“That looks like a bad dude…”
Quipped a Tulsa, Oklahoma law enforcement officer hovering above a local street just moments before Terence Crutcher was murdered by the state in the form of Officer Betty Shelby. Crutcher, like many before him fell prey to a combination of racism, a heavy-handed culture of law enforcement, fear, and what Claude Brown referred to as looking like “bad nigger” in “Manchild in the Promised Land.” As harsh of a descriptor as it sounds “Bad nigger” like “bad motherfucker” has particular connotations to many of us.
Unfortunately too many black men are forced to wear that label around our necks no matter our ages, occupations, or statures. “Bad dude” is an ugly neck tie that cannot be removed and more severely it can get you killed. Studies have shown that younger black males are frequently viewed as larger, with less virtue, and much older by whites than their white counterparts in the same age ranges. Whether or not you’re 12 year old Tamir Rice, who was referred to as a “guy with a pistol” and not a boy or 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, who as we have established was called a “bad dude” the unhealthy trend of painting black males as bigger, powerful, and angrier than everyone else has long lead America down a road that black men can’t always come back from.
If one didn’t know better the “bad nigger” mythology as applied to black men would sound something that Jim Kelly would say was “Straight out of a comic book.” The notion of a large, angry, blood thirsty, and lusty black male running amok has long been key component in propaganda and mindsets of those who wish to paint black men in a less than favorable light. Basically behaving like the Baylor football team on any random Tuesday.
As absurd as it sounds one of the reasons black men are looked upon with less than favorable awe is represented in Marvel Comic’s Luke Cage. Luke Cage is one of Marvel Comic’s more prominent black characters is set to make his small screen debut this Friday via Netflix at a time of social turbulence that I will not chalk up to coincidence because I frankly don’t believe in coincidence. Luke Cage is every bit the “bad dude” that every black man gets tagged as at some point in their lives. He’s the perfect allegory for a black man in America who finds himself cornered by a false perception of his intentions, life, and goals.
On the fictional side of things Luke is as large as he appears, much stronger the average human, has bullet and fire-proof skin, would rather avoid any interactions with law enforcement due to a past, and would rather be left the hell alone. Frankly, he’s the black guy whom racists conjure up in their diseased little heads when they see black men trying to go about their lives like every other American. Except their conjuring does not depict black men as heroic figures of any sort.
A victim of the prison industrial complex complete with a set of trumped-up charges and a false imprisonment on his record, Cage’s relationship with “the law” has always been painted as strained no matter how far he manages to elevate himself from his past. Never to a place where the idea of peace of mind exists so could he feed his kid like a normal father. As a man who has been portrayed as nothing less than heroic while fighting and living along people like Captain America, and Tony Stark, Luke Cage has at times realized that nothing seems to enough to get the “bad dude” yoke off of his neck. Nothing seems to save alleviate the strain-not a super-powered wife, baby, bullet proof skin, or billionaire best friend will stop the daily struggle of being a black dude, “bad” or otherwise.
This isn’t a comic book or a binge watching worthy series. Like P.A. said “My life, Your Entertainment.”
It’s life. A life on which others depend on that hinges on a wonky perception of others which places us in horrible space. The rub is that I’m not bulletproof, not larger than I appear, not any stronger than the average person, or endowed with any other extraordinary gift that will help me survive being the wrong “bad dude” at the wrong time. Black males who look like me have but one survival mechanism that will make it more likely that I will not survive walking with a hoodie on, playing in the park with a toy gun, being shot with my fiancé and kid in the car next to me, or having someone yell “There he is! Stop him!” in public when someone else has committed a crime. That one survival mechanism is white folks doing better.
I hate to break it to you but we’re real people not made up characters. There’s no coming back from being stopped by the cops on the way home from a milk run. There’s not a next issue on your pull list or episode for the readers and watchers to find out how mine or any other black dude’s story arch ends. They’ll be some broken hearts, marching, a riot or three, and few more spins of the Earth until some other brother is labeled a “bad dude” and reaches for his wallet way too fast.
It’s just another dead “bad dude” who didn’t make it home with the milk and you can’t binge watch that shit.