dinner party

How Do You Enact Empathy? A Long Conversation With F.D Signifier.

F.D Signifier Photo: Youtube

There’s been what feels like a mass of events these past couple weeks in sports and culture involving Black masculinity, ranging from the toxic to the refreshing: from the controversy surrounding the NBA’s next preeminent superstar, Ja Morant, who was suspended for a bunch of reckless behavior, to the Chris Rock and Will Smith post-Slap discourse, to the corny outrage of conservative Black men to seeing Jonathan Majors in pink. It’s honestly a mess — a mess that necessitates some blunt real talk between bruhs about the bullshit we’re doin and a level of genteel that allows people to grow.

I’m gonna be honest: It’s very difficult to have these conversations and not lose patience. But if there’s one creator who has inspired me (and I’m sure many other Black men) to investigate gender and sex in a genuine way, it’s the former teacher and social worker and current YouTuber F.D Signifier. An impressive balancing act is at the heart of his work. His videos articulate the pressures and forces antagonizing Black men and boys while expressing frustration with the ways Black men and boys direct their anger and malcontent toward women and queer Black people. And the formula worked out. He’s defeated the algorithm and grown a huge following on a platform that doesn’t promote Black thoughtfulness, especially when it comes with a more radical-left approach.

Dinner Party: So first of all, obviously a big fan of your work. It’s reinvigorated my spirit toward, like, having patience with manosphere niggas

F.D Signifier: That’s so important. I feel you. I don’t know how bad I would’ve been — I don’t know if I would’ve been a shitty nigga when I was your age in this particular internet age. Like, I can’t rule out where my head was when I was in my 20s, if I wouldn’t have been, you know, a Kevin Samuels fan or some shit like that. I wanna give space to dudes, cus ain’t nobody really gonna do it but us. And I think it’s a really valuable contribution to make is to, like, try to be in there doing the dirty work, you know?

 Yeah. That shit is dirty for sure. Have you been keeping up with the Ja Morant story?

You know, not really. I don’t watch a lot of basketball. I know he’s newer. He was Rookie of the Year. He fought some kid last year. They let him slide and then he’s doing videos with guns. And now they’re saying, Okay, you need to sit down for a second. 

Yeah, there’s other stuff mixed in there fasho, but that’s the gist of it. Got on IG Live the other day and allegedly had a gun that he flashed on-camera that people presume to be his. He got suspended by the team indefinitely earlier this week. And yeah, people have been talking a lot about it. I’m sure you could guess where some of the discourse has gone, especially because NBA media is white as fuck. They done already talk about this nigga daddy. Like, Oh, his daddy didn’t show up, or His mama’s crazy. They talking all types of shit. 

I’m sure Stephen A. said some wild shit. Who’s the other, bigger dude?


Jason Whitlock. Oh, he’s the worst one. I forgot. I got a video on Black conservatives coming up, and I left his ass out.

Yeah, we gotta throw an edit in there. 

I throw a dagger in there real quick. I gotta find a way. He’s the worst one. I’m sorry, what was the question?

I just wanted to get your sense of how discourse around Ja reflects this miscalculation of what Black boyhood is and how fast some of us are supposed to be growing up.

So I had a formal academic education. I was in my Ph.D. program and ABD, which means all I had to do was finish my dissertation and I’d be done. So I ain’t had no shit else to read — though I’m still reading, by the way. So it’s like, Oh, okay, I got my bell hooks, I got my Lorde, I got a little bit of Michael Kimmel. But the thing is that you recognize there’s not a lot of Black men’s gender studies. There’s not a lot of Black men and gender scholars in the academy. And so what that’s done is it’s made the scholarship around Black men weak. And that has all of these negative impacts. When I got started doing YouTube, I learned the algorithms thrived in pulling Black men through certain narrative means. Like, we love a “nigga fucked up” story.


We loved that shit. But we gotta always start there to put it in scope. We gotta ask what happened here. I’m assuming that a dude runnin’ in the streets, flashing guns and punching people, he probably didn’t go to Duke. Ja Morant may have a boyhood that reflects that kinda experience. Ja is expected to go through that shit without a problem. Most others, they don’t have multimillionaire, billion-dollar industries literally on their back. And so then that complicates what should be a community-level intervention with that individual. It becomes, Yo, you made it, you supposed to be better. You representin’ us. It becomes all these other things when what it really should be is, Yo, did anybody get this dude therapy in between classes at whatever college he went to? This is tied to my Black-athlete video. My experience teaching high school and teaching at a football and theater junior college is that once these boys are identified by athletic ability, everything else shuts down. We ain’t worried about grades. We ain’t worried about your emotional development. We ain’t worried about your mental wellness. It’s only, Can you play? Are you injured? Can we get you through these classes to play? That’s all that matters. So many of these boys are underdeveloped. And that’s everybody. That’s the schools, the principals, the teachers, the mama, the daddy. Everybody is so ready to run them into the league. They never stop to engage with their self-development. So all of that and then we get to, What is in his head that makes him have that outburst of violence? What makes him move with that recklessness? And where do you even go with that? Because, like, alright, let’s say he’s just fought a nigga and flashed the gun. Is this a story?

