An Intersection Of Race, Masculinity, And Mental Health

Defying The "Hard" Masculinity Stereotype
Defying The "Hard" Masculinity Stereotype

On a cloudy fall day, not unlike this one, my friend Roman* sat across from me in the living room of his small apartment, his face swollen with anger, despondence, and anger. He oscillated between exploding with a dozen different emotions at once, and seemingly feeling nothing. He called me after my many failed attempts at getting through to him for the past two weeks. We are both usually very busy with our professional aspirations, but when he didn’t respond to my usual texts checking up on him, I became uneasy.

Roman and I have been friends for almost ten years. We met during a teenage summer, a friend of a friend who ended up becoming one of my best friends in just a couple of years. Like me, he is the eldest child for his single mother, shouldering responsibilities that began way before he was able to manage them. I have witnessed his evolution from fun-loving teenager to enterprising young man, always striving to be in a better position than he was born into. Yet, even with all of his tangible achievements in college and his steady career progression, his sense of self was noticeably fractured. He spoke with me intermittently about his struggles, constantly feeling unsure about how to get to the root of what he feels. Sometimes, he says that he feels nothing at all, numb to any positive or negative emotion.

Today, he repeatedly punched himself multiple times. So hard that his confused facial expressions are amplified by the large black and blue bruises on his cheeks. His lips are bloodied and bruised from banging his face against his bedroom wall, and his knuckles full of scrapes and cuts. What started as a simple conversation with his recent ex-girlfriend, triggered his downward spiral into self-injury. From speaking with him, I gather that he was embarrassed, sad, heartbroken, lovelorn, and disappointed at the current status of his lovelife. Instead of actually being able to become aware, acknowledge, and just feel these emotions, he found himself in a fit of rage and aggression, shrouding his “weak” feelings with the only emotions that he is fully comfortable expressing.

He was always considered to be the “man of the house,” and with the heaping responsibilities, he felt that he was always expected to put on a sturdy and strong face. Any intense emotions that his uncles taught him were not “manly,” were buried automatically under the cover of a sarcastic laugh or a shrug. He cannot recall crying after he was reprimanded by his mother for being upset about a mean-spirited classmate. He was told to stop “acting like a girl” and “man up.”

The idea that boys and men do not cry nor do they acknowledge emotions that are considered weak, is as much rooted in patriarchy as misogyny is. Boys who are not encouraged to acknowledge nor evaluate their emotions, most often become men who are unsure of how to connect with their feelings, and are less self-aware. Boys who are ridiculed for showing emotions that do not show some signs of dominance, as anger, rage, and annoyance do, are placed on a path to become men who implode, explode, or a combination of the two. To be ridiculed for acknowledging or feeling through emotions is a starting point for an unstable mental and emotional well-being.

In African-American and Caribbean communities, mental health has significant struggles in being a topic worth non-judgmentally delving into. The gap is even wider when factoring in an intersection of race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. According to the OMH, the suicide rate for African-American men in 2013, was four times the rate for African-American women. With widespread misinformation about mental wellness in the Black and Caribbean communities, there is a significant gap in acknowledgement of mental health issues, and treatment-seeking behaviors.

Earlier this week, Scott Mescudi, more popularly known as Kid Cudi, made headlines. He revealed via a social media post that he has taken the initiative to check himself into a rehabilitation center, spurred by anxiety, depression, and suicidal urges. He admitted to having a “...raging violent storm inside my heart at all times.” Admitting that he constantly feels sadness, anxiety, and distrust is a snapshot of the struggles that many Black men face, unsure of how to process their feelings. His transparency has sparked a period of discussion and support for Black men and their mental health, even resulting in the creation of a hashtag to keep the discussion in one place. There are high hopes for the conversation and transparency by other Black men about their mental health will continue and create some change in the attitudes.

You may also have a Roman* or a Kid Cudi in your life, a young Black man who is not sure how to process his emotions or work through his mental health issues. Keep an eye out for them, as well as for any simple recommendations that you can make to help them find the peace that they may be missing.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.