How to be a Black man

Today’s topic: “How to be a Black man.”

It’s a subject on which white conservatives are often quick to offer instruction to actual Black men, their utter lack of relevant experience notwithstanding. In split screens on Fox “News,” online and in emails to Black male columnists, they give unsought counsel.

Black men, they say, should educate themselves. Speak the King’s English. Be honest. Abstain from violence. And for goodness sake, stop having babies out of wedlock.

Then, white conservatives turn around and offer as a candidate in last week’s Georgia senatorial run-off a Black college dropout whose mother tongue is gibberish, who is estranged from fact if not reality itself, who has a reported history of abusing women, including threatening at least one with a handgun, and who has fathered multiple children by women to whom he was not married.

Hypocrisy votes Republican. Again.

Yes, Herschel Walker was defeated. For that, all patriots should be glad – yet also sobered, given that he lost by less than 100,000 votes out of 3.5 million cast. But the very fact of him as the standard bearer for conservative – ahem – “values” explodes all those sneering lectures on how to be Black.

Moreover, it feeds an impression that ultimately there is, for conservatives, really only one inviolable rule in that regard: don’t make white people feel bad. Don’t make them see what they’d rather not see or know what they’d rather not know. In fact, don’t even remind them you’re Black, unless it be to reinforce their cherished narrative of how racism went away a long, long time ago. If you simply must discuss racism in a present-day context, then talk about how white folk are the new victims. Otherwise, keep your trap shut.

That’s how Tim Scott of South Carolina became a Black GOP senator and Walker almost did. And it’s why no other Black man – or woman, for that matter – from the conservative South has ever done so, excepting two men in the Reconstruction era when “Republican” was not yet a synonym for racist.

Consider a little-noticed exchange a few days ago in a Tallahassee federal court. Aides to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has crusaded against “woke,” were asked to define that word. You’d have expected some hyperbolic nonsense in reply. Instead, as reported by Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics, General Counsel Ryan Newman gave a fair and apposite definition, saying it refers to the belief that “there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”

The surprising cogency of the words offered a telling peek into the conservative worldview. Evidently, it holds that there are no systemic injustices and thus, no need to address them. Which sounds absurd till you recall that the point of all this is, don’t make white folk feel bad. That’s the price of entry to their favor.

It’s a price no person of conscience should be willing to pay, much less a Black man who, by definition, wakes up on the wrong side of systemic injustice every day. Yet, there’s always someone willing to forfeit his dignity, happy to shuck and grin, for the fool’s gold of approval from those who would otherwise hold him in contempt. Thank the fickle gods of the ballot box for sparing us the disaster of such a man in Congress. And in the process, crafting for Black men new instructions on how to be a Black man. Turns out it’s quite simple, really.

Step one, watch what Herschel Walker does.

Step two, do the opposite.


Leonard Pitts Jr. is retiring. From his farewell column:

Well, as Carol Burnett used to say, I’m so glad we had this time together.

Thank you, readers, for your loyalty and for every word of encouragement and constructive criticism along the way.

I’ve always considered this podium a great privilege: Everyone has an opinion, after all, but precious few get to have their voices magnified — much less be paid for it.

I tried to use that privilege to sound alarms about human rights, democracy, gun violence, the misinformation crisis and more. The fight on all those fronts goes on. Nothing ends here, except my access to this megaphone.

Isn’t it amazing how fast the years go? Turns out, time doesn’t really care if you’re having fun; it flies, regardless. Again, Carol Burnett said it well. “Seems we just get started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say, so long.”

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Email him at lpitts@miamiherald.com.