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What Does It Mean To Be A Black Man In America Today?


What it means to be a man in America today and how it's changing - that's something we've been exploring this summer. And for some men the answer has less to do with gender than with race. NPR's Sam Sanders went to two of the country's biggest cities and asked this question. What does it mean to be a black man? Here's some of what he heard beginning with Sean Wess (ph) in New York and Robert Wyatt in Los Angeles.

SEAN WESS: We're smart. We're educated. You know, we have hopes. We have dreams. We have goals. We're family oriented.

ROBERT WYATT: It means a struggle and strife finding work, finding housing - trying to make it in a very racist country.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Racism is very sophisticated now. It's all sort of disguised, but they still let you know you're black. Oh, you've got rasta dreads - you've got this - you've got that - so then therefore you must be that. And then when I speak it's like oh, wow. You speak different. I don't want to internalize all that stuff. That's that person's problem.

WYATT: I knew I was a man when I left home and became a soldier. I realized I was a black man when I had to fight for certain rights going to get a job - you know, to speak up for myself. I have a mind. And I have a spirit.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I've been a victim of racial profiling in Brooklyn, actually. So I was actually going to the bodega to get an Arizona iced tea - my favorite Arizona iced tea, mango - and I was approached by five white officers.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Five. Me, I'm 5'8", 138 pounds. Then they proceed to handcuff me and take me down to the precinct. I asked why. They didn't tell me why. To actually experience that, I lost hope 'cause it's like, you know, these people are here to protect us. But they're killing us.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Put yourself in my shoes. Imagine you walking down the street, and someone crosses the street just because you're black man. Imagine you walking down the street, and a police officer stops you and frisks you just because you're black man or just because of how you're dressed. Imagine that being your son. Imagine that being your nephew, your uncle, your brother. Imagine that and then, you know, try to process what we go through because, like I said, it's tough. It's tough.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Being a black man, myself - and I'm living by this advice as well - stay in the fight. No matter how hard it gets - no matter how much you want to give up, just don't give up. Tomorrow's another day.

ANTHONY CHERRY: What a black man means to me is just basically this - wherever I go, I'm feared and I'm revered. And that is the stuff of kings. And I'm going to be king.

SIEGEL: That's Anthony Cherry of Los Angeles. We also heard from Joe Holliday (ph) and Ron Bankston (ph) of New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.