Johnny Perez works tirelessly toward reform and speaking out for men of color who — just as he did for 13 years — existed within the harsh landscape that is the criminal justice system. We’re more than proud to have him share his perspective and wisdom with us -- and you.
Rondel Holder is the creator of one of the dopest podcasts out, Soul Society 101. Needless to say, we connected on many levels, entreprenuership, travel and our respective paths toward manhood. We are honored to profile a brother who embodies the phrase "there is more to him than meets the eye." Read on!
Thousands of people recently came out to celebrate Dominican heritage in New York City’s annual Dominican Day Parade. With flags waving and music pumping, Dominicans of all shades and colors displayed their cultural pride.
But when you ask 38-year-old Dominican-American Jason Rosario where his roots come from, he’ll proudly tell you they go all the way back to Africa.
It's easy to look at Sammy Sosa and think he's gone off the deep end. Colorism is engrained in the societal fiber of many Caribbean/Latin American countries, the Dominican Republic being one of the starting five offenders.
Sammy is not off his rocker. He was raised in a culture that blatantly gives advantages to those of lighter skin complexions. The idea that men of the darker persuasion could achieve success, fame, wealth & in general be well liked is as unbelievable as the existence of unicorns. Imagine being taught your entire life that your hair, skin, eye color, and overall being a man of color was unworthy. It sucks. However, as a woman who has loved men of the Amistad shade, here's how that self-destruction impacts the women in your world:
Long before the embracing of my natural hair, there was the constant expectation that my hair be long straight as a bone. Even as "woke" as the world is now, hair texture is still a thing. The natural game has levels to this curl kingdom. Most men expect your natural locks to be in the wash and go lane and envision the luscious strands seen on shampoo commercials as the norm. How disheartening for us 4C curled women.
I never purchased colored contacts, mainly because I don't like things in my eye. However, I have grown all too familiar with #TeamExotic which usually means you have light eyes with skin that isn't white and locks that are curly enough to defy the straight strand European standard. You ever look at a baby with light eyes and the first thing you say is "Wow, look at those eyes!" Yea, we're obsessed with them. Strike 2 for this brown eyed gal.
I can count on one hand how many men I've dated who were not dark skinned. On the opposite hand, I can count the number of men I've dated who were Latino. Growing up, the light skin girls with long straight hair ALWAYS got play. I thought this was just a high school phase that surely college would break. It was broken, briefly by the one Latino man I ever dated. Post college, not a single one. See, Latino men (not all, but most) have a way of favoring my lighter skin peers. To date, it hasn't mattered that I L-O-V-E dark-skinned Latino men. I never make the cut. Too brown, too tall (I'll save this for another post), hair not long enough. Third time is not the charm.
I know Sammy isn't off his rocker because I too am impacted by his train of thought. No matter how much I embrace myself inside and out (cue Chaka Khan's I'm Every Woman), I am constantly reminded that the same men I love would not be proud to have me on their arm. I am not the prize. I am not worthy. And so the vicious cycle continues...
I'm tired too.
We're going to talk about Sammy Sosa. But first, a little background.
A few years ago, I was on a panel discussion for TheGrio where they talked about being Afro-Latino and the challenges we face growing up in a world that deems your complexion to be less than beautiful. A world, let's not ignore, where even family members judge you for your complexion, the way you wear your hair, who you date. In that video, the topic of Sammy Sosa came up. I simply said: “I understand and feel sorry for Sammy Sosa.”
When Dominicans and the Internet think of Sammy Sosa it’s an automatic comedy show. If it’s not that he looks like Pepto Bismol it’s that he looks like Neapolitan Ice Cream. It’s what the Internet does; it takes a person and automatically makes them a meme. It’s funny. I laugh. It’s a joke…but it also isn’t.
The Internet gets a hard-on for breaking you down but it doesn’t get a hard-on for building you back up. And while Sammy may be past saving, I don’t see half as many memes about the core of the issue than I do about what his face now looks like. There is no advancement of the conversation.
If you’re Spanish speaking it’s “Pero Sammy ta loco” or “Ete maldito prieto quiere ser blanco ahora.” If you’re a white American or black American, it’s automatically “Dominicans are such self haters” or “Dominicans are so racist.” Both sides are tired as fuck to be honest. Neither of those advance the conversation. Neither of those provide a solution. All they do is leave everything in the same place.
