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The emotional stoicism of Black men is something that few doctors, authors, families or society have talked about. While there are not many published works regarding this topic, the most notable of the few is We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (2004) by Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her writing name, bell hooks. The emotional crisis that is created by the lack of love and acceptance that Black men face is a mainstay in hooks' work.
Not being able to process and talk about their emotional experiences is something that has plagued men because they are not equipped with the proper tools on how to do so. This absence of knowledge only furthers a sense of isolation, anger, and resentment. With this comes the creation of emotional volatility in these men that can sometimes manifest in seeming “shut down” in relationships and friendships. Once these emotions begin to blossom, they can be made worse and start to manifest into outward expression. For most, these expressions can include anger, aggression, and even violence. A more in-depth look at this topic is outlined in great detail by Charlie Donaldson and Randy Flood in their book Mascupathy: Understanding and Healing the Malaise of American Manhood.
The idea of being openly vulnerable and sharing their emotions with others is something that men have the hardest time dealing with. What we consider amongst the opposite sex as natural and healthy expressions of emotions, "sensitive men" are often ridiculed and shamed for. Black men face a distinctive challenge, and that challenge is what they are praised for. Most other races are praised for their intellect and emotional intelligence, but Black men are rather praised for their looks, bodies, and talents. Over time, society has set a standard that Black men are not supposed to be ”soft” and are not meant to experience the praises that other races experience. This in turn delivers the message that if you are emotional or emotionally available, then you must change it immediately.
Even with this, there is hope on the horizon for Black men. Black male celebrities have been candid about their feelings. A big shift occurred in 2016 when musician Kid Cudi openly talked about his depression on his social media account. Two years later, in an interview with Jada Pinkett Smith on the Red Table Talk, he divulged what had taken place in his life. From this outlet, social media platforms started to use the hashtag #YouGoodMan, emphasizing Black men’s mental health. This hashtag was instrumental and sparked a cultural shift. It empowered Black men to express their feelings without judgement and talk more about mental health as a whole. This shift has had a positive impact on Black culture. As a result, more Black men are being vocal about their mental health.
Kanye West, a big name in the music industry, has also been vocal about his mental health issues. In his interview with Charlamagne tha God, he discussed his mental issues and how this impacted his work and home life. Another example is that of billionaire mogul Jay-Z. Mr. Carter spoke openly about his infidelity with wife Beyoncé. He gave details about how he attended therapy sessions and how they positively affected his marriage. In fact, Jay Z’s 4:44 album was a vulnerable expression of his personal life, and the documentaries sparked a dialogue on mental health, relationships and wealth. Conversations on mental health have been highlighted by other artists through their work and public imagery. A shift is occurring in Black male culture, but is that shift enough? Is that shift coming in time for some?
Seeking Help and the Barriers
The unhealthy expectations of society based on gender and race are what keep Black men and other men of color out of therapy. Stereotypes such as men do not have feelings or men do not need help are what keep men from seeking help. Fueling this fire is what keeps our men from being vocal about their struggles. Many have heard the expression that men don't even like to ask for directions, which is a stereotype in itself.
The sad truth of the matter is that this continues to plague Black men. In order for men of color to actually get help, they must first open themselves up enough to be truthful in stating that they need help. This is where the solution begins. For men to accomplish this step, they must give up being "cool." Author bell hooks outlines this particular facade in her works. But this contributes to the problem. Personally, I know firsthand the temptation to buy into the stereotypes. I have also seen close friends and coworkers struggle with some of the same difficulties in allowing vulnerability to play a role in their life. This was even the case when they were positioned with someone across from them that looked just like them. Our family history is usually to blame for not implanting the belief that black men’s internal emotional lives have inherent and productive value. This is a change that needs to be made immediately.
The Black community seems to have always held a certain distrust towards the medical community. This is very true when it comes to the African American man, and this creates another barrier. For years, the black body was treated as a scientific experiment. The use and abuse of these individuals is how some discoveries were made. This distrust mostly comes from the history of how black bodies have been treated. A very prolific example of this is the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Black bodies, men to be exact, were purposely subjected to syphilis, and it was left untreated to study how it affected their body.
With this type of mistreatment taking place with men and women of color, the Black community has grown to not hold the medical community in high regards. Black men must be aware of this and overcome this. They must allow someone into their hearts and minds. The distrust only gets reinforced by movies like Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The representation that this movie presents is what feeds the distrust. Stigma and racism are the the major reasons for Black men to seek help with mental health. Mental health concerns can also come from the economic status of a Black man. With that being said, more has to be done than just the medical aspect, but a well-rounded solution has to be presented.
Men’s Mental Health and How We Move Forward
We can better understand mental health for men by trying to build up our men. We must commit to getting to the root of men’s mental health. Men also have to work on taking important steps to discussing their mental and emotional health. The biggest step that must be taken by society is to invest in spaces where we can unravel the influence of toxic masculinity that permeates our society.
Weakness in a man is not acknowledged by recognizing his fear about providing for his family or the anxieties about existing in a world where their body will be devalued because of its color. We as men have to speak up about this to those around us, especially other men. This can include, but is not limited to, friends, fathers, siblings, therapists, or other support spaces. For us to truly heal as men, we have to utilize these spaces and have faith. With this faith comes less anxiety, less depression, and less stress overall.