The 1001 Black Men Project: One Artist’s Daily Drawings

“I hope you enjoy this brief tribute to the ways that Black men see themselves and each other.”

2. Artist and professor of African-American literature Ajuan M. Mance draws the faces of the black men she sees around the Oakland, CA area.


She explains the inspiration for the project on her website:

1001 Black Men is a series of drawings inspired by the faces I see in Oakland every day, and by my memories of the family, friends, and neighbors I grew up with out east. In the poem “Beautiful Black Men,” Nikki Giovanni describes her love for all types of Black men, explaining that, for her, they represent “the same old danger/but a brand new pleasure.” In this series of drawings, I push past entrenched stereotypes to create images of Black men that reflect the wonderful complexity of African American lives–our history so deeply embedded in our present, our celebrations so often tempered by grief and, yes, the pleasure and danger we find in so many of the people, places, and activities that give us joy.”

9. After feeling deeply affected by watching the George Zimmerman trial, Mance added an additional component to the project — a brief quote from an African American author that focuses on their depictions of black masculinity.


Reflecting on the role of media and representation, she writes:

“So much about the tragic death that led to Zimmerman’s trial revolved around the historic gulf between how so many Americans see Black men and how Black men see themselves…For the next week or so, beginning with my next post, I am going to feature the words of some of my favorite African American male writers, with an emphasis on the ways that they have depicted Black men. After each of the next several posts, I will include a brief quote from an African American writer that captures his own vision of Black men. I’ll try not to repeat writers, although, as an African American literature professor, I certainly have my favorites.

I hope you enjoy this brief tribute to the ways that Black men see themselves and each other.

San Leandro, CA.

***

My father could only sign
His name, but he’d look at blueprints
& say how many bricks
Formed each wall. This man,
Who stole roses & hyacinth
For his yard, would stand there
With eyes closed & fists balled,
Laboring over a simple word, almost
Redeemed by what he tried to say.

–“My Father’s Love Letters” by Yusef Komunyakaa

Oakland, CA.

***

My People

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

–“My People” by Langston Hughes

Alameda, CA.

***

“I think different cultures have their rules and mores. I’d say the mores of the black community didn’t all come natural to me–I was terrible at basketball, but I had to play because it was the official neighborhood sport. I was an awful dancer, but at a black party there is one person who will be ridiculed more than the guy who can’t dance–the guy who doesn’t dance at all. That last point is key. The thing I came to love about my community was that they didn’t expect you to be a master, but they expected you to try, to fight–sometimes literally. If you saw ten dudes banking your homeboy, you had to help–not because you were Bruce Lee, but because that was your man, and you were expected to take the fall with him. Winning wasn’t the point.”

–From “John McWhorter on Black Nerds” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Atlantic Monthly, November 24, 2008)

Perimeter Mall, Atlanta, GA.

***

We are beautiful people
With African imaginations
full of masks and dances and swelling chants
with African eyes, and noses, and arms
tho we sprawl in gray chains in a place
full of winters, when what we want is sun.

–From “Ka ‘Ba” by Imamu Amiri Baraka

San Leandro, CA.

***
“[Ralph] Ellison’s great conceit was that the black man was someone you couldn’t see; what [Anatole] Broyard understood was that sometimes the problem was that people could see him all too well …”

– From “The Passing of Anatole Broyard” in Thirteen Ways of Looking at at Black Man by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Atlanta, GA.

***

XXVI

At the center of Being
Said the blackman,
All is tangential.
Even this laughter, even your tears.

–From “Twenty-Six Ways of Looking at a Black Man” by Raymond Patterson

San Francisco, California.

***

There / are / Black men in the south
Of America who / are soooooooo pretty
That their beauty
Sucks in fat gulps the breath from your mouth.

–From “On Seeing the Black Male Being #1 Sex Object in America” by Etheridge Knight

Alameda, CA.

***

I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.

–”I Too” by Langston Hughes

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