In a recent conversation, it was brought to my attention that there was quite a serious issue regarding depression in black males. In America, research done by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention shows us that “the population of Black males age 18 and over in the country experiences feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness at rates higher than their white and Hispanic counterparts.” To my surprise, I found out it was very normal and extremely common for black men to suffer from depression and anxiety simply because they don’t feel like they can talk about their emotions. Until this discussion, I never really thought about how hard it was and still is to talk about my emotions and open up, even to my best friends, my “boys”, for some reason we still feel the need to keep our problems and stress to ourselves.
Wondering whether or not I was the only one of my friends who felt this way, I decided to bring up the topic in a conversation via our whatsapp group chat and captured their main points. One friend said in response to my question:
“I keep my feelings to myself in fear of getting made fun of or just getting my business being spread around. When I was in college it was a thing where if you had a problem you told your closest people but most of the time they tell you to just firm it, man up or the term “it’s not that deep”. That wasn’t proper advice so I thought there just wasn’t any point”
“I kept it to myself because I was raised to believe that a man should keep his feelings to himself to avoid looking weak”
Looking over our conversation I thought to myself, why do we all have this problem and where did it really start?
Growing up, the first social environment, where you’re given free reign to act out upon the ideas engraved into you through your home life and primary socialisation is Secondary school. Being surrounded by friends who you’d literally be growing up with, hitting puberty with and really just becoming young men with, my secondary school experience was where masculinity really just became confusing to me. I often had inner conflicts within myself, trying to be the macho guy: play fighting, playing football and generally just messing around . In times where I felt alone or generally just sad; I found myself thinking I had to keep it to myself, even when I had people around me whom I saw as my dearest friends. In secondary school, I feel you’re in a situation where rather than finding yourself you’re just trying to follow the crowd. In an area where everyone really came from the same or similar backgrounds, my perception of masculinity was shared throughout our community. I felt if I poured out my emotion and spoke of my feelings I would simply be scolded or ridiculed and simply told “it’s not that deep” as my friends said above… My upbringing and the rap music I surrounded myself with, created an image of dominance and power and looked down upon emotion, considering it to be “feminine”.
Males, myself included, are having the same mental issues due to the shared idea of a man having to shoulder his troubles and keep his stress to himself. Why? Simply because it’s the “manly” thing to do. In my opinion, it doesn’t make sense that in order to act masculine we have to put our mental health at risk, implying that something isn’t right here. Like I said in earlier entries, maybe masculinity is just something that was made up in more misogynist times, simply an idea rather than something concrete. If masculinity was so concrete, well the masculinity I was brought up believing in, it would be in place to help us rather than to cause us harm like Centre for Disease Control and Prevention suggests.
So again I find myself asking; just what is masculinity?
Words by Michael Ukaegbu.