Four false narratives about the Black male experience

We have no history predating slavery 

Within the DNA of each Black male lies the spirit of innovation, critical thinking, self-determination, connectivity and leadership. These are the foundational building blocks of creativity. Even though we have used these building blocks to develop Black American culture, our access to these components predates our bondage here in the US. Before Black slaves built the White House, the pharaohs built the pyramids in Egypt. Before 1920’s Harlem, Timbuktu was the center of Black cultural thought and learning. And before Garvey sought to liberate the minds of Black Americans, Shaka Zulu fought against colonization. Black history is world history and began before the first African set foot on the North American continent.

All roads lead to prison for Black males 

An ongoing narrative concerning the Black male experience is that due to a biologically predisposed criminality that is reinforced via challenging environments, Black males are essentially guaranteed an extended stay at the suites by prison industrial complex. This false narrative is reflected in our misled belief that more black males are in prison than college. Most Black males have not been involved in the criminal justice system. However, this message conflicts with the social and material profit that can be made by creating a fear of the Black male body and to reduce his existence to that of criminality.  

Blacks males are absent fathers or emotionally distant financial providers at best 

There is a persistent narrative related to the Black male experience that suggests that Black males are absent and distant fathers. However, the psychological literature suggests that Black males are more likely to be more egalitarian with their partners and emotionally supportive to their children compared to men from other racial backgrounds. Despite these findings the constant absence of a positive Black father narrative continues due to media portrayals, powerful but anecdotal experiences of black father absentism, and a lack of awareness and analysis of “adopted” father figures within Black households. 

Black males are apathetic and unmotivated to succeed 

Two values that are central to the Black male identity are purpose and relevance. Throughout the life of a Black male, he is on a constant search to uncover the purpose that connects him to the humanity of others. Additionally he is seeking to engage in meaningful action related to fulfilling this purpose. Because our definition of living a purpose driven life is rooted in western ideology (e.g. material gain, individual notoriety and achievement) there often times exists conflict between society’s perception of moving with purpose compared to the Black males. Acceptance into the collective Black identity, peer support, and the validation of ones racialized masculinity are extremely valuable to the motivated Black male. However, our current mechanisms of motivation do not tap into these values areas. This is a reflection of a disconnect between the Black males experience and societal expectations not an inherent lack of motivation on the part of Black males. 

Using Hip Hop to empower Black males in the face of F.E.A.R.

Born out of the intense desire to communicate the struggle of Black Americans, hip hop has served as a vehicle to bring into focus the oftentimes invisibility of oppressed individuals. As hip hop artist Chuck D once noted, “Rap comes from humble beginnings of rebelling against the status quo.” Represented as both an art form and a general way of being in regards to posture and style, hip hop offers an outlet for one’s emotional, relational, and spiritual experience. For Black male specifically, it has provided an opportunity for re-definition and self-determination. Grappling with the injurious posture of being the perpetual Other, hip hop allows these Black males to loosen the shackles of negative stereotyping and predetermined cultural expectations as well as assert his reality related to racism and discrimination. In addition, hip hop provides an avenue for healing via the processing of challenging experiences, emotions, and relational conflicts. There are  three ways that hip hop can be utilized to address the psychological conflict experienced as part of the “Othering” construct: elevation of consciousness, therapeutic healing, and self-definition.

Hip hop artist, Common, once noted that, “Hip Hop is supposed to help you elevate, or go higher”(Hip Hop, n.d.). As Black males seek to overcome the psychological impact of being the perpetual other, hip hop provides a mechanism for consciousness elevation. Instead of a general acceptance of the negative characteristics associated with Black masculinity, hip hop engages Black males in a conscious raising process by offering alternatives to quantifying and expressing the Black male experience. By sharing their experience in written, oral, or musical form, Black males are able to expose other Black males as well as society as a whole to the overlooked components of the Black male experience such as spiritual connectedness, interpersonal synergy, and emotional attunement. By exposing Black males to these concepts, an awareness of the complexity of their experience is raised by contributing to increased flexibility in the expression and performance of Black masculinity. Hip hop empowers Black men to promote this cultural awareness by providing the platform and the necessary tools for effective communication. Another area where Hip Hop has been used is as an avenue for therapeutic healing.

