I’d hope that I’d be one of the first to tell yah that race is a socially constructed concept to which we should all not pay attention.
But lately, I’ve been reflecting on what makes people different. In one of my English classes, we talked about subjectivity and how we are not unique selves because the construct of uniqueness comes from what we subject uniqueness to mean.
I think I got that right, and I understand it may be confusing.
Confusing philosophical-literary principles aside, while I always like to pretend I don’t identify with any word about levels of melanin or, I don’t know, chromosome counts, I always allow myself a moment in February to reflect on Black History Month.
Growing up, I disliked hip-hop and spent most of my primary years at a suburban private school. To be direct, I had very few black heroes and influences.
I’m not entirely sure this is a complete shame. I surely looked up to my family and relatives, and I think I enjoyed Michael Jackson and Whoopi Goldberg. As I grew a little older, I entertained the idea of Tiger Woods.
But it’s great to be a point in my life in which I can pinpoint the types of people who look like I do, whom society subjects the same kind of ideas and stereotypes that it subjects onto me.
And with that, I give you five of my most-influential black male figures, in no particular order. Of course, there’s always Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen, Geoffrey Fletcher, and I could go on, as well as all of the women out there who are influential, but I wanted to narrow the focus on an already-narrow topic.
1. Alfie Enoch
You can ask anyone who knows me well, and they will tell you that I want to be Dean Thomas almost more than I want to be Ryan. When I understood the concept of Dean Thomas and that Alfie Enoch played him — at the tender age of 11 — he instantly became someone to whom I looked up. Until recently, I’d only seen Alfie in the eight Harry Potter films, but that’s 10 years of, I guess, idolization. Sure, I’ve idolized most of the cast since 2001 and 2002, but I’ve given Alfie a unique sort of idolization. He’s not an online presence, and the only reason I can recite all of his lines in the films is because they are so few. But I just know he’s excellent, and I enjoy that I look up to him. He recently appeared in a hilarious sketch short with Lavendar Brown actress Jessie Cave, which had me — as you can surely expect — dying inside.
2. Alvin Brown
My city’s mayor has to be one of the most influential people in my life and in the lives of all people who look like I do. He’s the first black mayor in our buckle-of-the-Bible-Belt city. He gets out in the community way more than any previous mayor I can remember. He appears on the First Coast Connect morning public radio newsshow frequently. Most times, host Melissa Ross has him on as a guest, but one time I was listening and he called in to the show to participate in the conversation. Incredible. Most recently, I giddily said, “Hey, mayor!” when I walked by him on campus on the night of the CNN debate.
3. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett
Curtis from “Misfits,” Nathan Stewart-Jarrett has great fashion and great acting skills. I’ve been watching the show since freshman year, so I’ve known of NSJ for nearly three years. I like that I can admire him just for being a celebrity figure. I have no emotional attachment, as with Alfie and Harry Potter, and no proximal attachment, as with the mayor. He always looks great in magazines and interviews, and I just want to dress like him and have everyone think I’m British — and a star on “Misfits.”
4. Donald Glover
I mean, of course this guy’s influential. I’ve only known about Donald Glover since watching “Community” in 2009, but I feel as though I’ve grown up with his character, Troy Barnes. I’ve also been diggin’ Childish Gambino as any culture-savvy individual out there. As he already presents in his lyrics, he raps about the things I would rap about — well, not about all of the women in his life, obviously — and drops references about things I like — “Invader Zim,” “Freaks and Geeks” and, of course, “Juno.” He samples Adele, flirts with Rashida Jones, and I’ve seen him perform live. He’s an emblem to the very underrepresented group of folks that is raised-in-the-suburbs, nerdy black guys. And, of course, that’s a demographic with which I can closely identify.
5. Barack Obama
I’m assuming the tritest on this list, but I really don’t think you can be an impressionable person who looks like I do without idolizing Barack Obama. Although trite, how could he ever not be one of the most influential public figures out there? I know members of different political backgrounds will argue over the effectiveness of our president, but I think that he accomplished what he has accomplished is incredible. Yes, he was the first-ever black president of the U.S., but he was also the first-ever black candidate for the presidency for any party. Even without “making history,” he was “making history.” Also, his wife is the coolest first lady ever. Although, I know some will contest that she falls second to Jackie O.