Want to empower our Black youth? Here’s how…..

  • Love them
  • Listen to them
  • Talk with them and don’t lecture them
  • Speak up for them, even when they are not around
  • Seek to understand them, THEN be understood by them
  • Protect them
  • Create and build with them (as well as for them)
  • Strengthen your relationships with them
  • Build up their dreams don’t try to tear them down
  • Give them H.O.P.E (Healing, Opportunities, Purpose, and Empathy)

Self-activism: Reclaiming the voice of the Black male

There are two wars being waged against Black males. The first is an external war against the negative stereotypes, discrimination, racism, and oppressive policies placed upon Black males. This external war contributes to societies limited perception of positive Black manhood. The second is an internal war in which the Black male is fighting his own belief in the negativity of Black manhood that conflicts with his historical and lived experience. The greatest causality in this war has been the powerful voice of Black males. Society has been inundated with images of Black males as being dumb, deviant, and dangerous. These images have contributed to the creation of an environment in which Black males feel hopeless and powerless. In addition, a posture of apathy ensues that manifests as a pseudo mental paralysis. The voice of these males to share their stories has been silenced through threats of harm or death, imprisonment, drug use, and limited access to employment/ educational opportunities.

The key to the reclamation of this lost voice lies in the Black male’s journey towards a coherent knowledge of self that honors both the realities and resiliency in his situation. As the African Proverb states, “if there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do you no harm.” To regain
their voice, Black males must reconcile the conflict between the socially constructed negative experience of Black manhood with their own internal definition that has been developed historically and supplemented through experience. For example, a young Black male may bear witness in media to images of Black males as innately unproductive members of society destined for institutional slavery within the confines of the prison system. These images can influence the young man’s thinking about his own Blackness as a sort of “stain” that he must distance himself from (via racial self-hatred expressed by oppressing other Black males) or that he must hyper identify with (via a hyper endorsement of a traditional masculine values such as anger, limited emotional expression, use of aggression, hyper sexuality). These coping strategies deny the Black male the ability to define his experience of Blackness for himself.

The cultivation of a sense of one’s Blackness can serve as a resiliency factor in the face of clashing depictions of Black manhood. At the core of this resiliency are three components: knowing one’s history, making one’s own history, and sharing that history with others. Black males can reconcile the conflict within and conquer the impact of societal oppression by developing an understanding of where and who they come from. This will in turn serve as foundation for them to have the confidence in their own abilities to positively impact the world. Lastly, combining their historical knowledge with their lived experience, these Black males will be able to effectively communicate
and advocate for themselves and their communities.

Things to Say (and not say) to a grieving Black male

Things to Say

  • How can I support you?
  • What do you need from me?
  • It’s ok to not be ok
  • Asking for help doesn’t make you weak
  • What are you doing for self-care?
  • I appreciate you
  • Thank you for being you
  • How can I help hold you accountable for taking care of yourself?
  • Feel what you need to feel

Things not Say

  • Man up
  • You’ll get over it
  • It could be worse
  • You need to think about other people
  • Men don’t cry
  • I understand what your going through
  • Put your head down and keep working
  • If I were you I would…..
  • What will other people think
  • Don’t go to therapy…”that’s for White people,” “it’s too expensive,” “it’s not something men do”

10 ways to help Black males cope with grief and loss

1.) Be present 

2.) Tell them it’s ok to not be ok and that this is not a negative reflection of their masculinity 

3.) Validate emotional expression 

4.) Encourage vulnerability 

5.) Connect to sources of long term support  

6.) Check in regularly don’t let them only hear from you one time 

7.) Dig deeper past the “I’m fine” or “I’m ok” 

8.) Acknowledge the meaningfulness of the relationship that was lost 

9.) Affirm their strength and resiliency 

10.) Constantly let them know you care 

The Black male identity: Conflict and reconciliation

There has been a centuries long intentional effort to sexualize and create fear of the Black male body. This effort has been significantly influenced by popular cultures consistent portrayal of the average Black male as dumb, deviant, and dangerous. The consistent negative portrayal of the Black male image has been efficiently condensed into a limited number of archetypes such as Sambo, Uncle Tom, Mandingo, and the Magical Negro. Additionally, society’s expectations of Black masculinity performance have been shaped by a chronic narrative that describes Black males as hyperaggressive, hypersexual, stoic, and physically imposing.

