In 2018, Mamoudou Gassama, a young man from Mali, became a household name when he climbed to the 4th floor of a six story building to save a French child dangling from the balcony. The courageous act earned Gassama the nickname Spiderman by the people of France. Gassama soon caught the attention of French president, Emmanuel Macron who, upon meeting Gassama, gave him a presidential medal for his bravery and granted him French Citizenship upon Gassama’s request. Ironically, the ask granted came on the heels of the French government tightening the rules on asylum seekers despite them dying on the Mediterranean in search of a better life.
I was reminded of Gassama’s story when, in the days following the attack on the US Capitol building by American born savages, Eugene Goodman, a Capitol Hill policeman was hailed a hero after he used himself as bait to divert the attention of the mobsters from the senate entrance and prevented a planned massacre of lawmakers. Like Gassama, Eugene Goodman deserves all the praise and should be honored, but while we celebrate him, we must understand that black men (and women) are not natural carriers of superhuman abilities nor are they seeking to be symbols of heroism for racist nations. Black people, rather, are ordinary citizens seeking respect of their humanity. For Gassama, that respect looked like being able to work with dignity to support his family in Mali without hiding because of his immigration status. For Goodman, that respect looked like citizens (especially MAGA maniacs who claim to love the police) valuing his authority as an officer enough to stop , listen and turn back upon his command .
As Gassama comes from Mali, a country still controlled by France which enacts policies that gives the French priority on everything from exploiting natural resources to public procurement and biding thus making it hard for Malians to secure jobs, and Goodman, from the United States, a country where a people who have been here for 400 years still have to break through barriers to get meaningful jobs, we must acknowledge that this lack of respect of black humanity, deeply rooted in racism, is what subconsciously drives black men (and women) to activate superhuman strengths as a means of survival. In addition, as centuries of racist ideologies and policies have given way to the criminalization of black men, it’s caused a false discourse that black men are innately incapable of providing and protecting, both actions that traditionally correlate with manhood. These fallacies, sometimes, then drive black men to prove themselves as valuable in ways that are taxing on the body and the psyche.
So, though Gassama and Goodman’s actions were purely instinctual and selfless, instead of honoring them and other black men only when they lay their lives on the line, let’s choose to recognize black men for who they are in a world that is hell bent on eliminating them. Black men are sons with the hopes and dreams of generations upholding them. Black men are brothers, connected through kinship and friendship that gives them space and confidence to be their authentic selves. Black men are partners, committed to journeying through life with the ones they choose to love, but most importantly, black men are men, worthy, capable, smart and wonderfully made in the image of the divine. For these reasons first and foremost, they are and should be heroes.