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.