We Need To Talk: Black Men, Depression and Hyper-masculinity

For centuries, it has been said that there are few guarantees in this world. Famed soul singer Marvin Gaye chimed in on this subject when he quipped “Three things are certain in this world: death, taxes, and trouble”.

I must append Gaye’s poignant observation by adding another guarantee. Although I already know that this addendum will rub many folks in the wrong way as it deals with one of the most divisive issues this nation has ever engaged and seemingly been incapable of extricating itself from. The guarantee that I alluded to is the reality that it is an extremely arduous task being an African-American male.

Beyond the usual trials and tribulations associated with life, myriad additional factors contribute to the black male experience being in a word, treacherous. The list of additional obstacles includes, but is in no way limited to: the prison industrial complex, housing segregation, lack of quality education, unemployment, environmental racism and police brutality. The aforementioned maladies directly contribute to the psychological issue of depression in African American men.

An American Medical Association study indicates that chronic depression was found among 56.5% of African-Americans, however, less than than 50% of African Americans sought treatment for the mental illness. A plethora of studies have shown that  millions of Americans suffer from depression, however, less than 30% of those individuals sought treatment, predictably, that number is even lower for African-American men.

Empirical research  conducted by the Center for Disease Control has revealed that suicide ranks as the third-leading cause of death for black males between the ages of 15-24 . Obviously, depression is an extremely pressing issue for Black men, unfortunately, the majority of African American men refuse to pursue help for what is often an undetectable ailment by family and friends.

There is a host of reasons that African-American men do not seek professional help such as:  mistrust of medical institutions, a lack of medical insurance, the fallacious notion that misery and suffering are natural extension of the Black male experience, and the foolhardy belief that religious fervor and prayer are sufficient to quell mental illness.

African-American males are also facing yet another mighty demon in regards to their mental state, that entity being a toxic hyper-masculine culture that has seemingly taken control of every aspect of the African-American male existence.

The socialization of African American males to separate themselves, if not totally mute, from the natural range of human emotions begins at a rather young age. During adolescence when scores of us faced physical and verbal reprimand  as a consequence for misbehavior, we heard the rhetorical cliches from a parent or guardian “stop crying ” ,” man up”, or “be a man”.

The alluded to socialization continues throughout secondary  school many of us with the age old admonishment of “men don’t cry” is hurled at young African-American males. Subsequently  many young Black men  who audibly or visibly express feelings of pain will be denigrated by not only peers, but also family members, including parents.

The alluded to images are also perpetuated  through the mass media,  namely through Rap Music.  Music from artists like Snoop Dogg, Chief Keef, Young Jeezy, and others  has  reinforced the notion that masculinity is synonymous with hyper-sexuality, anger, criminality, and violence. These images combine with highly questionable lyrics to create a poisonous socialization cocktail that inevitably leads African-American males to believe that the only emotional expression available to them is one that can only be characterized as anger and unbridled rage.

The alluded to socialization inevitably forges a Manhood construct that makes the absence of emotion as a core principle of what it means to be a man. It is not surprising that when African-American males age that the unavoidable problems of life leads to an internalization of life’s problems and around the clock emotional anguish. As previously stated, African-American males consider their private hell preferable to the ridicule and condemnation that they fear will flow from their peers if they share their issues.

One obvious result of these flawed and wildly illogical manhood constructs is that African-American men staunchly refuse to address depression and consequently neither share grief, nor pursue psychotherapy out of fear of being ostracized by their community.

The alluded to repression of emotions  has extremely negative repercussions on  those who choose to do so. When individuals suppress emotions, it is inevitable that the emotions will manifest themselves in an  extremely destructive fashion such as: domestic violence, substance abuse, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, and suicide.

Ultimately, the toxic hyper-masculine culture that unfortunately serves as a ‘North Star’ to African American males dooms not only them, but also the entire African-American community. It is imperative that this entire process is reversed via the creation of a free, non-judgemental space where African-American men can unconditionally express their deepest fears, emotional distresses, struggles and heartbreaks. We must understand as a community that Black masculinity and emotional vulnerability  are not mutually exclusive, and never will be. If we fail to learn this basic less, issues relating to depression will not only fail to disappear, but also will become exacerbated over time and guarantee that the vicious cycle of denial of mental health maladies in our community continues unabated.

Alexander Goodwin

©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016


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