I am troubled and saddened by the number of older black men I see who look as though they have only barely survived some physical devastation — a beating, an industrial catastrophe. I first noticed one of these men in the top seats of a London double-decker bus years ago. Since then I have seen them everywhere.
Of course, there are physically damaged men from all cultures, in all colors. And of course I’m not talking about all older black men. Yes. Of course. But there is something in the eyes of these men, these black men, no matter where I see them, that hurts me. Their eyes, the set of their mouths, their bent heads.
It’s not that they’re tired, not that they’re angry. Both are things I see in other black men’s faces. There is often sadness. But mostly what I see is fear. And it breaks my heart, makes me want to lash out in their defense … but at whom?
There’s nothing for me to do. I can’t hold them, can’t take care of them, can’t magically delete all traces of those old hurts. I can’t even touch their faces or take their hands in mine and just sit by their sides. I want to do any or all of these things.
I’ve got nowhere to go here. It’s just that I saw that in the old man I saw on the bus tonight … looking as though at any moment one of us would strike him. What is going on and going wrong that puts that expression on his face, that creates so many men just like him?
* This is, of course, the title of Lonne Elder III’s stunning play. I saw the film version of Ceremonies when I was about 13 or 14 on PBS. It was the first play I truly ‘got’ — the first one that ever moved me, that held my attention so hard I couldn’t breathe.