Many Black males have bought into this narrative as their only perceived source of social power. Based on this phenomenon, society, with some complicity from Black males, has reduced the complex experience of navigating racialized masculinity (which would need volumes of text to appropriately capture) to a hand full of stock phrases such as “the angry Black male,” “the scary Black male,” “the absent Black male,” and “the dangerous Black male.”  As Black males have attempted to adhere to these rigid expectations of Black masculinity performance, in effort to claim popular culture sanctioned social power, they have encountered significant physical, psychological, and relational challenges. Furthermore, the challenges associated with these expectations are exacerbated by the experience of racism, race-related stress, and racial trauma. Lastly, Black males have been taught across the generations insufficient and ineffective coping strategies to manage the challenges associated with their intersecting racial and gender identities.

The combination of societal expectations, peer influences, chronic exposure to limited a narrative about the Black male experience, and the potential physical and psychological consequences of these challenges has added significant pressure for the development of a meaningful Black masculinity. Specifically, to reduce the negative social and health impact of racism and discrimination the Black male’s identity development must help him resolve the conflict of differing expectations of his racialized masculinity and reconcile his maleness and Blackness into a coherent sense of self. There are three paths towards identity reconciliation that the Black male can take: the development of a (1) ridged unintegrated Black masculinity, (2) an unstructured unintegrated Black masculinity or (3) an integrated Black masculinity.

A ridged unintegrated Black masculinity highlights the Black male’s attempt to cope with the negative expectations associated with a racialized masculinity by embracing the faulty images projected on to them. These Black males are negatively affected by social oppression (e.g., racism) and become conduits through which negative beliefs about the Black male experience are shared and reinforced. A rigid unintegrated Black masculinity represents an inflexible obedience to a loosely defined racialized masculinity. An unstructured unintegrated Black masculinity highlights Black males who develop masculine identities not rooted in a culturally influenced self-concept. These Black males believe the best coping strategy for racism is “denial” and racialized masculinity identity flexibility. Black males with an unstructured unintegrated Black masculinity are negatively impacted by social oppression and a shared “denial” of systemic racial issues in society.

An integrated Black masculinity highlights Black males who have learned to cope with the negative expectations associated with their racialized masculinity by developing their critical thinking skills regarding the consumption of media, adhere to a flexible expression and performance of masculinity, embrace an Afrocentric foundation to their understanding of their Blackness (e.g., collectivism vs individualism, cooperation vs competition, emotional expression vs stoicism), and utilize adaptive coping strategies for the experience of racism and race related stress.

Promoting the generational transmission of racial healing

Our increased understanding of racial trauma has led to a focus on its transmission across generations. This focus has enhanced our awareness of the racially traumatic narratives that maintain the negative effects of race-related stress and trauma. However, a discussion concerning the generational transmission of healing has been absent from this exploration. Without a balance of both an awareness of the impact of racial trauma and healing, Black individuals will lose sight of their capacity to dismantle systemic racism and create therapeutic spaces for racial healing. To achieve this balance, we must (1) engage in a reinterpretation of healing, (2) find strength within while also seeking external support, and (3) utilize an intentional and authentic approach for the healing of racial trauma.   

Reinterpret healing

Western approaches to healing measure success by the absence of pain and suffering. However, this is a challenging expectation given that trials and tribulations are a common part of the human experience. Additionally, these trials often contribute to a better version of ourselves. As the proverb states, “smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” To reinterpret healing, we must reimage a connection/meaning healing process rather than a compartmentalization/control healing process. From a Western perspective, healing involves the compartmentalization of the illness and the returning of control of one’s body from sickness. However, racial trauma does not lend itself well to healing through compartmentalization and control because of its chronic and ambiguous nature (as well as the sociohistorical influence of intentional racism). Instead, racial trauma healing must be reinterpreted as a process where we strengthen our relational connections with ourselves and the Black community as well as engage in thoughtful meaning making about the expression and source of our Blackness.   

