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Black Men Afraid of Dark

A Bed-Stuy pre-school teacher is making a film to heal black men, society... and herself

Mya Baker is a Bed-Stuy resident and pre-school teacher who is close to completing a feature-length documentary about black male stereotypes entitled, “Black Men Afraid of Dark.”

She says the goal of her film is to begin a process of healing— for black men and for society as a whole.

A Chicago native, 38-year-old Baker said she didn’t start the film intending to talk about racial stereotypes. Her intention was to deal with sex and relationships. But she soon learned that so much of what guided her subjects’ opinions on relationships had to do with how they viewed themselves.

And so much of what informed how they viewed themselves was tied to how society viewed them: brute, oversexed, violent and angry.

“Trust me, I didn’t want to make this film about race; I want to believe we have gotten beyond all of this, I really do,” said Baker “I grew up an alternative queen, listening to rock, Suzie and the Banxies. As a teen, I was always like, ‘Love is colorblind; you shouldn’t judge people based on race.’ And I dated white guys."

Baker insisted the film’s changing topic emerged all on its own. However, a closer look at Baker’s own life suggests that it wasn’t totally by accident. In fact, filming the documentary seems to have served as a catharsis, an outpouring of some unresolved conflicts of her own:

“I remember so clearly, when I was 5 years old, my mother, my brother and I were chased out of a Chicago neighborhood called Bridgeport when we were young. A gang of boys were waiting for us as we walked out of this church, and they started chasing us with bats and bricks yelling, 'Nigger go home!'

“We were all so scared. We ran for our lives, all the way back to the car. I was quiet all the way home. But when we got on the elevator in our building, I finally turned to my brother and asked, ‘What’s a nigger?’ And he said, ‘Aw man, that’s what they call black people.’

“And I said, ‘But I’m not black, I’m brown.’ I was totally confused. That was my first time really thinking about color.

“My pre-schoolers don’t know about race yet. They don’t describe people as black or white. They say, that boy over there with the pink shirt hit me. Society teaches kids that there are differences, and I think it’s a shame.”

Still, as a young girl, Baker refused to believe there was a difference between her and the next person of any other race. And why would she? She was surrounded by positive black role models. Her mother had her master’s degree and worked for the EPA for 33 years. Her father, an electrical engineer, held a senior position at Amoco. And her older brother, also academic-minded, went on to earn his Ph.D in history.

But she also remembers watching her father grow depressed, as he complained constantly of the racism he experienced on the job at Amoco, and the further devastation he suffered when his own business start-up failed and he had to file bankruptcy.

And she remembers as well how broken her brother became after he was told to stop teaching African history to his young students. He also holds a master’s degree in special education, so the school where he worked moved him to the Special Ed. Department instead.

“I don’t think that people know that black men go through a lot of sh**,” said Baker, who has a 13-year-old son. “I mean, I’m totally aware and also always afraid of the fact that the minute my son steps out the door, he becomes a walking stereotype.

“And yes, in Hip Hop we see the images of black men being violent and angry. Yes, you see men hanging on the corner that ain’t about nothing. But you also see black men on the train every day going to work, black men picking their kids up from school. When is the last time you’ve seen that on TV or in the media, except for in a Tyler Perry movie?”

But at the core of what Baker wants to examine in her film is how black men view themselves. Since 2008, she has interviewed men of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds, including a few well-known media figures such as actors Vondie Curtis Hall, Malik Yoba and Lou Myers, author Kevin Powell, NY Senator Eric Adams and Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Some of the themes Baker explores are men and their relationship with their mothers and how that informs how they deal with women, their views on manhood, monogamy, physical abuse, sexual abuse and their relationship with God…

“By the end of each interview, the men often tell me, ‘Wow, that was healing,’” said Baker. “Because they realized they’ve never really talked to anyone about a lot of the questions I asked.”

“Black Men Afraid of Dark” is completely self-funded. Baker now needs $25,000, which she is fundraising through a Kickstarter campaign. She hopes to finish filming by the end of June.

“We as black women also are guilty of painting this negative picture of black men. But are they?” said Baker. “My brother is a beautiful man. My father was a brilliant, responsible and hard-working man. He died of cancer, never being able to be the man and the business person he wanted to be for us.”

“I guess I’m making this film for my father, my brother and every black man who struggles every day to rise above stereotypes,” said Baker. “I want to leave something for my son. A legacy.

“Even if it doesn’t make a lot of money, I made it with my heart, and it’s going to matter.”

To donate to the Kickstarter campaign for “Black Men Afraid of Dark,” go here.

