My wife is pregnant and I am becoming a father. It’s joy and terror; anticipation and anxiety. How can we afford a baby? Will I hold the baby right? Will I be a good father? My wife wonders if she’ll be a good mother? What will the baby look like? Is it a boy or a girl? A girl will be easier and cheaper. “We’ll just chain her to the bed, home school her, she’ll live with us forever, no boys and it’s all good,” I say to my wife. “I’m pretty sure it’s a boy,” she replies.
Before marriage I was a grown ass kid doing whatever I wanted at a whimsical notice. When I told my friend that I was moving to Japan to get married and start a family, he said, “You’re a romantic…and babies are expensive.” In America, black men are not father figures, but statistics. Stereotypically, they make babies, but don’t raise them; they love women, but abuse women. Stereotypically, they may not abruptly quit their job, fly to Japan with a ring in their pocket and get married, but my family didn’t raise a stereotype.
I grew up in Seminole County, Florida, in white suburbia with both parents. They were independent farmers leasing farmland 20 minutes away in Sanford. At times, my parents could’ve killed each other. Before I was ten I told Moms, “I wish you’d get a divorce. ” Moms said she made a vow to Pops, and almost 50 years later, they’re still sticking it out and neither has been fatally wounded. My parents are old southern black folk from a time when racism was accepted, Jim Crow laws lingered from Reconstruction, Martin, Malcolm and the Kennedys were still nationally unknown. Moms grew up on an orange groove in a one-room shack with a dirt floor. She, her parents and 17 siblings picked oranges for a living. My great aunt was a teacher who raised Pops after his parents died. Both sides of my family were consciously tying to live down the fact that we were direct descendants of slaves. Although Pops took college courses and Moms went to trade school for hairdressing, neither got a college education, but they wanted to learn. My brothers and I were expected to go to college. Perhaps it was a way to further distance our history.
Compared to Japanese housing, the house I was born and raised in is considered a mansion (although mansion in a Japanese context refers to an apartment). Many times my family could have and should have lost our house, but we struggled and fought our way through. Moms and Pops still live to this day. My parents were always working while my older brothers took care of me. The community that we grew up in was unfamiliar to my parents. I had double stuffed Oreos in my mouth and my middle brother’s famous cooking on my plate. I had Air Jordans on my feet and Cross Colours on my back. Compared to the way my mother grew up and those that I knew who lived in the hood, I was a spoiled rich kid. It was at a time when if a white kid called you nigger you had to fight or else you were inviting other people to punk you in the same way. Hip-hop was a joke to my white counterparts. My older brothers listened to Duran Duran and U2, so did I, and then I discovered Run DMC. My classmates would mock beat boxing and used “yo” like clown props. Rap had already grabbed a hold of me, but I didn’t have any peers to share it with until later. When my teachers at school told me that Christopher Columbus discovered America, pops told me, “Don’t believe what them crackers telling you. They’ll tell you anything. And when they talk about the constitution, you tell them, ‘The constitution wasn’t written for blacks back then.’” I was getting into fights at school, but white guilt started climbing, rap music was defiant and Kurt Cobain’s suicide killed rock n’ roll’s mainstream high. In his journal he also predicted that rap music was the future. Suddenly, black was cool. My identity felt fractured, but finding art, music, and writing through hip-hop filled in the cracks. It gave me pride. Ten years later Paul Mooney said, “Everybody wants to be a nigga, but nobody wants to be a nigga.” I wanted to be accepted.
We live in Tokyo but plan to move to the States after the baby’s born. Although my wife has lived in the States, Japan is her home. Here, guns are virtually illegal. In America, 32 people are killed by gun violence everyday. Here, society is homogenous. Racism is anything but familiar and xenophobia is everything but denounced. There are two types of people; insiders and outsiders. If you’re native Japanese, you’re an insider; anything else, you’re an outsider. In America, the 99%ers are outsiders. Japan is difficult for Japanese. America is dystopic for Americans. Here, my child would be safe. He or she would be treated differently, not like I’m black, you’re white differently, but Frankenstein different. Here, the highest form of civility and patience is exemplified. National health insurance pays 70% of medical bills, but I live under a glass ceiling. In America, unemployment for blacks is almost 20%. Here, tradition trumps change. America changes like the Internet. Although I’ve lived in Japan for over two years, it’s not my home, my wife is. My child has to know my family.
