James Baldwin has an amazing quote about old black men, from his essay, “Letter from the South”:
An old black man in Atlanta looked into my eyes and directed me into my first segregated bus. His eyes seemed to say that what I was feeling he had been feeling, at much higher pressure, all his life. But my eyes would never see the hell his eyes had seen. And this hell was, simply, that he had never in his life owned anything, not his wife, not his house, not his child, which could not, at any instant, be taken from him by the power of white people. And for the rest of the time that I was in the South I watched the eyes of old black men.
I ran into the subject of this portrait at Dr. Comics and Mr. Games, on Piedmont Ave. We didn’t actually speak, but we passed each other several times in the aisles and acknowledged each other in the way that Black people do when they encounter each other in unexpected places (with a smile and “the nod“).
I didn’t know much about this fellow shopper, but I could see in his eyes an abiding hope and openness to possibility, tempered by an awareness of the kinds of hurts the world can visit upon young Black men. I’ve met young Black people in whose eyes there is the sadness, anger, and distrust that comes from having experienced those hurts first hand; but the young man in this picture appeared to have been, from the most part, sheltered from that level of bigotry. In his eyes there was both the hope he would never have to confront other people’s hatred of Black men and the fear of what might happen if he did.