            There is an African proverb that states, “There can be no peace without understanding.”   Due to the challenges in reconciling their lived experience with that of being the perpetual “Other,” Black male identity represents a “warring soul” struggling with denial, acceptance, and unintegration [disintegration}At the root of this struggle is a lack of understanding for the Black male about who he is, his capabilities, and potential contributions to society. Without this understanding, these Black males are unable to live in a space of identity reconciliation and are instead regulated to a posture of integration and F.E.A.R. Hip hop provides an opportunity for the Black male to process and give voice to his struggle. As noted by McPhail (1998), as Black males recover from the consequences of chronic racism and discrimination, they must engage in a holistic integrative process of their racialized masculinity. Given the stigma around the use of mental health services by Black males, Hip Hop allows the Black male to take on the role of a pseudo-therapist as he externalizes his inner dialogue and negotiates his lived experience with his community and society (Scott et al., 2011).    

            From the rise of negative Black male archetypes such as Buck, Sambo, and Mandingo, to their current manifestation in the media, Black males have been chronically regulated to the posture of the “Other” through the medium of attributed identity. Attributed identity here refers to the imposition of society’s perception of Black masculinity and the subsequent belief by society, as well as other Black males, that this perception is fact (Parker & Moore, 2014). This phenomenon has the dual impact of reinforcing societal perceptions as well as limiting the Black male’s ability to self-define. For example, it is a common misperception that young Black males in the school system are only capable of deviant behavior. Given this perception, teachers and administrators are primed to look for confirming evidence of deviancy as opposed to the cultivation of a positive scholastic identity. With the continual reinforcement of this perception through generalization and limited cultural competency, the idea of the deviant Black male comes to be seen as fact. There are significant consequences for Black males in regards to the imposition and internalization of an attributed identity (e.g., low-self-esteem, learned helplessness). Within this context, hip hop can be utilized to empower Black males to providing a space for self-definition.

            Through the adoption of a new name and persona, Black males directly challenge society’s misperceptions of Black masculinity by telling the story of their lived experience from their perspective. Furthermore, by having the opportunity to retreat into the storyline of their music, Black males experience a brief reprieve from the chronic culturally assaults to their racialized masculinity. As they engage in intricate wordsmithing, these Black males relocate their social positioning from that of the marginalized “Other” to a place of agency and affirmation. Furthermore, through a self-constructed narrative via the content of Hip hop lyrics, Black males experience an integration of consciousness that challenges rigid or unstructured expressions of Black masculinity (exacerbated by the presence of F.E.A.R). Inherent, in this integration is a resolution of the double consciousness as identified by W.E.B. Dubois, where these individuals acknowledge the “Othering” experience facilitated by society but successfully negotiate a self-defined performance and expression of racialized masculinity.  Given the challenges facing Black males in regards to the ability to self-define their experience and potential, Hip Hop can offer a mechanism through which Black males can transcend the stereotypical chains designed to limit their existence. Within the narratives generated through Hip Hop music, Black males can reclaim the essence of their racialized masculinity and offer an alternative to the pre-prepared Black masculinity story generated by society. Break the chains Black male, reclaim your essence, and let Hip Hop be your tool for self-determination.    

Black males and the experience of F.E.A.R. (Frustration Expressed as Anger and Rage)

Due to the cultural expectations of Black masculinity, Black males receive conflicting social messages about the expression of emotions (Jackson, 2011; Powell-Hammond & Mattis, 2005). With the perpetuation of the “Big Scary Black man” narrative, Black males are led to believe that they are emotionally invulnerable and that the display of “weak” emotions such as sadness is not safe (Jackson, 2006). Through their various interpersonal relationships with loved ones however, these Black males are also asked to engage emotionally and to find adaptive ways to cope with emotionally challenging situations. This conflict between the expectations of demonstrating some emotional vulnerability while maintaining a posture of emotional restriction as a protective factor against cultural assaults can contribute to feelings of frustration. According to Kniffley (2014), this frustration stems from feelings of guilt and shame related to a perceived inability to fulfill cultural expectations of masculinity as well as feeling defenseless against negative stereotypes perpetuated in popular culture. Because it is consider a sign of weakness in traditional masculine ideology to acknowledge feelings of guilt and shame, Black males utilize their default emotional coping strategies of anger and rage.