What does it mean to be black in America? Young African American men make up only 12% of the population and 44% of the prison inmates in American jails. Black women are seven times more likely to be incarcerated than white women. The leading cause of death of young African American men is homicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 32 black women are at risk of contracting HIV, verses one in 106 for Hispanic women and one in 526 for white women. Author Michelle Alexander said there are more black men tied up in the legal system than there were slaves right before the Civil War. She also said, “…a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery.” Although the US mortality has recently declined, black infants are still more than twice as likely to die compared to white infants. Most young black men get bagged for possession of marijuana. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg’s notorious stop-and-frisk law allows police officers to detain and frisk (pat down) anyone that they suspect is about to commit a crime. 90% of the people subjected to illegal searches and detentions are Black and Latino. In defense of stop-and-frisk Bloomberg said, “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.” I consider myself lucky and am incredibly grateful for the way my family raised me. The only difference between me growing up in middle class America and a black kid in the hood is everything. If you’re poor, black and angry you’re living in a war zone. If you’re young, middle class and idealistic, you’re living near a war zone for cheap rent. How do I explain this to my child? It’s like that scene in Menace II Society where Charles S. Dutton’s character is talking to Caine, “The hunt is on and you’re the prey. All I’m saying is, survive.”
It’s a girl. Found out days after I started writing this. My wife keeps asking herself how to raise a black woman. She’s freaking out. “She’s going to need mommy,” I said, relieved that my gender disqualifies me as my child’s role model. When I was kid I looked up to my older cousin, Poo. When it came to white kids picking on me I could handle myself… at least most of the time… I wasn’t scared of them. As long as I fought, I wasn’t a sucker. When it came to this older kid Clinton, or some other black or Latin kid, Poo was my armor. She was gangsta. She was raised mostly by my aunt and uncle; her grandparents. Her whole family was light skinned. My aunt was a character, a charismatic lady. My uncle was a good mechanic. He made me a go-cart using a go-cart frame and a lawnmower engine. My uncle’s mother was half white. A white man raped her mother. Her husband, my uncle’s father, was a sharecropper and they lived on a white man’s farm.
During harvest time my uncle’s father would gather the crops, take them to the market, sell produce and split the profit with the white landowner. One harvest season he did the usual, but at the market the white landowner beat him up, kept all the money, called him a nigger and told them to get off his land. He walked home. When he came in the house, dinner was ready and his family was waiting for him. He sat at the dinner table and put a bullet in his brain.
My uncle was a soft-spoken quiet man, but everybody knew he hated white people. Him and my aunt raised Poo in a black community. She is the only girl that I’ve ever actually physically fought and who won every time. With a screw-face, shorty would madly swing her arms until her fists made contact with my face. It was through her and Moms that I learned the power of women, and the root of man’s frustration and weakness.
Right now my baby girl is tossing and turning in my wife’s belly and we still haven’t picked a name. We’re thinking of something unisex, but Japanese.
To my future partner-n-crime,
There are a lot of people out here waiting for you. Your Japanese grandma is already buying you baby clothes. Your black grandma is practically gnawing at her bed and keeps asking me when are we moving back home.
I’m your daddy and there are some things you need to know upon entering this world (in no particular order).
- You have a choice to make your life mean something, make it mean something.
- Don’t be a slave. Think for your self.
- True freedom is financial independence. If you’re not buying things that’ll help you make money, you’re doomed.
- Money is important to your quality of life, but it’s not to be equated with happiness.
- Sharing is happiness.
- Love fearlessly.
- Men want sex. If you want to attract a good man, it’s cool to look nice. A good man with an imagination likes to imagine what’s hidden behind what you conceal, not what you reveal.
- Be your own woman. Don’t expect a man to take care of you and don’t be with a man who can’t take care of himself.
- If a man hits you and promises to never do it again, he’ll do it again.
I won’t chain you to the bed, but you ain’t bringing no boys to my house. I keep odd sleeping hours like your black granddaddy so you ain’t sneaking off no goddamn where. Daddy loves you.
This essay was originally published in 2013.