Quick sidebar: You notice how we as Dominicans [not me personally] never say “eseeeee maldito blanco or triguenito” right? But people are quick to say “Ese maldito prieto/cocolo/negro?” But i’m sleep though.
Back to why I understand Sammy Sosa….
It’s simple, I WAS SAMMY SOSA.
Let me run you through the list.
My hair isn’t William Levy’s hair. You can't run your fingers through it. I don’t even have hair anymore. I’m bald. But when I did, it was hair I didn’t like. Actually, I hated it. So what did I do? I got the same curls Sosa and Pedro had. I wanted to have the look of someone who had “good hair.” I permed my hair in the same way many young Dominican women do. I went through my childhood being told I didn’t look Dominican, or wasn’t really Dominican, so I did everything in my power to chase that title. I would tell people “I’m not black” because they used it as an insult. At one point in my life, I thought being called black was a negative. It was an insult to me.
I tried getting green color contacts. I remember my dad [who is a super woke Dominican] asking me if I wanted to be white because he was furious with me over it. I was 16 years old. I was so mad at him for talking to me like that. But while I denied understanding his viewpoint, I did, and just didn’t want to verbalize it. As a teenager, I just wanted another way to get attention because I felt my skin color was preventing me from getting any.
I’ve had two major relationships in my adult life. Both light-skinned. In elementary school and high school? All light-skinned. Do you think that was by accident? Again, a lot of these woke Dominican dudes who are dark-skinned have the same record as I do when it comes to girlfriends. I’m not criticizing them. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just showing you how real it is and why it’s no joking manner.
I’ve been dating for a while and have dated every shade of woman on earth. This would have never happened 5, 10 or 20 years ago. I’ve had dinners with women as light as milk and dark as me ... and I’m an Amistad shade. The same people that criticize Kanye and Kim are the same dudes that want a Kim on their arm because they are just as brainwashed as I was.
Why? I can tell you every single reason because I ONCE WAS that person.
- I want to have a North West looking kid.
- I like how it looks to have a light-skinned woman contrast with my dark skin. It makes me feel like I stand out.
- There was a feeling of accomplishment when you got a light-skinned woman as a dark-skinned man. Why? Because you didn’t believe you were good looking on your own because of how society treated you; and you sure as hell never thought your looks would get you a light skin woman.
- What’s the next big catch for a dark-skinned man than a white woman? A light-skinned woman of the same race.
- Those are all real thoughts dark-skinned Latino dudes go through because of all the BS they hear growing up. I’m not saying the thoughts are right, because they 100% aren’t, but they are thoughts I once held.
So when you consider everything that I’ve listed out, do you think Sammy Sosa just woke up one day and said: “You know what, I want to be white. I want to bleach my skin?”
"Money couldn’t even save this brother. It shows you how deep the cuts were on him. The insults. The poverty. The wealth that you only see light-skinned people having in your country. All that stuff from his childhood stuck with him despite at one point being one of the most beloved baseball players -- not just in the Dominican Republic -- but around the world. He couldn’t grow past it."
It’s easy to pick on Dominicans. I’m Dominican and I get tired of people picking on Dominicans. This skin bleaching nonsense happens even in the non-Spanish speaking Caribbean in countries, like Jamaica and Haiti. Additionally, if you’ve been anywhere else in the Caribbean or Latin America like Brazil or Colombia or even part of Africa, India and Asia, you’ll see that people of that complexion have the same issues. They have the same issues of self-hate. But they are growing up in a place that makes poverty in America look like a joke. They don’t even have black examples of success or wealth in person, TV or on billboards like we do. They have nothing.
So how the hell is something like Sammy Sosa funny when you know there’s a Sammy Sosa that’s 5 years old right now developing the same complex in DR, PR, Cuba, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela … and the list goes on. Kids who have to really hustle to eat on a daily basis. Who have to wear the same clothes while understanding at a very young age that in their countries black means poor, and white means rich, or something close to it. Kids who look at their surroundings and not only develop this thinking but have parents who reinforce that there’s no escaping this.
