I once asked men to #TwitpicYourFlowerCrown on Twitter. It started out as me poking fun at the all too popular flower crown filter and it’s use on Snapchat. It turned into a bigger conversation about masculinity.
Toxic masculinity is a topic I tweet about frequently because one of the things I’m passionate about is relationships between men and women, and how we as men can be better to ourselves, our partners, and to black women in general. Toxic ideas about what manhood actually is continue to be a thorn in the side of progression in that space.
Too often online and in real life, we see examples of the fragility of masculinity. We see men condemn other men (and women) for doing anything they perceive as feminine, even down to personal hygiene. Through the #TwitpicYourFlowerCrown hashtag, men posting pictures with the flower or butterfly crown filter became a subtle representation of reclaiming the definition of masculinity from the stereotype, and redefining it into what we want it to mean.
We have to reclaim masculinity from fragility. Black men (and women too) often have this false definition of what being masculine, what being a man, means. We can and have to change that narrative. This may lead one to ask, “If we’re redefining masculinity, then what does it mean?” I can’t pretend to define exactly what it is for everyone, but I can tell you how I see it.
Masculinity is expressing love and admiration for everyone in their lives, men, women, and gender neutral. Masculinity is effectively loving our daughters and sons unashamedly. Masculinity is giving women the same (if not more) respect that is offered to other men. Masculinity is being comfortable in the man you are, in your likes and dislikes, and never apologizing for that. Masculinity is a man being comfortable in who he is and what he has to offer. Masculinity is being emotionally responsible. This pertains to romantic, familial, and platonic relationships. Be responsible. Be accountable. To yourself and others.
We all have the opportunity to take back masculinity from the status quo and redefine it. Too often, toxic masculinity is the lane in which we place the definition of manhood. It tells us our manhood is measured in our muscles and our weaknesses are determined by our emotions. It tells us that the title “man” can be taken away if we do something that doesn't meet the approval of other men. It is a result of insecurity making noise in hopes that other men and women take notice and act accordingly. However, the strong move quiet and the weak start riots. Toxic masculinity is the riot of the insecure male psyche. And its extremely destructive and divisive.
I've spoken often about my father's relationship with his father...but I'll rehash. My paw-paw is from Alabama. He was an old country boy who’s father was absent. He left the family, didn’t send money home, etc. That cycle contributed to my paw-paw’s relationship with my dad. Growing up my dad never heard "I love you" from him, or any kind of affirmation. My dad, in turn, sought out affirmation in other ways that were destructive to him and affected his loved ones, like me. My dad was a substance abuser and took advantage of people. Through most of my upbringing, he wasn't to be found. Honestly me and my father didn't get to know each other until I was an adult. To think that destructive behavior started 3 generations back (if not more) is crazy.
My father? He was the one who broke that cycle. He makes sure to tell my brother and I that he loves us constantly. My father’s relationship with his father has improved tremendously to the point where my paw-paw tells him and me he loves us without hesitance. This type of break down in toxic masculinity is needed if black men, frankly, are going to survive each other. There are startling statistics in violence regarding toxic masculinity. 98% of those who commit mass shootings are male. 98% of cops who've killed civilians are male. 90% of those who commit homicides? Male. 80% of those arrested for violent crimes? You guessed it, male.
I wonder what would happen if we as black men decided to be more open emotionally to expressing love. My ask, my challenge for the black men reading this? Find another black man you love. A son, father, friend, uncle, etc., once you've found that black man that you love, TELL HIM. Then tell him again. And again. Love and sharing emotion isn't "gay" (this is to say it’s not an emotion solely reserved for gay men) and never has been. Love is patient. Love is kind. It isn't proud. It isn't easily angered. It doesn't dishonor others. Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails. Love...is love. As black men we don't have to fear it. We should embrace it among each other.
The reality is, there are black men that love, and they do so freely. And we love effectively. The sobering truth is that there aren’t enough of us doing so. And we can live and love freely because loving freely is masculine, even when adorned with a crown of flowers and butterflies. It's okay to love each other, black men. It's okay to love our children, to cry to our partners, to hug our fathers. Find another black man you love, and tell them. Leave no doubts about that fact that #BlackMenLove.