This past weekend I watched Seven Seconds. It’s a mini-series from Netflix starring Regina King, Russell Hornsby, and Clare-Hope Ashitey. It’s a damn good piece of drama and if you have not seen it you should. It is heavy, deep and wrought with all kinds of emotions. Every episode drips with intensity, so you should probably make sure there is plenty of wine around as you watch. Believe me, it will take the edge off.
The show is newish, so I don’t want to include any spoilers that may prevent anyone from watching it. After I finished the last episode, I sat watching the credits scroll by, something I normally never do, but this time was different. I thought, what’s different about this show that captured me so completely?
What shocked me
Honestly, everything shocked me. The situation, the acting, the characters, and most of all it was the feeling. What the hell was this all about? So many residual feelings returned to my mind. I sorted through the torrent of thoughts that surged in at once and realized that I was severely bothered by the feeling that much of what just happened on-screen could have just as easily have happened to me in life. That is if I lived in Jersey City and was still young enough to ride a bike for fun and not exercise. I realized that as a black male, I inherited an unwarranted cultural invisibility.
I’ll just zoom past the part where I talk about how much I love Regina King, and how I have since she was rocking a mushroom on “227”.
I see it this way
I have not accepted or succumbed to this notion as a personal value. Nonetheless, that does not negate or disavow the viability of the concept. It exists; however, in my life I choose to be an exception.
I use cultural invisibility as an expression to articulate a feeling that I suspect most men from my heritage have felt and rarely shared.
Racial invisibility requires the African-American male to be a faceless, inauthentic being devoid of personal character yet retaining assigned characteristics from historical and current cultural tropes. Keep in mind none of this has anything to do with the person themselves, but more to do with the state of cultural affairs, music, TV, films and any other medium that requires creators to draft versions of black men that remain recognizable to society at large.
I don’t intend to be heavy, but I want to explain my perception of racial invisibility specifically and how “Seven Seconds” amplified this concept in a way that had me shook.
This is what we are not
Black men are not just characters from hip-hop videos, sports endorsement commercials, or personifications of characters from “realistic” crime dramas. It’s really that simple, but I want to be very clear. My point is to bring attention to the way I, and those like me, are often denied recognition as people. How we are more often singled-out as a representative of an entire race, or as a caricature PEOPLE may not remotely identify with personally.
For example, I love hip-hop music. I mean, who doesn’t right? There is this one guy in the office who I believe has a younger son. I mention his son’s age because younger generations have less rigid notions of what people should be and what they should like in general. I can always tell when his son has come to visit for the weekend. Without fail, he will stop by my desk in the morning to try out his “new cool” on me. You know, things like the latest hip-hop song, or an expression he is now using without understanding the meaning or the implication.
You would think that after the last three years he would have learned, but alas he is persistent. Even when I know exactly what he is talking about, I feign ignorance just to deny him the privilege of landing an assumption correctly. Silly rabbit, I will never participate in your misguided shenanigans. He is operating under a set of generalized assumptions that all black men understand and take part in hip-hop culture. I do, but this is not anything he has ever asked or validated.
In Seven Seconds, one of the primary characters fell victim to the same trap to which many suffer. He was denied basic rights and respect because of generic perceptions of black men that equate to worthlessness and invisibility. These ideologies are too liberally applied to men of color. I do not believe that black men are the only group of men who operate contrary to generalizations or detrimental perceptions.
I do, however, believe that the pervasiveness of this issue is more malignant and harmful to black men in terms of economics and freedom than just a general sense of well-being.
“The persistently marginal social status of African-American men in society is a major concern to the black community. It is a matter of widespread belief that racism is a primary contributor to this predicament and to the marginality of the African American community in general”.
What does that really mean?
It means that racism is just not new. None of this is new-organized forms of society require that there be at least one marginalized group, right? It also means the African-American community is well aware of the conditions under which they operate. Recently, the theme of “healing” this problem has trended. I am all for it.
What I am not for is the assumption that the healing requires permission. Reality never required permission. The reality is African-American men are as varied and complex in character as men from any other ethnic heritage. The persistent mistake in conversations of healing is the assumption that recognition or agreement is required, neither are.
I don’t know anyone that needs confirmation of the rain falling outside for it to be true or that standing in it will result in being wet.
These ideas are simple
The invisibility of the African American male as an individual is just as simple and apparent. In fact, most things are THIS simple. Complexities over inequities and divisive rhetoric only become convoluted when one group lacks the wherewithal to accept their own bad behavior or seeks to deny the validity of the other group’s experience. This idea was expressed several times in the series, and I have expressed it several times in my own life. It was this that stirred my connection.
Russel Hornsby, who played the father in this series said:
“I think this is the first time on film that I’ve had an opportunity to feel three-dimensionally,” he said about his character, Isaiah. “This character is not stock. He’s not an archetype. He’s a father grieving, living, trying his best to love in spite of things.”
Every word of his character assessment is correct. It is just a damn shame that instances of these characters, especially characters representing black fathers, are so sparse. This specific character had some misinformed ideas about gender roles and parenting, but that is what solidifies the performance as whole and authentic.