The Black male’s experience of anger and rage is multi-dimensional in nature with a focus on institutionally reinforced racism, communities of origin, and other Black men as well as against the Black male himself. Take, for example, a 19 year-old Black male who is in the beginning stages of emerging adulthood. Traditional masculine expectations for this Black male include engaging in a process of self-determination, securing training or education to enhance his economic opportunities, and developing his relational skill-set through dating and the formation of close friendships.  However, prior to this time period, this Black male has experienced a number of barriers related to poverty and a poor education. In addition, due to growing up in a single home, he has the looming expectation of “not turning out like his father” with few males figures to offer an alternative perspective.

As the Black male attempts to further himself economically and relationally, he is faced with the consequences of these barriers and their subsequent maintenance via the experience of racism and discrimination (e.g., the reason he can’t pass the college entrance exam is because Black people are inherently intellectually inferior not due to poor schooling). Experiencing rejection after rejection, the Black male feels guilt and shame because he is not living up to the cultural expectations associated with his “maleness.” Unable to cope effectively due to a variety of challenges related to an emotionally restrictive posture (e.g. poor emotional awareness, passive coping style), the Black male lashes out in “F.E.A.R.” F.E.A.R. of failing. F.E.A.R. of turning out like his father. F.E.A.R. of repeating the generational cycle. And F.E.A.R. of being swallowed up in the quicksand of poverty, racism, low achievement, and loneliness with no hope of getting out.

Suicide and Black males: Understanding the hatred within

Many individuals are unaware of the seriousness of suicide in the African American community, especially in regards to African American males. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among African Americans ages 15-24. Furthermore, this population has had the highest increase in suicide risk across all ages groups in the United States since the 1970’s. In regards to African American males, 81% of completed suicides in 2005 were males. The rates of male suicide in 2005 were almost 7 times higher than for African American females. Additionally, 50% of all African American suicides were by firearm. As you read these statistics, the natural questions that you may be wondering are, “how did this happen and what can we do about it.” This post will seek to address these questions by exploring the factors that have contributed to the epidemic of suicidal behavior in African American males as well as outlining culturally relevant strategies that can be implemented at the personal and family/friend level.

African American males and suicidal behavior is an extremely understudied area. The limited research in this area translates into the ineffective assessment, intervention, and prevention of suicidal behavior and suicidal ideation in African American males. Part of the reason for this lack of research stems from a commonly held belief by both the African American community and the dominant culture that suicide is “a White thing.” However, as the previous statistics note, suicide is becoming more and more of a serious issue for Black males. Missing from this dialogue in the literature is the idea that suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior look different in regards to their causes which will subsequently influence how you address these issues.

Men in America are expected to project characteristics of strength, individuality, autonomy, dominance, stoicism, and physical aggression. For Black males identifying with and fulfilling these roles has been a challenge that often times they have been unable to meet. One explanation may be that Black males often times receive conflicted messages about Black masculinity from mainstream society and the Black community. On one hand, in mainstream society, Black males are often portrayed in a negative light (i.e. overly aggressive, sexually promiscuous, lazy, unmotivated). However, in the Black community, Black men are expected to live up to the three P’s: Priest, Provider, and Protector. Depression, in Black males may stem from this conflict in the form of a failed attempt to reconcile these two images/ views into one successful individual. This failed attempt is further compounded by the fact that in general men are more likely to rely on themselves, to withdraw socially, and try to talk themselves out of feeling depressed. So what has happened is that we have a number of Black males (especially between the ages of 18-24) who due to societal limitations in regards to finances and education are unable to fulfill the expectations bestowed upon them. This causes these individuals to experience a chronic feeling of silent frustration. I believe that this trend is most evident in the increase in the number of suicides among Black males. Central to this phenomenon is the experience of racial self-hatred.