I don’t think so. 

You know what I’m saying!? I hate to pull this, but like — what’s the white-boy boxer that’s done all kinds of terrible stuff?

Jake Paul.

Jake Paul. He does something like every two weeks! He got caught with like 50 guns! The danger there is it becomes whataboutism. And we’re talking about Black men. You and I probably both know it’s a lot of dudes that try to avoid accountability with the whatabout. The real thing to get into is what a healing process looks like for Ja Morant. And if people really care about that, then they’re gonna get ’em on the other end. They’re gon call him up, they’re gonna call up his people, they’re gonna sit him down, they’re gonna surround him with what he needs, and it’ll be okay. He’s not the first — this is real, real talk, this is lightweight!

This is regular! This is regular shit. Like, sorry, this is very chill.

This is shit. He just flashed the gun. In an open-carry state, oH My gOd.

I do wanna touch back on what you said about getting into his healing process because he released a statement saying that he took full responsibility for his actions and that he was sorry to the whole organization, you know, the whole thing. But something specifically that he said was “I’m gonna take some time away to get help and work on learning about better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being.” I’m sure you could imagine what the reactions were to that.

It ranged from people shrugging it off to people empathizing to people saying he was using it as a cover. This statement and the conversation around it is the reason I wanted to talk to you. It reminds me of the video you did about Will Smith’s childhood and survival mode post-Slap. Because it is literally like, this nigga might have PTSD that has been untreated. Like, I don’t wanna diagnose nobody but —

I would wager almost all of us do. And there is research on that, legit research on kids coming from certain environments, that the PTSD is sky-high.

There’s a misreading of the experience entirely, and a lot of us are dealing with PTSD. That Will Smith is still within a process of getting out of perpetual survival mode. It felt to me, from jump, that’s what Ja was dealing with. And it’s unfair not to consider that an actual mental-health issue. But yeah, did you watch the Chris Rock thing?

Oh yeah, I watched it last night.

What did you think about it?

It was mid. It wasn’t the worst, you know. I didn’t leave it feeling like I left when Chappelle did his shit.  I wish he wouldn’t have called Jada a bitch. I have a lot of mixed feelings! I laughed like four or five times. I wish all the comedians would sit back and think of better jokes about woke culture. They’ve all been doing the same. He literally did some of the same jokes I heard Louis C.K. do.

They homies, they share shit!

Yeah, it’s just really tired. And then he said the same shit I said about Will, which is like Will knew who he could and could not slap. So that’s real. And that it was about Jada, and that’s real. And, listen, Jada is a groomer. I think I touched on that in one of the videos, but like, that’s something I don’t like. It has not really been emphasized in the conversation that Jada Pinkett did legitimately groom this dude. I don’t think he was underage per se, but it was definitely an inappropriate relationship. At the end of the day, though, it’s so much spectacle, and I’m exhausted. It’s not overly meaningful. It’s one step away from gender-wars hypothetical questions on Facebook and Instagram. Should a man go 50-50 with his girl? Like, it’s one step away from that. I don’t have much energy for it. I don’t know if you see my shit about Cop City. Anarchist came in and firebombs with Molotov cocktails the Cop City site in Atlanta. And I don’t know if the next time they come, the police are gonna legit open fire, though.

 It’s deeper shit going on.

It’s more real stuff going on outside. This is just, you know, Chris Rock had to get his lick in. I hope it drops from here. Every move, every wave is a story line. That’s the thing that bothers me the most. You know what I’m saying is that I don’t have room for like niggas to have a bad day or a bad take or be going through something in the public eye and not have it be this hyper-focused thing. I’m thinking about a video about that going all the way back to O.J. ’cause I feel like that’s when it really started. I don’t know, it’s tiring.