Find strength within while also seeking external support

Given the collective nature of Black culture, the generational transmission of healing requires the sharing of racial trauma experiences. This collaborative approach ensures that no one Black person is holding the impact of race-related stress by themselves. While our African roots encourage us to “conquer the enemy within” in the form of internalized racism, we are also reminded that “in crisis the wise build bridges while the foolish build dams.” As part of the generational transmission of healing narrative we must seek out (and offer) opportunities for external support. If we want to experience healing from racial trauma, we can engage in the process alone and remain vulnerable to the deleterious effects of systemic racism. However, if we go together, we can experience a healing that will last generations.

Utilize an intentional and authentic approach for the healing of racial trauma   

Healing from race-related stress and trauma must be purposeful and not reactionary. The generational transmission of healing involves a collective exploration of our identity as Black people and the ways in which society has attempted to limit our Blackness. Additionally, we must foster spaces for the collective processing of our shared experiences of race-related stress and trauma and seek to offer a counter narrative of reconciliation, solidarity, and self-determination. Lastly, due to the insidious and chronic nature of systemic racism, we must communicate meaningful skills to address instances of racism as well as pass on narratives of our capacity to disrupt and dismantle systems of racial oppression.

The top three priorities for the Black community in 2020

Build generational wealth

Wealth in the US is unequally distributed by race. This phenomenon is most evident when the average wealth of Black Americans is compared to that of White Americans. According to Federal Reserve, the median and mean net worth for Black families is $17,600 and $138,200 vs $171,000 and $933,700 respectively for White families. These statistics indicate that Black families have less than 15 percent of the wealth of White families. The literature has noted several factors that have contributed to these stark differences including: (1) racial discrimination in housing policies, (2) labor market discrimination, (3) credit and student loan debt, (4) limited access to tax-advantaged forms of savings, and (5) a lack of life insurance. In 2020, we must work towards reducing the wealth gap, knowing that the odds are stacked against us, by: (1) using our political voice and action to fight against discriminatory housing policies, (2) pooling our resources to promote entrepreneurship and land/home ownership, (3) be intentional in our savings, retirement, and debt management, and (4) securing viable life insurance to ensure future generations are not saddle with our debt and have a foundation of financial security to build their own entrepreneurial efforts.  

Take care of our physical and mental health

Factors such as race related stress, limited access to healthy foods, and housing discrimination have contributed to a significant lower life expectancy for Black people compared to other racial groups. For example, the average Black individual can expect to live 10-12 years less than their White counterparts. Additionally, the quality of the years lived by Black people is negatively impacted by chronic illness (e.g., heart disease and diabetes) and environmental factors (e.g., community violence, proximity to pollution). Furthermore, in the last decade we have witnessed a rise in both the number of Black people experiencing mental illness as well as the stigma associated with seeking professional help. Many Black individuals, young and old, are feeling a profound sense of hopelessness that is contributing to increasing instances of suicide. In 2020, we owe it to ourselves, our families and our people to take better care of our physical and mental health. We can accomplish this by: (1) getting a mental health check up (even if we don’t have a mental illness), (2)  getting a full medical workup, (3) practicing intentional self-care, (4) engaging in purposeful healing for racial trauma, and (5) being a source of encouragement to the Black people around us to ask for help if they need it.

Advocate for quality education for our children

 Malcolm X once said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” For many Black individuals’ education (in all its many forms) has served as the bridge from poverty to generational wealth. Additionally, education has helped us to refine our entrepreneurial and innovation skills. However, with the creation of the school to prison pipeline, funneling of dollars out of urban and public schools, crushing student loan debt that disproportionately affects Black students, and the perpetuation of falsities about the academic achievement capabilities of Black youth, fewer Black individuals are able to fully realize the benefits of a quality education. In 2020, we owe it to our children to fight for their access to a quality education whether it be K-12, college/university, or vocational. We can accomplish this by: (1) maintaining active attendance at school board and PTA/PTO meetings, (2) developing a meaningful working relationship with your child’s teachers, (3) advocating for alternative disciplinary practices, and (4) advocating for culturally responsive teaching practices.