A Life in Between: What they want me to be & Who I need to be
We see it in news media. We see it in movies. We see it in real life.
Young minority boys dying due to violence, either by police or by their neighbors.
We see it every day, another black boy shot and killed.
We see the problems but why are they not heard?
In 2016, more than 258 black men were shot and killed by US Police, according to The Guardian. The National Gang Center reveals that within the last five years, there have been approximately 1,700-2,100 homicides per year due to gang violence. Keep in mind that those statistics may be significantly higher due to the complexities in recording gang-related violence. These issues are deeply rooted in the intersectionality posed between race, class, education, and culture. I am not going to discuss these topics in depth. However, I want to bring a new theory to the table. Masculinity—how does masculinity play a role in the lives of young black men in America?
The criminal justice system and street violence go hand-in-hand — one satisfies the other. On one hand, within inner cities (suffering from poverty, lack of education, and high crime-rates) to be considered masculine means to be the strongest, most violent, feared, unafraid, man on the block. This is shown through violence and if a man has a few years of jail time under his belt, he’s seen as more tough. “Crime is one of the avenues that men turn to in developing, demonstrating, and communicating their manhood. Indeed, criminal activity constitutes a gendered practice that can be used to communicate the parameters of manhood” (Rios, 2009). Masculinity is shown in the way they look, act, and dress, which create problems in and of themselves –inviting others to challenge them.
This is contradictory to the “American” masculine expectations — higher-education, lucrative career, wealth, law abiding citizenship. With high crime rates in these inner city areas, police surveillance is also higher and more brutal. “Masculinity plays a role in how young men desist or recidivate as they pass through the system. One of the outcomes of pervasive criminal justice contact for young black and Latino men is the production of a hypermasculinity that obstructs desistance and social mobility” (Rios, 2009).
Young men who attempt to conform to mainstream masculine expectations quickly learn that they cannot survive in the streets, a place they have to return to. Thus, these young men struggle between a life of what others expect them to be and what they need to be to survive the streets.
In an interactive documentary, we can show the experiences of these young men who are at risk of losing their lives by those who hate them for something as simple as a street number or by those who are supposed to protect them. Not only is this topic extremely important, it’s timely. Instead of showing these people as “criminals” or perpetrators of violence, we can reveal their truths, their emotions, their fear, their reality, and their hopes for a better life.