Cedric Ellis May 15, 2012 at 02:01 AM
This is so awesome Mya!!! I know that your story and those involved in this project will help so many young men who struggled as your father, brother and contributors did. Great job Mya
pat May 15, 2012 at 01:09 PM
"She was surrounded by positive black role models. Her mother had her master’s degree and worked for the EPA for 33 years. Her father, an electrical engineer, held a senior position at Amoco. And her older brother, also academic-minded, went on to earn his Ph.D in history." There are plenty of janitors, sanitation workers and grocery delivery people that are excellent role models. Why is it that we associate education with being a positive role model. Black men will heal when they stop acting like the world is against them and they are owed something. I challenge you to do the same documentary in another country that has a large Black population and see the results. It is not a color issue, it is the culture issue. I grew up being called horrible names because of my Hispanic heritage. I do not blame them, or society, I take personal responsibility for my actions and love my children and teach them well. Beating your wife and living the thug life has nothing to do with color, it is a personal criminal issue. Do not mean to sound rude, just tired of sugar coating reasons why minorities, mainly the Hispanic and Black population behave the way they do in our city.
Jenny May 15, 2012 at 01:46 PM
this was a great piece and a lovely story....
Ms.S Washington May 15, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Mya, After reading your lovely story I wished my son was one of the ones you have interviewed....
Vintage May 15, 2012 at 04:26 PM
She lost me at "We as black women also are guilty of painting this negative picture of black men". Black women are the only women in the world who love to coddle the same males who treat them like garbage. And I bet it's Black women who will fund this project.
Tia May 18, 2012 at 01:38 AM
This is a great!!! Idea. But, how can we foster growth and positive development of our black men…, [youth who will soon be adult men] when we continuously have the Jay-Zs’ of the world counteracting all that our ancestors have fought and strived for example; JZ himself sagging (when so many look up to him, disrespecting black women, no respect for the educators, lack of respect for education, placing the blame on the system, and then some…. In addition, when we have single parent homes, and perhaps a mom, a dad, or some other individual who the mom chooses to give respect, before she offers respect to her children? I think if these issues are not addressed, your strong efforts will be counteracted in many ways. i can also relate to much of what you are saying; being chased out of a park with my two kids in P.A. I moved there because i thought it would be a improved lifestyle for my two (now college grads). Also my dad who worked so hard in the Canada Dry Corp, only to be let down for a position due to racism. And my daughter harased by a instructor and denied a credit she earned to obtan a BA--because of her light complexion and name close to that of a Russsian.
Tia May 18, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Back to the point-- In part of what I am saying is that; many of these parents and I refer to them as so-called parents abuse their children physically, emotionally, spiritually and continue to smoke weed and use drugs around them, put their men before their children and still expect them to grow up sane and do well in school, etc., we are fighting a loosing battle. We have entertainers’ have become rich off of the back of some of the less than fortunate individuals who look up to them as if they are life itself; at the very least these same entertainers can come in to the so-called hood and help heal some of the darkness that surrounds our black men. Unfortunately, in many homes today; the males are looking at the Rap industry as a way out. If you just look around, many mimic just as they see. These kids are NOT looking at their parents or some of our pioneers who have made black history as positive role models. Many of these kids can spit out a rhyme before they pass a basic exam or SAT to be cont
Tia May 18, 2012 at 01:43 AM
I do understand that everyone needs to make a living , as this is where the music industry is responsive.. . . . I think that in an effort to heal black men who have fallen prey to the ills of society, and those who continue to keep the David Duke and his boys legacy alive [without understanding what Duke and the boys are all about] we need to tap the individuals that they take pride in and look up to. At first, I was about to say; who they seek for help. How many can really call on JayZ or the others for true help? A turkey at Thanksgiving is just not the answer. Signing a autograph at Macy’s is not the answer, a one shot deal by writing to the record producer for help, and they offer a couple of grand to look good is not the answer either. These individuals need to create some type of community based structure and organization to help these black youth, boys develop into strong black men. We have a real crises going on !!! I encounter black youth on a daily basis, every chance that I get to educate them on what is happening in society, I do... I am constantly finding myself explaining where and how the sagging pants syndrome was birthed; I was an officer for over 20 years. I also educate them on the fact that the multi billion dollar prison system would just love to make money off them. It is sad to say that encouraging these same individuals to stop the sagging and create their own style many times goes null and void. to be cont:
Tia May 18, 2012 at 01:44 AM
I was in the laundry one day, I saw a kid about seven or so—his pants was sagging, I informed the mom who thought it was cute. I actually thought that his pants were falling off and there were so many people hanging around, I feared for the safety of the child. Let me just add, sagging in no way demonstrates the intelligence of the individual. Hanging on the corner as referenced in the article in many cases has nothing to do with intelligence. In addition, I have met some of the most intelligent beings while working in the penal system. I truly believe that the strength on taking black men out of the darkness will come from within, and from those who are instrumental in continuing the festering of this problem—only because they benefit financially.

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