What is the Black man’s version of the ‘Roman Empire’?

Written by on September 20, 2023

Roman Empire, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, TikTok, theGrio.com
Michael Jordan, left, and LeBron James (Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

There’s a fascinating trend going around right now on TikTok, an app that has become the home of all sorts of social experiments. For some reason, some white woman decided to ask her boyfriend or husband, “How often do you think about the Roman Empire?” It seemed like a random thing that most people would never think about, but come to find out through this TikTok trend, many white men think about the Roman Empire a lot — like a few times a week or more. What? 

So once the white women realized how big that thought exercise was among white men, they started asking themselves, what’s our Roman Empire? Like, what’s the thing that white women are constantly thinking and talking about alone and amongst themselves? What’s their big thought exercise? The answer that bubbled up was their ex-best friends. Their Roman Empire are those beloved close friends who got away. It’s not about a specific period of time. It’s about a big thought exercise that people of a certain demographic are obsessed with. So that got me thinking: What is the Roman Empire for Black men? What is the thought experiment that we’re constantly running? I did some thinking, and I believe there may be three answers.

First, though this is in no particular order, is the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James debate. It feels like Black men are always talking about this subject in some way, shape or form. Either we’re signaling our allegiance to one side of the debate or we’re diving into the meat of it to try to explain how LeBron can possibly compete with M.J. when the GOAT has six rings and Bron doesn’t. It’s an epic topic that says a lot about how you see the world, what age you are and what you value from elite athletes. The correct answer is M.J., duh, but I love that this debate rages on and on. Seems like almost every conversation between Black men will eventually, on a long enough timeline, dip into M.J. vs. Bron. 

That was the first answer that came to my mind to the question of what is the Black male Roman Empire, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized there are deeper answers. Without a doubt, slavery remains a constant subject of conversation among Black people in general and Black men in particular. We’re constantly making references to how something is a holdover from slavery or how something is the long-term impact of slavery. We know America wouldn’t be America without slavery — this country became a global economic power precisely because of slavery. When Kenya Barris dropped “#blackAF” on Netflix (a show I loved), I thought it was genius that the first episode was titled “because of slavery,” and every episode after that was a play on that sentence. We know that everything is because of slavery, and we love to point that out to each other. It’s like a way of saying stay woke.

Now if we’re always thinking and talking about slavery and it’s impact on us, then for sure we’re also thinking and talking about white supremacy, which is perhaps the other side of the coin. We know America is a game, and we know it’s rigged. We know the major aspects of American life — economics, education, criminal justice, housing — are controlled by systems that work against us. We talk about this amongst ourselves sometimes in overt terms, sometimes in hushed terms and sometimes in knowing looks. We can just look at each other and say with our eyes, “The white man tried to screw us again.” We know the game, and we can’t stop talking about it and thinking about it. What white people call woke is our natural state — we are aware of what’s really going on. If white people are unaware of reality — like a fish saying, “what’s water?” — then we are like human beings who are completely aware of the big picture in a nation that stole us and enslaved us and never really truly set all of us free. 

The question that remains for me is this: What’s the Black woman’s Roman Empire? I know they’re thinking and talking about slavery and white supremacy like we are, but what’s a thought exercise that’s unique and endemic to them. Let me know!

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show Star Stories with Toure which you can find at TheGrio.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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