The research literature has suggested that the development of a Black identity serves the functions of providing protection against psychological injury, achieving meaning in one’s definition of Black and developing a multicultural perspective that serves as a bridge between one’s Blackness and the greater community. Black males that endorse Self-Hatred racial attitudes have not achieved these attitudes. Instead, these individuals have developed an intense Black self-hatred that stems from the incorporation of negative stereotypes. Furthermore, the experience of racial self-hatred significantly influenced their experience of psychological distress. This psychological distress contributes significantly to the experience of depressive symptoms which can lead to feelings of hopelessness and suicidal ideation.

So where do we go from here? It appears that there are a number of factors that have contributed to suicidal behavior and suicidal ideation in African American males. First, there has been a limited amount of research to investigate culturally appropriate suicide assessment measures, interventions, and preventative strategies. Secondly, the stigma surrounding suicide in the Black community has caused it to remain an unspoken topic that has be perpetuated by the dominate cultures belief that suicidal behavior is negligible in this community. Lastly, the racial identity of African American males when underdeveloped can contribute to the experience of hopelessness and frustration and an ineffective buffer against depressive symptoms. I would like to propose a couple of suggestions.

First, in regards to disclosing feelings of suicide, African Americans often time indicate moral objections, survival, and coping beliefs as reasons not to follow through with a suicide attempt. Present within these reasons are spiritual undertones, the absence of self-hatred racial attitudes, and a belief in the resiliency that has been supported by a strong network of family and friends. It is important to assess for and cultivate these reasons for living in Black males who have expressed feelings of hopelessness. Secondly, as a community, we must seek to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Until we have an honest conversation about mental health and actively seek out ways to intervene and prevent, we will continue to be plagued by the senseless deaths of our African American men at their own hands and at the hands of other African American males. Mental health, just like physical health isn’t something that prayer only can fix. If someone has cancer you wouldn’t tell them to just pray about. Hopefully, you would also recommend that they seek out a medical doctor. This same concept should parallel our intervention strategies for mental health issues. Additionally, considering the fact that depressive symptoms and feelings of hopelessness can stem from the endorsement of self-hatred attitudes, as a community, we must develop ways to increase our young Brothers awareness of the potential that they have because of the people they come from. By instilling this sense of pride, we can help our young Brothers reconcile the negative stereotypes they see in the media, with the potentially negative influence they may experience with their peer groups, by creating a positive dissonance with the message “You are important and capable of doing great things.”

Silent Frustration: Depression and the Black male

Depression is a syndrome characterized by a number of symptoms including the following: depressed or irritable mood, loss of interest in daily activities, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, fatigue, and changes in sleep, appetite, or activity level. Depression causes a decrease in the quality of life as well as impairment in social and occupational functioning. Depression is becoming a growing issue in the Black community. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Blacks have been shown to have higher rates of depression than Whites (specifically in regards to Black women). However, there has been a significant gap in the research pertaining to depression in Black males. This lack of research has led to an under diagnosis of Black males, leaving many clinically depressed Brothers with untreated symptoms. There is significant research to suggest that Black males are under diagnosed because (based on the cultural experience of Black males) depressive symptoms may look different in this population.


Men in America are expected to project characteristics of strength, individuality, autonomy, dominance, stoicism, and physical aggression. For Black males identifying with and fulfilling these roles has been a challenge that often times they have been unable to meet. One explanation may be that Black males often times receive conflicted messages about Black masculinity from mainstream society and the Black community. On one hand, in mainstream society, Black males are often portrayed in a negative light (i.e. overly aggressive, sexually promiscuous, lazy, unmotivated). However, in the Black community, Black men are expected to live up to the three P’s: Priest, Provider, and Protector. Depression, in Black males may stem from this conflict in the form of a failed attempt to reconcile these two images/ views into one successful individual. This failed attempt is further compounded by the fact that in general, men are more likely to rely on themselves, to withdraw socially, and try to talk themselves out of feeling depressed. So what has happened is that we have a number of Black males (especially between the ages of 18-24) who due to societal limitations in regards to finances and education are unable to fulfill the expectations bestowed upon them. This causes these individuals to experience a chronic feeling of silent frustration. This trend is most evident in the increased number of suicides among Black males.


