I’m A Thin, Black Man, And That Worries My Family

by Riley Lockett
Also Featured on KQED
10.26.17

Riley Lockett has been criticized for being skinny his whole life. (Photo credit: Shawn Wen.)

Here’s what I hear from everyone in my family: “Why you so skinny?” “Boy you thin!” “Get some meat on your bones.”

I get it from my friends, too. One time I was sitting having school lunch, and when I took off my coat, my friends acted like I opened the Ark of the Covenant. “Whoa!” they asked. “Do you wear your jacket all the time to hide how thin you are?” It’s like people can’t keep their opinions to themselves.

I don’t go up to other people and say, “Geez, you look like you could lose a few pounds.” Because that would be insensitive! That would be rude!

I’m 5’8” and I weigh 125 pounds. And everyone says I look like Steve Urkel. I know I’m skinny. In a swimming suit, you can clearly see my ribs, and my butt is so boney that it almost always hurts to sit. Yet my doctor says I’m healthy, and this may come as a shock– I’m also pretty comfortable with my body.

So what’s with the constant attention on my weight?

I feel like the real issue isn’t how many pounds I weigh. It has more to do with what it means to a young black man.

In my family’s minds, muscles are a kind of insurance policy against the dangers black men face. My mom is always worried that people on BART are going to target me, assume I’m easy pickings. She’s also very aware of how police see black men. My family wants me to look like I could handle myself if attacked, to be able to defend myself against bullying and harassment. They want me to be big so I’ll stand tall in the face of confrontation.

I get that that my family wants me to be safe. But at the same time, they are sending me the wrong message about what it means to be a man.

I can be a strong man with a skinny body, as long as I’m confident and comfortable with my size. I don’t need to be the toughest guy on the block. I just need to approach situations with courage and conviction.

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