Questions to the culture: creative healing for black men

As the end of the school year steadily approaches creative healing is needed to wash away all that pent up stress we take in from our hectic student lives. With deadlines, money issues and graduation creeping ever closer, our lives can get pretty stressful which could and does for most of us have an impact on our mental state; leading to issues like anxiety and depression. The ways in which we all heal are different as we are all different individuals, yet healing is something we all need. As a black man I’ve always struggled with expressing myself in times where I feel distressed; there are often occasions where I come across jovial and carefree, yet my mind is riddled with insecurities, stress and just overall gloom if i’m being honest. Looking back at how I was brought up, especially in the black British community I wanted to see how other black men who grew up in the same community fared in terms of their mental health. I’ve always heard in passing conversations that many other black men are also known to suffer from mental health problems quite often, but I have never really looked at it too deeply for myself. So today I took the time to finally do some of that research.

Black men in Britain are “17 times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious mental health condition and six times more likely than a white man to be an inpatient in a mental health unit.” If so many black men are suffering why don’t we really hear anything about it you may be thinking? Well, studies conducted by the U.K. charity Time To Change tell us that “80% of POC who have experienced both mental health illnesses and discrimination are “unable to speak about about their experiences.”. Personally, I feel that we as black men all have this need to mask our emotions from the outside world. Being a black man myself, I have first-hand experience in masking my own emotions, I do this in order to not seem weak or less masculine to the outside world: the fear of falling victim to ridicule is always a big factor in how I handle expressing how I’m feeling.

In the music we listen to, in the way we’re represented on screen in TV and Film, showing emotion is not something we as ‘masculine’ men are supposed to do, hence why we often bottle most of our problems up. UNC’s Wizdom Powell Hammond says in a statement that “We know that traditional role expectations are that men will restrict their emotions or ‘take stress like a man,’”. That whole idea of taking something or handling something ‘like a man’ to me is what creates a large burden for us, because what does that really even mean? The pressure that society’s’ stereotypical stance on masculinity puts on young black men is probably why mental health is such a problem for us and has been for ages. Looking back at our history, If there was anyone to blame for our subconscious need to hide our pain it’s mainly White patriarchy, it created this “hyper masculine assertion” of the black male body, perceiving it as “bestial” and “violent” through the “Black Brute stereotype”( The Black Brute myth is a stereotype initially “used as an explanation for why Black people needed to be kept enslaved”). Although the stereotype isn’t really used in the same context now as it was back then, I feel  the need to be seen as hyper masculine and strong has been deeply imprinted into our psychological makeup and is what makes us so scared of appearing weak; for hundreds of years we’ve been made to think that being a black man is associated with masculinity, strength, and violence.

So my questions to the culture are really, how can we as black men heal? What’s the best method for us to use? How can we look past this myth of “The Black Brute”? How can we cast away this fear of judgment and this shame that we feel at showing even the smallest sign of weakness? How?