Currently suicide ranks as the third most common cause of death among Black males between the ages of 15-24. Suicide represents feelings of anger and hopelessness turned inward on the individual. Typically we think of Black male anger as being more outwardly expressed in the form of aggression (especially towards other Black men and women). Between 1976 and 2005, Black on Black offenses accounted for 94 % of homicides reported. However, current statistics indicate that while still high compared to other racial groups, Black on Black homicide is decreasing. On the other hand, suicide among Black males is increasing with the suicide rate doubling since 1980. This suggests that as societal pressures mount for Black males they continue to develop deep anger that manifests itself as violence. However, instead of showing aggression to others, they are turning on themselves.


So what does this have to do with Black males and depression? When you think of depression as a disorder the first thing that comes to mind is a depressed mood. However, one symptom that often gets overlooked as a sign of depression is irritability. This is the key to identifying depression in Black males. What may be viewed as being overly aggressive may be a warning sign of a Brother experiencing silent frustration. Unable to achieve the American dream and hampered by the stigmas associated with being a Black man, he may be unable to voice his sadness and instead turns in on himself. So before you write off a Brother as just an “angry Black guy” take time to understand that his anger might be the tip of the iceberg and persistence and acknowledgment may lead to deeper revelations

Seven affirmations Black people need to hear daily

You have claim to the seat at the table or the ability to build a new one for all people 

The complexion of your skin and the texture of your hair are beautiful 

Your ancestors built a culture based on nothing but memory and now that culture is emulated all over the world  

Black lives matter 

You define your Blackness 

You determine your value, not society 

I see your struggle and your pain, but you can break through glass ceilings, scale insurmountable walls, and complete seemingly  unending journeys because your people and your ancestors have your back 

How to encourage Black males to go to therapy

Support. Going to therapy is an incredibly vulnerable experience. You are trusting your inner most thoughts and feelings to a professional who is not a friend or family member. For Black males, this experience is compounded by the expectations for their racialized masculinity and the inherent mistrust they might have about the process and outcomes of therapy. To effectively encourage Black males to go to therapy actively support their decision to seek help through your words and actions. As appropriate ask how therapy is going. Offer a ride to and from therapy if needed. Be available to process a challenging thought or topic that came up during therapy. Be an accountability partner for any homework or tasks that have been assigned. And provide consistent reminders that they have made the right choice to seek out help.  

Involve. Many Black males who receive treatment for mental health issues are engaging because they were requested or mandated to participate. The requests usually come from a concerned loved one or friend who leverages the strength of their relationship with the Black male to convince him to attend therapy. Mandates for treatment participation usually stem from institutional involvement with psychiatric facilitates or the criminal justice system. When individuals are forced or coerced to engage in therapy, they are more likely to be less open, have poorer attendance, and to benefit less from the therapy process. To effectively encourage more Black males to go to therapy we must involve them in the process as a collaborative effort. Greater collaboration will contribute to better attendance, therapeutic process, and healing outcomes.

Normalize. Although comparatively small, there more Black males attending therapy than ever before. In the media, we are constantly seeing examples of prominent Black males opening up about their experience in therapy and how it has been helpful to their identity development, relationships, and emotional health. Furthermore, from barbershops to churches, Black males are being exposed to and educated about the process of therapy. To effectively encourage Black males to go to therapy, we must let Black males know that they are not the only ones who have struggled emotionally or relationally and that there are individuals out there just like them who go to therapy. These Black males are not ridiculed, ostracized or thought of as less than for seeking the help they need. Black males do go and benefit from therapy.

Acknowledge.  Society does not give Black males much permission to engage in emotional expression or to experience significant vulnerability. When permission is given, it comes with the caveat that the Black male will limit his emotional expression to anger and his coping strategies for vulnerability to aggression. Having to work within these parameters creates a situation of inaccessibility for Black males to pursue therapy services and to engage in the very hard work of developing a trusting and vulnerable relationship with a mental health professional. To effectively encourage Black males to go to therapy, we must explicitly acknowledge that this dynamic exists. Additionally, we must name the tension that they might feel between being adhering to societal expectations for their racialized masculinity and processing challenging emotions, behaviors, and relationships.