I feel like it was a special that showed why that nigga got slapped in the first place. I watched it last night too, and I was just like, Damn, bro, you really earned that. You really fucking did that shit, bro. I hope you appreciated that in the moment. Like somebody gave you exactly what you earned. But yeah, there’s a ton of really dizzying shit going on. You’ve done more work, especially recently, on trying to think about the intersection of transness and Blackness and class. I really loved the conversation you had with Soulbunni because it’s getting at that other thing that’s happening right now. Even in the midst of all the awareness around trans issues, trans misogynoir is rampant and underdiscussed. What impact are you seeing from the gap between what’s happening for white trans and queer folks and then, like, everybody else?

What I realize is that trans people are the safest targets for the hyper-conservative, fascist, regressive power entities to subterfuge universally problematic shit with their trans antagonism. The western world, even people who are okay with trans people, is still pretty transphobic — they just don’t care what happens to ’em as long as they don’t bother them. They aren’t willing to come to the defense of trans folks for these issues. And so these entities know this. They know that if they can put enough trends, if they can put enough “cross-dressing pole dancers in front of kids” images, then they can say, So yeah, we’re also cutting health care.

That’s how they cut abortion. They took abortion from the country, and a lot of these motherfuckers were elected on these types of platforms. I’m in Atlanta, so Herschel Walker is running, and they got a nigga that sounded like my granddad on the radio talking about, you know, The Democrats want your son to be a woman and want a woman to be your son. I’m like, Oh, these niggas really trying us! But  trans people are so demonized, even though they have been here forever and they really be just minding they fucking business. They’re so demonized that people really just don’t give a fuck if people fuck with ’em.

So on one end, I see the okey-doke they tryna pull. On the other end, I watched too much fucking anime as a kid to see people get outright dogged like they do and not say something. Like when I started to unpack my own shit, I started to see that.

How did it show up?

When I was a teacher, I had young gay students; these were boys. One was — it’s hard to say, this is like 2010, so I don’t wanna say how they identified — clearly queer, very effeminate, young, AMAB people. I remember how little effort was put into protecting them in obvious situations and how everybody just “tolerated” them. And that was when I started thinking about the whole totality of the inequality there. So fast-forward, I start working in social work and I’m seeing the real results of this shit. I’m seeing what’s happening on the streets. We got little queer AMAB people just being flushed through the system because nobody really wants to deal with ’em or knows how to deal with ’em. There had to be specific entities set up just to provide halfway decent care for some of these kids. When I got to YouTube is when I started being really in community with trans people. And the thing with trans misogynoir in particular, it really showed me just how effective the trans experience is as a paradigm for understanding anti-Blackness as a whole. All the things it reflects upon the perception of you as not human before I know you — and I also have an intrinsic dehumanization of you off the jump. Like, You deserve whatever the fuck you get for being how you are. And once I caught that parallel, it really got into me. And then even still, I’m still doing the bare minimum. Ethically speaking, for me and my platform, I don’t like to do the most around trans issues because it can become a very exploitative paradigm.


I don’t wanna do trans people how white sociologists have done us for decades. Like, I’m gonna speak for the trans community? A cis hetero Black man with two kids? So that’s why I brought Soulbunni on because Soulbunni’s been percolating on the low. And now that she’s getting serious, it was like, ah, yeah, this is how we’re gon do this. Because it’s better if she could advocate for herself, you know what I’m saying? It’s better that that Kat Blaque has platform, but Kat Blaque told these niggas I’ve put in 15 years. She was like, All right, look, I’m about to do my art and my BDSM and y’all gonna leave me the fuck alone. And I ain’t mad at it.

She’s earned that right many times over. 

One thing I wanted to get at: I may have once insinuated that Black folks are more homophobic than anybody else. And I don’t know if data fully backs that up, but what I do know is that Black trans people suffer more than anybody else. And you can’t extrapolate that from their proximity to Blackness and the problems that Blackness faces. Which, however you want to interpret that, you need to feel like that means we need to be putting in as much work as possible to support our folks and support our community.

I was a little frustrated. I kept my mouth shut. You may have seen the British girl in the U.K. who was stabbed to death, right? That’s horrible. That shit happens everyday. That’s one of the things Soulbunni was getting at. She didn’t go in on it cus there’s always conflict, so you gotta pick your battles. But like you will have white trans folks that’ll be like low-key to high-key racist and use statistics about trans death and trans challenges that are pulled mostly from the experiences of Black trans women to advocate for policies and resources and issues that Black trans women aren’t being included in. So it’s a messy, complex situation. That was the whole thing with Dave Chappelle: Like, we know the real issue here. Everything bad that happened from Chappelle’s comedy happened to a trans Black woman first. And what you internalize is that it’s really about us knowing who suffers first. If you’re really about the people who suffer the most first, then you’re supposed to move differently.

A Word With F.D Signifer on Having Empathy in an Emergency