Tag Archives: Depression

Steven Stephens: A 20th Century Bigger Thomas? (Black America’s Native Son)

Experience has taught me to expect the inquiry regardless of the venue or situation. Whether while being interviewed or in the aftermath of an exhilarating lecture regarding the dilemmas facing African-American males, someone will ask “What is the greatest issue confronting the black male today?” To the chagrin of interviewers and audience members, my answer to this poignant query is never singular as the foremost problems facing African-American males revolves around mutually reinforcing issues of mental illness and their adoption, due to both socialization and their environs, of what can only be termed a toxic manhood that possesses the ability destroy all that they contact.

The wicked cocktail of mental illness and toxic manhood is the only explanation for the actions of Steven Stephens, the African-American male who not only murdered Robert Goodwin Sr. (74), a defenseless elderly black male on a Cleveland, Ohio, street, but also uploaded his heinous crime onto Facebook. Although Black America reacted with horror to Stephens’ diabolical actions, the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of us know several black males whose existence mirrors that of Steven Stephens; a personable individual, who on the surface fails to exhibit the wear-and-tear of being black in America publicly, yet is privately straining under the weight of being a have not in the land of plenty. The alluded to frustrations feeds directly into the dawning of a daunting query of “Is life worth living?” Such internal strife has reverberating repercussions for all around them. Unfortunately, it appears that the appropriate motto for disassembled black communities in every inner-city may very well be “A place where life is not worth living.”

Considering the mantra that “you cannot change what you do not acknowledge,” it is past time Black America shed their thread-bare lie of being shocked by regarding the actions and activities of the Steven Stephens found within their environs. If we were serious about improving our community, we would stop feigning ignorance and acknowledge that we have normalized public indecency and uncivilized behavior toward within the black community. It is not accidental that Steven Stephens murdered another black man as a means of expressing his frustrations at the two black women to whom he was closest, his mother and a former fiancé.

It is imperative that we not miss this opportunity to at least examine, if not address the cause of the development of angry, brash, illogical, directionless, socially inappropriate African-American males whose moral compass is a toxic manhood possessing more power to destroy themselves and their community than Hurricane Katrina. We must face facts that figures such as Steven Stephens are a reflection of who we have become as a community; cold, distant, foreign to one another, combustible, and dangerous to ourselves. When considered in this light, it is clear that today’s troubled African-American male is a modern-day Bigger Thomas, meaning Black America’s Native Son. Such individuals reflect the frustrations, contradictions, and sadness that has been comfortably situated in our hearts for so long that we no longer notice its presence. For better or for worse, it is who we have become to each other.

And for that reason, we should all weep.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture 2017.

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


“Get Your Mind Right”: African Americans and Behavioral Health

Sonora Contributing Blogger — MRC (ManhoodRaceCulture)

“Rather than a proclamation of progression, you are making declarations of denial; denying yourself confrontation with the truth which can set you free.”

You are awakened from sleep with a sharp abdominal pain and have trouble returning to sleep. You may try a home remedy rather than take the time to go to seek a physician’s care at that hour but, eventually when the discomfort gets too great, you are going to the doctor. You will follow the physician’s advice and take the medication until you are feeling relief and can continue to function without the constant reminder of the discomfort.

You both agree the relationship has ended and you are now in two residences. The emotional and financial pain keeps you from sleeping soundly through the night. What’s going to happen with our children? What am I going to do financially? And even though you don’t want to admit it, your grief also includes the loss of a partner. What comes next? The emotional/psychological pain affects your eating, sleeping, working and social patterns. You’re sad, you’re angry, you cry, you reason then, you go to a place of survival inside of yourself to get through the immediate trauma. And out of that pain, you emerge from despair’s cocoon, a mutant butterfly, half fluttering, half dragging – yet moving forward.

This scenario is the same for males and females. Often between the sexes we banter about who’s pain is greater by saying “your pain ain’t like mine”; but pain is pain, and its intensity is relative to the person feeling it. Pain cannot be prioritized from one person to the other based on ones perception of disparities. Pain is pain!

So, your sleep is disrupted from the emotional pain, just like with the abdominal pain, except this time you do not go to the doctor.   You do your best to hide the aching under a mask we like to call “strength”. And, as hurting people hurt people; your pain transforms into proclamations of “never again”. Rather than a proclamation of progression, you are making declarations of denial; denying yourself confrontation with the truth which can set you free.

As a race, we have culturally denied ourselves the freedoms of emotional wellbeing. Behavioral health, simply put, is about the balance of the body and the mind; emotional and physical. The body and mind are co-dependent upon each other; one cannot function without the other. Yet, we would deprive ourselves of seeking the care of a healthcare professional for our own emotional/behavioral wellbeing based on a stigma that Black people don’t go to counseling. Historically, within the African American culture, the church has been a resource for behavioral health services. And as much as I agree that faithful prayer and meditation will keep you from medication; there are instances when life’s stressors overwhelm our body/mind, beyond its limits to cope appropriately and effectively. Seeking a spiritual advisor may not be as effective as a behavior health practitioner.

The issue for consideration I would like to impress on anyone who seeks counseling services from their house of worship is to verify the credentials of the counsel. In some churches, counselors are appointed, not because they have studied to show themselves approved but, because they have been assigned /appointed by leadership. I myself have been referred to Minister Soandso because they had been through a similar circumstance and had a testimony to share in the aftermath. Again, my faith walk has taught me that experiences and testimonies offer great support to other in like circumstances; however it does not certify me to offer coping options. Where it is known that experience is a great teacher, every graduated student is not a professor.

My suggestion to the readers is that we make behavioral/emotional health part of or annual health assessment. There are many non-profit professional services within our communities, as well as, Employee Assistance Programs, which offer confidential counseling services. Whichever route you choose to go…. GO, Get Your Mind Right!