Behold

What It Means to Be Young, Black, and Male in the U.S.

Brittonius Lyle. “As a black nerd, super heroes were my ideal figures that represents black male masculinity. Given there were and still so few it really made it easier for me to choose, specifically, John Stewart as the Green Lantern, Virgil Hawkins as static. Both these men possess excellent qualities for young black males to lookup to: strong, bold, brave, resourceful, level-headed, talented and role models for their community. The fact that Static looked up to Green Lantern as a role model for black super heroes was inspiring. These characters helped shape me as a young black male today.”

Joshua Rashaad McFadden

As George Zimmerman stood trial for the death of Trayvon Martin in 2013, 26-year-old Joshua Rashaad McFadden couldn’t help but reflect on what it meant to be black and male in America.

In the years since, as he observed the culpability and character of black boys and young men gunned down by police endlessly dissected in the media, his thoughts zeroed in on questions of identity and image: How do black men in America see themselves? And how are they seen by others?

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Last year, he started looking outward for answers through interviews and photo shoots with fellow young black men. The results are collected in a book, Come to Selfhood, which is available for preorder now from Ceiba Foto.

“I thought it was important with this book and this project to give these men a voice,” he said.

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Christian Cody. “Andre 3000 came to mind first, so I’ll use him as an example. I admire how he exists within the Hip-hop world without selling himself to be the stereotypical rap icon. He has a strong sense of self expression undiluted by his surroundings. I like when men aren’t afraid to show themselves. To me black masculinity is a liquid; loose and easily manipulated. It can take many forms. I’d say that my own identity as a black male would be characterized by intelligent, hardworking, and loving. That is who I am and what I have experienced.”

Joshua Rashaad McFadden

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Hasani Sahlehe. “I thought that I had to be big, strong, athletic, tough. I tried to be all of those things. I looked down on myself when I wasn’t. I thought that others would too. When I was younger I wanted to be Tupac or Bob Marley. That’s where I got my philosophy. Two great men but now I see the world differently. I still love them both, but now I want to be Hasani. I’ve finally started to appreciate me for me. My experiences have made me who I am today. Unfortunately, those that are traumatic seem to have the most impact on my character. Not feeling accepted for who I was contributed to a desire in me to be accepted by all. I’m beginning to become more comfortable with who I am. I am so happy that I am able to become more and more like myself every day. It is still a struggle but one thing I know is that I wouldn’t want to be anyone other than myself.”

Joshua Rashaad McFadden

Johnathan Marshall. “Human. Plain and simple. We cry, laugh, fight, create, love, sympathize, dream, just live like the rest of the human race. My granddad is that figure of masculinity for me. I watched him work day to day, provide for our household and coach my uncles and cousins into adulthood. He was reserved, funny and confident in his masculinity. Positive self talk, as well as setting goals have always helped me ignore the bullshit America has to offer black men. Finding my place outside of having to rely on the dominant culture and relying on myself cements my positive identity.”

Joshua Rashaad McFadden

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Janathan Magee. “Everything in my life has helped me create a mold for the man I am and the man I want to be. Every trail brings new changes to my character. Every event evolves the nature of my soul. If I could change one thing in my life good or bad I couldn’t do it because every single thing has created who I am today. To me the ideal figure that represents black male masculinity is my father. All his life he has worked hard and pushed himself for his family and is always teaching me new lessons on what it means to be a man. Do not worry about other people. No matter what you do someone in the world is going to hate you or what you have. So in the end, do not worry about it. Get yours, and have faith in yourself.”

Joshua Rashaad McFadden

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McFadden invited friends and acquaintances between the ages of 19 and 27 to a studio, where he asked them to complete a form with eight questions. He then made a portrait of each participant and combined it with selected excerpts from their handwritten questionnaire responses, along with archival photographs they provided of their fathers or father figures at approximately their same ages.

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“All of that in combination basically is used to give the viewer or the reader a sense of who that person is,” he said.

The analogous images of fathers and sons strike a powerful chord, especially when paired with the questionnaires that meditate on the stereotypes they’ve confronted, the role models who’ve inspired them, and the lessons they’ve learned about how to be black in a world full of peril.

In his own entry for the book, McFadden writes about the positive influence of his father, grandfather, and mother in his life. It ends with a pledge to remain resolute in the face of oppression—a message that he’s had to remind himself of in the past couple weeks after the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

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“It makes me feel terrible what’s going on in this country, and it makes this project that much more urgent,” he said.

You can follow McFadden on Instagram and Twitter.

Kamall Browne. “Only speak ebonics (slang). All grew up in poverty. All have baby mothers. All have violent criminal backgrounds. I watch people’s first assumption of me disappear the second I speak. Perceptions make people look at me like I’m dumb or illiterate. So many people are surprised to hear how intellectual I am after taking the time to get to know me. My father is the ideal figure for black male masculinity. He works his ass off just to provide for his family. He’s been married for almost 25 years, had 3 kids, and never cheated on my mother. He’s the most passionate person I know.”

Joshua Rashaad McFadden

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Nicholas Johnson. “My father taught me what true love is. After the passing of my mother he had to play both paternal and maternal roles for my sister and I. He displayed strength and vulnerability.”

Joshua Rashaad McFadden

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Cameron Goins. “We’re violent, we’re ignorant, we’re criminals, we’re loud, we’re aggressive, we sell drugs, we trap. These perceptions impact me everyday because as a black male I am automatically stereotyped because of my skin as opposed to my character. I am constantly judged due to the media’s perception. They have given me insight to how to bounce back and how to grow from experiences and turn the negatives into life lessons.”

Joshua Rashaad McFadden

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Sean Lewis.”Again, it’s hard to define that. There’s an idea that being masculine comes with a degree of “roughness” but thats never been what it’s about to me.  Masculine to me is what makes a man and that’s really just being on top of your responsibilities and handling business that needs handling.”

Joshua Rashaad McFadden

Joshua Rashaad McFadden. “Positive role models played a major role in my development as a black man. They provided inspiration, guidance, and knowledge. I learned so many things about my history from them. Things that I wouldn’t have learned in the school systems. Growing-up with three brothers made it difficult to find my own identity. My father and grandfather always encouraged me to be unique. My mother did too. They also pushed me to get an education, they constantly told me and my brothers how it important it was. Black people will continue to face oppression in this country, but we must not let it stop us. We are powerful beyond measure. Please make an effort to be a positive role model in someones life.”

Joshua Rashaad McFadden

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