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It's a male thing


THE "handgun" episode of the television show "Roc," -- overrated and overhyped -- aired for the second time last Thursday. I was as unimpressed with the second showing as I was with the first.

Maybe I'm too curmudgeonly to see the merits of this particular show. Or maybe I just have a different view of things from down here where the bullets are actually flying.

It's not that Charles S. Dutton, the Baltimore-born actor who plays Roc, and the writers and producers of the show didn't mean well. They are to be commended for even attempting to address the issue of the ghastly homicide rate among black American men. But they missed the crux of the issue.

The plot of the episode was simple enough. A boy named Terrence is terrorized by a thug named Damon. Having relieved Terrence of a pair of sneakers and a sweat shirt, Damon decides he wants Terrence's coat. By this time Terrence has grown a bit weary of this foolishness and refuses. He pulls a gun on Damon and his homeys to make the point clear.

I have to admit the story is moving along fairly well at this point. By accident, Roc dis-covers Terrence has a gun. He upbraids the boy for it, telling him that there are other ways to handle the problem.

The trouble is, Hollywood writers have no idea how a black teen from the inner city would handle such a problem. It is here that the story breaks down. Terrence asks Roc what he can do about the situation.

"You've got to give up that jacket," Roc tells Terrence. "It's not worth dying for."

Now there's a thought. Capitulate to the thug. Why hadn't we thought of that? I have an even better suggestion that Roc could have given Terrence: Simply have Terrence's hard-working parents hand over their weekly paychecks to Damon. Then everybody would be happy.

My suggestion, of course, is nonsense. In the real world, the Terrences and the Damons know that the jacket is not the issue. Damn the jacket. The real issue is respect and self-pride. How is Terrence to keep it if he has to give up his personal property to Damon on a weekly basis? Suppose Damon decides that taking Terrence's belongings isn't enough? Suppose he asks Terrence to kiss his feet in public? Suppose he ups the ante and one day says to Terrence: "I'm tired of taking your stuff. I want your life now"?

Poor black urban males -- unable to command the thousands of dollars per script of the average television screenwriter -- have a much simpler view of the situation: "My self-respect is about all I have in the world. When that's taken from me, what do I have left?"

Terrence is shot and killed at the end of the episode. At that point, Mr. Dutton delivers an impassioned soliloquy about black youth killing each other with guns.

"We're doing what slavery couldn't do. We're doing what the Klan couldn't do. We're doing what racism couldn't do," pleads Mr. Dutton.

Agreed. But why are we doing it? Again, to return to the real world: there, Terrence would have friends or "homeys" of his own. They would not take his being shot to death by Damon's crew lying down. In the real world, Damon or one of his crew would be the next to go. It's time we start looking at retaliatory violence as a contributor to the high homicide rate among black men.

It's also time we start looking at attitudes among black men -- all men, really, since the black macho culture is in many ways only an exaggerated version of the dominant white male culture -- that contribute to the violence.

A young woman named Nachosa Harper summed it up in three or four sentences exquisite for their simplicity and succinctness.

"I couldn't be a man," she told me. "I'd be dead. Men try each other -- for no good reason. I couldn't have somebody up in my face all the time."

Ms. Harper is now an affluent Hollywood actress and screenwriter. She is neither a pundit nor a politician. She is simply a 21-year-old woman who knows what she knows.

Hollywood types -- frantic to "do something" over the rising spiral of handgun violence -- would do well to heed Ms. Harper's words.

It's not a gun thing. It's a testosterone thing.

Gregory P. Kane is a reporter for The Evening Sun.

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