Like most people around this time of year, I have been sitting at home the last few days with a cold. Bummer. Between flipping through my DVR and browsing Facebook, I keep being reminded how far behind I am on this season of "Empire". While I have struggled to find a strong interest in this season like I did with season 1, I finally decided that it was time for me to catch up so that I could jump in on friends conversations about the show both online and off.
See, like many, I think the show "Empire" is great. I mean, how many times a week are you able to tune into a show with an all Black cast and see a well to do family deal with everything that fame, money, drugs and greed brings? (I hope you know I am being semi-sarcastic when I make this statement). While that is not enough, this season has really highlighted the issues that Black men have in relation to their fathers, specifically Queer men of color.
Like many young men of color, Jussie Smollet (Jamal) continues to struggle this season to see his father in a positive light. While he continues to strive to build a relationship with his father based on love, understanding and empathy, the "Man-Up" mentality continues to create a barrier between their relationship.
I personally recall the first time I was told to "Man-Up" by my father. I was 12, visiting him in Los Angeles over the Summer break. I was already miserable because me and my father have never had the best of a relationship, but even more, I was at a very interesting point in my life where I just beginning to discover and understand the full depths of my sexuality. To make a long story short, I remember my hair being a bit long and my father calling over my uncle to give me a haircut. I remember not wanting my hair to be cut because every boy I knew in school had a ponytail, so like them, I wanted one as well (I just wanted to be cool). When my uncle began to cut my hair off, I began to cry knowing that what was happening was happening without my consent. Both my uncle and my father told me to, "Man-Up" and stop crying. He also told me that real men don't have long hair. This wouldn't be the first time in my life that I would hear the term "Man-Up", being that as I began to get older and exhibit feminine characteristics, my father and my uncles were quick to remind me that I was a boy who needed to act more like a man.
Like Jamal, I was at a place early on in my life where I needed my father to better understand me and love me rather than judge me. And I truly believe that this is one of the key reasons why me and my father are not close to this day.
Each week since the season has begun, I have felt like when Jamal goes to his father to address multiple forms of pain, problems and concerns, he is told by Lucious (Terrence Howard) that he needs to "Man-Up" and to stop "being weak"-whatever the hell that means. Every Wednesday I continue to question what Lucious means when he says this to one of his sons, asking whether using a binary ideal of what it means to be a man to handle problems in this world is why men of color, specifically Queer men of color, deal with so much hurt and pain in their lifetime.
So what does that say about the relationships that men form with the father figures? When we say "Man-Up" to men of color, what do we really mean? Are we telling men of color that being a man in this society means making choices that involve being distant and emotionally unavailable? Or are we telling them that having a relationship with a father figure, or another man for that matter means being so far detached that we never share how we are feeling openly and honestly enough to build a strong and cohesive bond?
Like it was said in this weeks episode, clean homes can't have dirty closets. I hope that as this show's storyline continues to proceed, we will stop hearing the phrase "Man-Up" be used to these men down.