A World Not Our Own

Apparently, I’m not supposed to be who I am. As a Black male in America, people have preconceived notions about my character before they know almost anything about me. Things that have been assumed about me (that are entirely not true) include that I’m a thug, I’m unapproachable, I’m religious, I don’t date Black women, I’m a sports fan, I smoke or drink, my kids don’t live with me, I’ve been to college, I’m in my 20’s, and the list goes on. In peoples’ heads, I’m some hybrid of a person who I have no understanding of based on traditions, generational conditioning, and media expectations. While some things can be true (none listed) I feel that a lot of people feel this way now based on factors that have nothing to do with who we are as individuals but everything to do with who came before us.

While what I’ve stated isn’t groundbreaking news, I do think we’re going through a massive sea change caused by multiple generations intersecting online and crossing into the real world. Thoughts and ideas that used to be commonplace and only the norm are now questioned with enough regularity that we wonder why we’re concerned with those ways at all? We now have access to people with information that validate our feelings of wanderlust, anxiety and change our perspective on relationships and love. Thirty years ago you couldn’t express a lot of the feelings we can now without being ostracised or even harmed. More or less your options were to suck it up or confirm. Now not only do we have the chance to speak up but also find people who can help us find our way and throw traditions right out the window.

“Most traditions are just peer pressure from dead people.” - Someone on the internet.

Recently I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends who feel that the lives we’ve been expected to lead are no longer possible because we don’t live in the world that created those expectations. When it comes to careers, how many of us in our 30’s have worked more than 5 jobs in their lives? How many of us have changed not only our employers but the field of work? Currently working one or more jobs at a time? I can tell you that I’m not personally aware of anyone in my age range that’s been working in the same institution since they either graduated from college or high school. Lifelong careers with a gold watch and a party have been replaced by sporadic employment opportunities and the gig economy, scraping by with side hustles not fully able to save but making enough to get by little-by-little. We were raised with the belief that we could go to college or trade school to live our best lives when the reality of it is that college doesn’t cost what it used to and jobs aren’t paying what’s needed to survive. So what is the new normal?

Women have seen some of the biggest changes in this new world, especially based on old expectations. Traditionally, women had to be with an older man who took care of the house, had his kids, didn’t divorce, kept everything in his name and talked about going through the hard times to keep the family together which translated to, “our worth is based on our men and we’re not allowed to be anything without them right now.” I worked at a bank that still has accounts for a few customers started decades ago that read ‘Mrs. [Husband’s name.]’ Remember, women couldn’t even get bank accounts on their own so how were they supposed to leave an abusive relationship? Now we’ve entered a world where women are allowed to be single, childless and not even heterosexual. I feel like so many now are in a happier place not having to bow down to patriarchal standards and yet society would like to remind them of the ‘good old days’ that they didn’t live through and want no part of. Women who divorce are told they’re not sticking it out in abusive or toxic relationships like grandma used to, not realizing that if grandma could have voted, gotten her own bank account and job she probably would’ve left herself. And in this day and age, we’re holding them to an artificial standard that no longer applies and wondering why they’re not following it.

This spreads into how we go about our day to day lives and our mental health and I feel it changes us dramatically. I have a couple of other friends who are currently in areas that are foreign to them (one literally in a foreign country, another picked up and left to another state where they don’t have family or roots.) They’re about 9 years in age apart and seemingly on similar journeys of trying to find themselves in a world they know exists but can’t fully grasp yet. Expectations are being pushed onto them due to how their families lived, how they interact with them even now and what’s supposed to be a life living as safe as possible, financially and otherwise. Yet in the place where their roots stemmed from, they couldn’t make it work. We now know that staying in our home city isn’t the best move for us because we have ideas that no longer fit that environment. We can get online and talk to friends and look up information about what else is out there in the world.

We’re allowed to make the trek to our happiness and aren’t supposed to be tied down by generational curses, traditions, expectations or anything else. And yet that pressure is still there. Why don’t you already have kids at this age? Why don’t you have a house or your second house? Why aren’t you married yet? Do you want to get married? Weren’t you supposed to be a [profession] just like your [family member]? These questions weigh on us in ways I don’t think people realize because those goalposts have been moved or we’ve learned to remove them entirely. Kids are expensive, so are houses, your high school sweetheart isn’t your soul mate (if there is such a thing) and you don’t have to settle for less because we have access to options. And I for one am in favor of this world we live in now as in many ways it’s less restrictive than before. But when we’re still holding on to those restrictions in our own minds and society are we really making it easier to live in it?

No. Plus why would you want to live in a past life not built for you? We should be allowed to create our own lanes and have that set the precedent for those after us to do the same. The goal should be individual happiness, not pressure to live a life not your own. Take it from a man who doesn’t have to fake as though he likes sports.

“I’ve got to be me until the very end.” - The Boondocks (comic strip)