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  • Dr. Obari Adéye Cartman

Beards and the Masculine Superficial

Mine is a struggle beard. Black and coiled like DNA strands. Rough around the edges. My beard isn’t pretty, no manicure, still healing. The cuts leave bumps. My beard is growing, often can’t tell until someone else notices. I love my beard, the way it feels in my hands. I pray every day that it’s soft enough to not scratch whoever’s face is close enough to graze it.

Beards are trending. We got beard bloggers, beard apparel, burgeoning business for beard maintenance products. A little under 14 thousand men around the world got implants to enhance their beard in 2014. Recent scientific beard research suggests that bearded men are perceived as older, more masculine, generous and sincere, industrious and self-confident. Women are here for it all. A #BeardGameMatters Facebook group broke the internet this weekend. There are a few guys jokingly complaining about being objectified. Maybe a bunch of men started growing their beards because they like how it looks for themselves, but there’s no doubt the recent popularity of men adorning chin afros has something to do with women desiring it.

Beards have obvious appeal. He looks more rugged. Rustic. Strong. Commandeering? It makes men look more like a man. Have you ever used the word manly? What does that even mean, to be man-like? That question demands a different layer of inquiry. With all that attention about what a man looks like, what’s on the outside of a man, we neglect to have enough meaningful conversation about what’s on the inside of him. What is a man made of? What are the ingredients of a man.

It’s much easier these days to talk about what a man isn’t. You don’t want to be a fuck boy. Definitely not one that thinks he’s a good guy. I know very clearly what a fuck boy is, but what then is just a boy? Adding toxic, fragile or hyper to masculinity suggests that there is a spectrum. What are they exaggerated forms of? If you scale it back to normal range then what do you have? These aren’t even questions for the powers that be, this is an internal Black community conversation. We know very well that mainstream media wants us to believe that Black men are criminals, athletes or entertainers. But how can we expect our young men to become anything different if we don’t guide their becoming. It’s not enough to just cast out our boys as the relative white men of the community, because saying “don’t harm” still doesn’t tell them what to do instead. It doesn’t provide rules for engagement or a code of conduct. So Black boys are left knowing only how to develop the shell of a man: the shoes, the walk, the false bravado, the voice, the hat tilt or the bow tie, the sag, and whatever version of the appearance of power he has easy access too.

Jay-Z released one of the most vulnerable and insightful albums we’ve ever seen from a male artist of that caliber. He seems to have learned a lot about the problems of inadequate social/emotional development of men, but his clearest advice is still “Don’t go Eric Benet”. However, he easily provides lots of detailed instruction about economic development. It seems like no one knows what to say. Well lucky for us I wrote a whole book about it. You think it’d be a national best—seller with all the attention toxic masculinity has received over the last few years, but it seems like we prefer calling out. What’s been more interesting is that I’ve gotten the most push back from Black women, who have never read a page of it. The very idea of a book that teaches boys how to become men gets a automatic side eye, particularly from millennial aged, academic leaning sisters. I’ve had to become savvy enough to know when to not even use the phrase “protect my sisters” in certain rooms. The P words seems to conjure the worst of the patriarchal toxic misogynistic image in their minds. The P word is the fast track to getting called a Hotep. It’s difficult to sort out the fine lines between “Black women are the most vulnerable” and “we don’t need yall to protect us”. It took me a while to realize that the word ‘protect’ triggers thoughts of physical aggression, which women are more likely victims of. I’ve never been in a fight so when I say ‘protect’ beating up a guy that looks at my sister wrong is the last thing that comes to mind. Which don’t mean that protecting sometimes has to get physical, but that’s not a gender thing, just try to touch a Black mother’s child if you’re unclear about that.

Teaching young men proper manhood principles is the best way to protect our communities from internal and external harm. Teaching them correct masculine value systems prepares them to develop effective internal and external power. In my book I offer 12 standards of manhood to begin that conversation: 1) Define yourself 2) Actively figure out your purpose 3) Learn to use your emotions 4) Be consistent) 5) Be flexible 6) Take responsibility 7) Don’t pretend to have power. Create and cultivate real power 8) Have vision 9) Don’t forget that women are under attack too 10) Think! Think! Think! 11) Be Happy. Smile. Laugh. Enjoy life! 12) Serve something greater than yourself.

Before we can really get into those or anyone else’s ideas about what men are and do, we must decide that that conversation is at least as important as what men look like. In the meantime, they are figuring it out on their own. Making it up as they go along. It’s an evolving conversation though. No man ever figures it out completely, and there’s lot’s of nuances and histories to consider, but the lack of conversation is killing us.

My manhood is for the struggle. Black and coiled like DNA strands. Rough around the edges. My manhood isn’t pretty. There is no man cure, we all healing. The cuts leave bumps. My manhood is growing and evolving, it’s impact measured in the ways it’s reflected back from my community. I love my manhood, the way it feels in my hands, own my own terms. I pray every day to find strength in my compassion and vulnerability, to never cause harm to those I love. Whoever’s face is close enough to graze it.

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