“A Message to Isolated Black Men” by T. Hasan Johnson, Ph.D.

“Let me tell you something. A man ain’t a goddamn ax. Chopping, hacking, busting every goddamn minute of the day. Things get to him. Things he can’t chop down because they’re inside.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” – Frank Crane

Black men have been conditioned to believe that we shouldn’t feel pain, and to acknowledge it is somehow a display of weakness, and although all men in the West have been subjected to this paradigm, all men aren’t perceived as hyper-masculine, violent, hyper-sexual threats to order and civilization. Put another way, Black men have never been allowed to be men, but have been simultaneously used as an unrealistic standard of masculinity. This idea of Black manhood has meant that even Black male children are viewed as older than they are while men are considered unworthy of emotional support. Both Black men and women have been trained to see Black men in such ways and Black men suffer because of it.

The rates of suicide for Black, isolated men is too high (see below). Remember that it is okay to reach out and accept companionship and support from whomever you trust it from (although this might require some opening up on your part).  

 Figures 1 & 2 -http://www.sprc.org/sites/sprc.org/files/library/Blacks%20Sheet%20August%2028%202013%20Final.pdf

When Black men feel isolated and unsupported, it can be difficult to find help because people often don’t know how to support you. In television and film, women (even Black women) have “methods” for helping one another that are known and celebrated. Shopping, discussion circles, clubbing, etc. Even children are shown in media being cheered up by loving adults, but with men people are stumped. (This can be even worse during the holidays, when social expectation demands that men make others’ holidays special–and this often requires financial sacrifices we may not be able to make. Of course, most people struggle during the holidays with this, for Black men, it’s the social expectation that increases this stress–as children and women have been conditioned to expect men to provide while showing Black men that they are not needed and that they can enjoy life without them.)

When attempting to support Black men, some will even become hostile to you in an effort to “toughen” you up, while other will back away and isolate you even more trying to “give you space.” Still, others will give you advice and tell you everything you did wrong in an attempt to help, but be oblivious to how much critique can hurt when one is severely depressed… Few realize that presence is just as important to Black men as anyone else. Simply providing support by giving attention is incredibly reaffirming. Recognizing a man beyond his utility reaffirms his humanity, as does acknowledging the limitations of our cultural training in regard to Black male roles in our cultural milieu.

Furthermore, the isolation is often both conditional and self-imposed. People are taught to fear you, and the competition we’re bred with to compete with one another as young Black men keeps us from building relationships in life–especially over the age of 35. I implore you to find the drive to reach out, especially to the youth and create ways to show them what you’ve learned in life. This will both enliven you and help them.

The killings of Black males by police, vigilantes, and other Black males has been a constant, but must be challenged. Find ways that suit your spirit and temperament to challenge this…whether it be in an organization, in protest demonstrations, writing, or anything else. Just choose something that reaches the public–not something just in your head…

Lastly, no matter how bad it gets (especially during the holiday season), remember what KRS-ONE once said, “Stay alive and all things’ll change around.” Have faith, if nothing else, in that the only constant is change, and that includes change for the better. Whether you believe in meditation or the Divine (God), engage your source more often. There is no limit on how often you may do this. It is your birthright. Let it fuel you.

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One thought on ““A Message to Isolated Black Men” by T. Hasan Johnson, Ph.D.

  1. As I was told coming up, “if your going to nurse wounds, nurse them in private. The moment you broadcast them, then here come the wolves.”

    My experience bore that statement out, it matters not where or who you are or who your with. It applies to every human interaction.

    As much as I respect the conversation around having allegedly progressive masculinity, I can’t help but take the impression that part of the reason black men are the focus, is because society does not respect us as men, and that includes many black people. Notice your popular activists will ask, beg (and call it “Demand” with no consequences) things from the dominant establishment, yet actually demand black men do “xyz.”
    Notice how these new age activists (with media help) ignore predominately black male led groups that work in the community (i.e. the detroit 300, the chicago interrupters (made into a documentary), various church organizations, 100black men, Former crips and bloods in LA working to make change, etc) and claim that they are at the “forefront” of community change (yet only when cameras and white folks are around).

    If anything, our progression has to be based on old functional ideals of doing things that work and get results. With white folks, their “progressive masculinity” only came after the 2nd largest destruction of black wealth happened (2007 housing crisis). In other words, they established their economic dominance before relaxing and being so-called “liberal.”

    Results are what matter in the world, not words. Until people see results the media will continue to crap on us. They will continue to re-create the narrative that black women are much better off than black men, using statistical manipulation that ignores that if black men are suffering, then a slightly larger amount of women are suffering as well. They use the middle and upper class black women (or those just entering it) to push this idea, while ignoring blue collar black folks (i.e. the majority) who never go to college,etc. They will continue to push escapist fantasies on us in the name of sport, music, and other art. Its all about results.

    All of this is what happens when a larger groups occupies a territory over a smaller group. They ostracize the majority, while absorbing a select few women (while rarely marrying them..) and make sure the men are in no position to resist. The Romans did it, the mongols did it, the Chinese did it, the germans did it,etc,etc.

    I said all that to say this. Anybody a brotha opens up to will have to keep all of this in mind.

    Isolation, many times, is a reactionary move of not knowing how to strategically engage the outer world. I said all of that to say what was said to me when I was young:

    You have got to have goals, dont worry about white folks they can’t really stop us, you may get knocked down but 1 round aint the fight.

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