Misinformation– There is a war for the control of the narrative concerning the Black male experience. For centuries a narrative has been created that betrays the authentic experience of Black male identity expression and performance. For example, for several years there has been a false narrative about the number of Black males in prison compared to the number of Black males in college. This narrative reinforces negative stereotypes associated with the Black male experience (e.g., Black males are inherently criminal). Additionally, the narrative serves as an intentional form of social control that presents an illusory forced choice for Black males. The Black male is forced into thinking that his only two options in regard to Black masculinity expression and performance are to adhere to society’s standard for masculinity (rooted in White norms) and betray his community or adhere to standards set within his community and risk alienation, fear, and cultural retaliation. The perpetuation of misinformation (e.g., biased research, narrow media representation, liberal paternalism) concerning the Black males experience reduces his ability to engage in the flexible self-determined performance of his masculinity.
Misrepresentation– From minstrel shows, to Blaxploitation films, to modern media, there has been an intentional effort to portray Black males as dumb, deviant, and dangerous. This has contributed to a perception held by society (and often by other Black males) that there is only one way to perform Black masculinity. This phenomenon creates significant conflict for Black males who experience competing images of Black masculinity both in the media and in their communities. Additionally, these limited portrayals of Black males give the dominant culture the false belief that they can manipulate Black males into adhering to these roles through financial, legal, and social coercion. Black males are negatively impacted by these coercive efforts by either the withholding of perceived social power by the dominant culture or by the confusing experience of being rewarded and feared for an adherence to stereotypical hypermasculine norms (e.g., hyperaggression, emotional restriction).
Hypervisibility/Hyperinvisbility– From a cultural understanding standpoint, Black males are one of the most known unknown social groups in America. Everyday we are given a front row seat to bear witness to the violence, underperformance, relational challenges, and criminality that society (via the mechanism of the media) has used to define the Black male experience. This hypervisibility constantly shapes the negative perception that society has of Black males as well as the potential negative perception Black males have of themselves and those that look like them. Additionally, the negative media overexposure renders the positive aspects of the Black male identity (e.g., community focused, emotional/relational connection, culturally influenced) invisible. Instead of considering the research that says that Black males are the most nurturing and involved fathers of any race, we are bombarded with the narrative of Black father absenteeism. Instead of talking about the small but increasing number of Black males matriculating through the various levels of education, we are constantly told about the number of Black males languishing in our criminal justice system. We must look around the narrow scope used by society to define the Black male experience and engage a more complete picture of what it means to be a Black male and peform and express Black masculinity.
Generational trauma– For generations Black males have been carrying a narrative of violence, pain, and suffering due to the intersection of their race and gender. From the first time the Black male experience was reduced to being a sexualized beast of labor or having his identity and named erased during slavery to having to fight and potentially die to be recognized as a human being, Black males have endured significant trauma that has impacted their bodies, minds, relationships and spirits. To cope with this trauma narrative, many Black males have simply turned the page on these traumatic events without stopping to process and understand their meaning. However, the words heard, and the actions experienced do not go away and instead are passed down to the next generation for them to process with little framework, examples, or skills. Not processing generational trauma can have a deleterious impact on the lived experience of today’s Black men in regard to their physical (e.g., high blood pressure, diabetes), mental (e.g., depression, suicide), and relational (e.g., emotional restriction) health.