Dear Strong Black Brothers:
Like many of you who have seen the footage, it was extremely difficult to watch Steve Stephens murder 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr in cold blood on a video feed this weekend. “Horrific” is too weak to define what I saw on tape, particularly considering that had my own father not died of cancer 17 years ago, he would have been close in age and may have even looked something similar to Mr. Godwin, a loving father and grandfather whose life was snuffed out by another Black man who seemingly has gone mad.
Yes, mad, I say; mentally ill, unstable, cray, sick AF, whatever term one uses to describe someone who has moved past the realm of rational behavior to the irrational.
Brothers, for all of the bodies that I have seen in varying stages of decomposition while viewing crime scene photos and autopsy pics through the years, nothing I have viewed comes close to the macabre spectacle of seeing Stephens cavalierly squeeze off a round at point-blank range to end Mr. Godwin’s life.
While the Cleveland police continue their “manhunt” for Stephens, I cannot lie about my feelings that go from “I hope they light his ass up on sight” to “no, he has to be afforded due process of law.” My former thought stems from my base human nature, one that understands the primal desire for vengeance. Such is the same instinct that I felt when Dylann Roof killed nine Brothers and Sisters at Emmanuel AME a few years back.
But my more urgent instinct this morning also centers upon the elephant in the room–toxic masculinity among Brothers who physically, mentally and sexually abuse Black women and in the most extreme cases, kill Black women or helpless bystanders based upon a potent mixture of toxic masculinity and mania.
Over the past 10 days, Cedric Anderson walked into a San Bernardino, California elementary school and opened fire on his estranged wife, Karen Smith, killing her and her eight-year old student, Jonathan Martinez. If you listened to the audio of Stephens’ tape from this weekend, before opening fire on Mr. Godwin, he boldly declares that he is killing this random, helpless, and harmless man because he was angry at some yet to be identified girlfriend. Since Facebook has quickly removed Stephens’ account, it is impossible to corroborate at least one picture that I have seen of Stephens and a woman whose picture has been blurred that carried the caption “three years I spent with this Bitch…I wish we never met.”
No, Fugitive Stephens, we wish that Mr. Godwin never had to meet you in your patently unstable state this past weekend…
My Brothers, I know that many of us grew up not quite understanding how to process violence. It is arguably the most toxic of the lingering aspects of slavery in America, the concept that our forebears’ Black bodies were beaten bloody based upon the whims of any White massa or overseer that deemed such necessary to maintain control. Those beatings, coupled with the “spare the rod, spoil the child” mantra that they perniciously used from the Bible, not only established mind control of White master over the Black enslaved, but it led many of our immediate forebears to internalize such behavior and rationalize it as “right” as they beat the brakes off of their own spouses and kids to establish mind control within the family unit.
Through the generations, far too many Black men have taken out their frustrations over being the last hired and first fired or the least paid and least respected on the job, or during Jim Crow, a time when grown Black men were referred to as “boy” by White men who they could not look directly in the eyes or challenge for fear of being labeled “uppity” and receiving a whipping or being lynched, many such Black men often came home and exacted their own form of terror on their wives and children. Indeed, so many Brothers will aver that they “hate” the negative depictions of Black men in the film adaptations of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” but the fact remains that there always have been real life “Mister’s” in the Black community, men who used their prowess to mentally, physically, and sexually abuse their spouses, girlfriends and kids—all in the name of exacting a level of control. Deep down, that is one reason that so many Brothers even chuckle when Ike Turner tells his wife, Tina, to “eat the cake” or when Goldie and Pretty Tony denigrate, dominate and dicker over their “bitches” and “hoes” in “The Mack,” a movie that has inspired more rap artists than I care to count.
My Brothers, on some level, we all are or have been sick, sick, sick when it comes to how we relate to Black women.
I know that some of us who grew up with fathers took brutal whoopins on occasion that we did not deserve from fathers who were brainwashed by their fathers before them to believe that masculinity entailed the authority to lay hands upon anyone who lived under said man’s roof. Some of you may have even seen your father beat down your mother for “talking back” or “sassin'” him, which, serving as a counselor at law, I can attest is behavior that one cannot simply wish out of their psyche no matter how many years have go by.
I also know that some of you Brothers did not grow up with your father at all, and you may have been raised in an environment where you were abused by your mother, a stepfather, or your mother’s boyfriend(s). You may have even seen said stepfather(s) or boyfriend(s) abuse your mom and on some level, you may have internalized this behavior and project the same malevolent acts upon your significant other.
But my Brothers, this is 2017, and to know better is to do better. We cannot erase what we have seen or heard in the past, but we can do better in our own lives while encouraging other Brothers to confront toxic masculinity and/or mental instability by seeking help from trained professionals.
As Black men, we spend so much time among our core friends discussing and debating everything from the profound to the profane. Brothers can sit at a Fraternity or Masonic function, barbershop, or cigar bar and wax philosophically about Donald Trump’s and Bill O’Reilly’s misogynistic behavior, police brutality against Blacks, and whether Lebron James is a better public figure than Michael Jordan, but when the topic turns to how we, as Brothers, process anger, or how we project our anger in ways that hurt our partners along life’s tedious journey–our Sisters in the struggle–we clam up and stick our heads in the sand out of sheer insouciance.
My Brothers, we have to do better. If a relationship is broken, then let it end. You cannot intimidate, harass or beat any woman into loving you and wanting to be with you. Or, once a divorce is finalized, harassment and playing games with the child support or sitting in the driveway of the ex-wife’s new home to intimidate her is simply sick, sick, sick! A relationship built upon physical and mental bullying is no relationship at all, it is toxic and deadly, straight up, and if this message hits you in the wrong way, then you are precisely the type of Brother who needs help.
Or, if you know a Brother who acts in this fashion, then the loving, brotherly act is to step to him and suggest, no, INSIST that he gets help. Such advice literally could prove the difference between life and death…
Ol’ Hobbs—Your Brother