The expectations for Black men can carry a hefty weight, having a detrimental effect on not just them, but those they love. What is the measure of this pressure, and how can we lessen the burden for us all?
What Is Toxic Masculinity?
According to the New York Times, toxic masculinity has been defined as behavior that includes masking emotions, distress and maintaining an appearance of solidity.
“Toxic masculinity is what can come of teaching boys that they can’t express emotion openly; that they have to be “tough all the time”; that anything other than that makes them “feminine” or weak,” Maya Salam stated.
So, how does this factor into the portrayal and perception of Black men? How is this concept intertwined with Black identity?
The Perception Of The Black Male
In 2003, Bell Hooks penned and published the novel, “We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity,” an account of her interpretation and understanding of Black male identity in which she discusses not only the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy that Black men are agonized with, but the way that it impacts women in relationships. As Jor-El Caraballo states in an article via Talk Space, this expectation of steely stoicism can cause Black men’s emotions to manifest by them harming themselves or others.
“For these men, this creates an emotional volatility that can sometimes manifest in seeming “shut down” in relationships and friendships. At its worst, this budding resentment can manifest in an outward expression of anger, aggression, and even violence,” Caraballo stated.
James Evans, who works as a Case Management Coordinator in the mental health field, stated that from his experience, this expectation of stereotypical masculinity that even when not necessarily spoken of is palpable.
“There are certain things they will use us as an example. I need you to go over here and do this because they see the big black man, you know? You want me to come to the rescue with this? Sometimes I feel that comes on a lot too. I know it’s about to happen a lot of times when things, certain things start to take place,” Evans said.
This idea of Black men as emotionless, aggressive, and strong can be seen being examined in the Forbes article titled, “What Black Men Should Consider About Their Emotional and Mental Wellness,” the image that society is collectively fed of Black men (via film and television), is hypermasculinity and open displays of emotion are looked down on.
“Research suggests that in many spaces, Black men are expected to be strong and resilient physically. They are encouraged to do well in athletics and to engage and thrive in physical activities, but not in activities that promote learning or emotional or mental growth,” Maia Niguel Hoskin stated in Forbes.
The Pressures Of Conformity
Evans stated that these pressures in the workplace can ultimately affect one’s home life if they allow it, ultimately impacting their romantic relationships.
“If you let it get to you and take offense to what’s going on, then it can kind of bother you and affect you in a certain way where you end up taking that stuff home. And which is not a good thing. You bring that stuff that you’re dealing with for the workplace or the people around your work and you blame the devil for coming home, then you don’t need to be there. Cause that’s, like I said, it becomes a very toxic environment for you to be in. I’ve seen people- where they can’t shake it and it stays with them,” Evans said.
The Collateral Damage of Toxic Masculinity
In a 2017 Op-Ed by the Black Youth Project, a Black youth organization, Shekinah Mondoua examines his respective journey with toxic masculinity, he explained that the expectations placed on him would lead to him disrespecting Black women both in his language and view of them.
“The problem with my choice of words and my perception of women has become quite clear to me. But some of my brothers today would see no problem with the rhetoric I utilized. They would find no problem with the subliminal way we use Black women as mere accessories to decorate our egos. And sadly, they see no problem with the way Black women are treated today. That is because quite simply, Black men cannot see the problem because they are the problem,” Mondoua said.
How Toxic Masculinity Hinders Progression
This pressure to conform to standards of Black masculinity can lead to Black men being unwilling to self-reflect, in the belief that this can be viewed as a weakness, despite vulnerability being necessary to receiving help.
“Asking for help requires some Black men to deviate from expectations that require them to be tough — which itself can create significant inner tension and conflict,” Hoskin.
Evans backs this, stating that part of the reason self-examination may be difficult for Black men is because they feel they need to be projecting a certain image of masculinity.
“You always feel as though you should be ahead. You think you should be this person when, in real life, you can’t beat this person all the time. I see with some of my clients, even myself and some of my friends and my, my brother and everybody else, we try to find outlets for ourselves. Because we get so committed to everybody else, we forget about ourselves,” Evans said.
In an article, “Let Black Boys Cry,” Kiersten Alexis backs this, quoting an excerpt from Unharm Our Sons: Black Father, Masculinity, and Mental Health by Aryah Baker that this pressure to live up to a certain idea of masculinity is a result of Black men attempting to maintain their sanity and live up to unrealistic standards.
“Historically, Black men have opted into toxic masculinity to preserve their sanity and to protect and provide for their families. Beginning with slavery, America’s sociopolitical structures and institutions have upheld a racially stratified, patriarchal class system that, to varying degrees, has oppressed everyone except wealthy white men. This reality, coupled with a desperation to escape racialized poverty, left Black men with no other choice but to attempt assimilating into the dominant culture,” Baker says.
The internalization of these mental health issues (for the sake of sanity) and how they impact Black men can be seen in the push against professional help, as the American Psychology Association points out.
“In fact, such internalized views of masculinity “make a lot of Black men resistant to therapy and more likely to seek informal ways of addressing their mental health through barbershops, church, religion, or talking to family members,” psychologist Erlanger “Earl” Turner, PhD, an assistant professor at Pepperdine University stated via APA.
Professional help to address their mental health issues, is also a limited resource in and of itself according to the APA. They (the APA) state that only 26.4% of Black and Hispanic men who experience daily feelings of anxiety and depression are likely to receive mental health services. A 19% difference from the 45.4% of non-Hispanic white men. Even attempting to find healthy ways to combat these mental health struggles, as the APA points out, can be a more complicated process than even clinical diagnoses would suggest.
“Because of structural racism and Black men’s unique history in this country, their mental health and treatment are intimately tied to factors such as implicit bias on the part of medical providers, high poverty rates, and low access to quality psychological and psychiatric services. Compared with White people, for example, Black people are less likely to receive guideline-consistent care or to be included in mental health research,” Tori Deangelis said in the APA.
Healing and Growth
So, what can be done to combat not only the mental health issues that Black men are subject to as a result of toxic masculinity but to keep collateral damage from being ensued in their relationships? APA stated that intervention methods like a podcast performed by psychologist Dr. Earl Turner focus on destigmatizing mental health for Black men. There are also family oriented organizations like “Healing Generations.” According to psychologist Jerry Tello, it is focused on helping men of color make better decisions despite what traumas they have experienced. If the men open up about the ways they have harmed themselves or their loved ones as a result of their struggles, they are asked to take responsibility for their actions, then the root of their actions/decision making is delved into.
“Yes, we (Black Men) experience racism,” Tello said via the APA. “But the choice is, do you transform it, or do you transfer it? If you want to transform it, come sit with us. If you want to transfer it, then keep doing what you’re doing,” Tello said.
Evans recommends that Black men who do not have these services available for them to utilize, try going to their community health department and see what resources they have available. If you’re struggling to get men to break past that barrier of toxic masculinity, you may not be able to force them, but you can highlight how their behavior harms them and those around them, as well as how they can grow and change.
“You can’t force anybody to do anything because if you force them, they’re not going to want to do it. But if you can get them to see, if you try to do this- this is what can happen. Or even show them examples of other people that are in the same situation they were in so they can see its possible. That I can move forward and get out of this situation because some people think it’s totally impossible to move or get out of. People who have went through the worst things possible mentally or physically, they are able to move forward with their lives and do something with themselves, but they have to want to want it,” Evans said.
Resources for Black Men Looking For Therapy: