvious inequalities in pretty much every sector of society that stem from the past. We didn’t write this story we are simply telling it with hopes of changing it.
You are a pastor. How does your faith influence your writing?
I believe that the teachings of Jesus can very much be applied to many of the issues that we face in society today. We must not forget that Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor and it was his faith that allowed him to stand so boldly against evil. It was his understanding of the Biblical concept of love that allowed him to have empathy for those who would spit in his face. My faith informs my writing. I believe that blacks lives matter because God says so.
What is your hope for African American men and boys who read your book?
My hope is that they would love themselves for who they are and strive for their highest potential. My hope is that they would be able to discern their real selves from false identities created by people who don’t know or love them. We are brilliant. We are powerful. We are world changers, Many of us have just never been told that. Instead of being blessed, we have been cursed. I pray that this book blesses black men.
What advice would give someone who aspires to write a book someday?
You eat an elephant one bite at a time. Take your time. You don’t have to write it all at once. In the beginning, stages do not edit anything. Just write. Express yourself. Let everything come out raw. Then, hire the best editor that you can afford. Invest in your dream.
Find the Book and the Author:
(the twitter handle is different from the IG because the IG has my middle name. Sometimes people miss it.)
Email: [email protected]