So if we as men are going through these bouts of self hate imagine those same kids or men going through it in a place where the window to opportunity is not even slightly cracked. Air can barely come in.
P.S: You can read this the same way you can read every other article on Sammy Sosa. What’s next? I’m not Martin. I’m not Malcolm. But when my book comes out I’m going to make sure I make copies of it in Spanish and give them out for free in Dominican Republic to the people I know who go through this. Maybe my words and my experience will help them in some way, shape or form.
And I’m tired of talking about this shit. It’s frankly exhausting…
- Claudio Cabrera
Music is the soundtrack of our lives. It has the power to transport us and elicit a wide-range of emotions. In rare instances, music also has a unique ability to encapsulate moments so vividly, that it feels as though the artist must have tapped into our souls and taken a polaroid picture of our lives.
JAY-Z’s release of his latest album 4:44 has been met with broad criticism from both men and women. Some of the most thought-provoking responses have come from Sisters who believe that JAY-Z’s admission of infidelity and his subsequent apology, only help to emphasize how in some cases a man’s growth and evolution come at the expense of a lady he’s hurt emotionally. DAMN! Let’s take that in for a second. That’s real shit. Sometimes anger and pain can lead to transformative change, I believe this album has sparked those conversations.
“We live in a society that more readily forgives men for cheating than it does women. In fact, men’s promiscuity has been celebrated as a rite of passage where women are ostracized and further degraded by the same and sometimes less comparable behavior.” – Jason Rosario
In my opinion, the album can be the beginning of what I think is an important conversation. One that begins to hold us as men more accountable for our actions, while allowing a space for growth, atonement and ultimately forgiveness. It creates a space for Brothers and Sisters to engage in vulnerable, heartfelt dialogue that serves as the basis for deeper growth and understanding. And, in that process, create stronger bonds of communication that will lead to more connected, healthier relationships.
As for the album, I think it’s one JAY-Z’s best pieces of work, in large part due to the timing of its release. The world is yearning to hear from men in a different way. The world wants us to speak vulnerably from that place within us that can only be Truth. The world needs us to step into our greatness and leave behind the boyish behavior. It needs us to step into a new definition of masculinity, one that does its part of deconstructing the structures of patriarchy and help create safe spaces of inclusion for all groups of people women and the LGBTQ community.
This album puts to song all of the values that inspired the creation of The Lives of Men as a platform – vulnerability, an unapologetic celebration of black excellence, masculinity and self-reflection. JAY-Z provides us with the perfect soundtrack for that introspective journey.
One particular song that jumps out at me is “Kill JAY-Z.” In it, he metaphorically kills his old Self in order to renew and resurrect into a better version of himself. This has been a central principle in my own therapy sessions. The trauma and shame of a deeply challenging experience can serve as inspiration for new growth, and Jay does a great job illustrating that in this song. My favorite line is “You can’t heal what you never reveal.” Whaaa?!
The other song that resonates with me is the title track “4:44.” Arguably one of the greatest songs he’s composed, Jay spills his heart out in the most vulnerable way. It’s an ode to personal growth from a 47-year-old man that inspires all of us to look at the ways we show up in our relationships and start to not only atone for those mistakes but also ensure that we address their root causes. The song challenges us to raise our young men differently and provide healthier representations of black masculinity. Lastly, in a subtle nod to artistic numerology, the most vulnerable song on the album stands at exactly 4 minutes and 44 seconds. My favorite line in this song was hard to choose, but this one resonates with me the most. "Look, I apologize, often womanize. Took for my child to be born to see through a woman's eyes."
So, whether you are a fan of the album or not, the fact that we have a black man in a position of influence in our community, seemingly taking responsibility for himself and revealing, in a very public way that he needs to change is something to be proud of. The album comes at a time when the collective male consciousness is being challenged to step into its full power. That means embracing all aspects of masculinity, debunking myths of what being a “real man” is and doing it in a vulnerable way that creates pathways to real healing and growth.
Basking in the glow of Father’s Day when your own parent is gone can be a little more difficult. Even if you’re not a dad yourself, you know the impact that a man who helped raise you has over your perspective, your behavior, who you are as a man. If your father was never a part of your life, well, you’re likely reminded of this even more frequently.