AN EXPLORATION OF MANHOOD AND MENTAL HEALTH
WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY BY OLIVIA KELLERMAN
The emotional indifference of Black men is something that is continuously ignored widely within the black community. Hundreds of young black men all across the world are constantly told to ‘man up’, and ‘act tough” or “don’t be a wasteman’. By saying this we are causing a lasting effect on black men, unable to feel comfortable to ask for help when they need it.
Many black men are not told how to share their emotional experiences, enhancing a sense of isolation and here in quarantine being separated from love ones has had a massive impact on everyone not being close to people. Young men at university have had to go home, where it is sadly mostly in their households where they are told to man up. For these men, it creates emotional volatility that can sometimes cause them to shut down in friendships and relationships.
Author bell hooks’ book We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity talks about the lack of acceptance and love that black men face and how it is creating an emotional crisis within the community. hooks highlights the challenge that most black men face, being prized mainly for their looks and bodies and rarely for their intellect and emotional intelligence. And like hooks’ delves into detail about the how these topics affect black men, we as a community should be allowing black men to open up without fear of being shot down for trying to express themselves.
Spending time with the guys that I took pictures of in Nottingham, showed to me how it’s fed into us to see black men as boisterous and aggressive people, who just walk around in gangs, up to no good and disrupting society. Because that’s how the media portrays and villainises them. To the point that over the last few weeks the number of videos and news reports of black men being stop and search by police has been uncountable. It’s mad to think, while writing this, that these guys that I was having a blast with, talking about university, music and touching elbows because of Corona (no hand contact), that they could be stopped and search just because of their looks. And what hope does that give the community, if that’s what they’re being pushed to be perceived as?
However, that’s not to say that times aren’t changing for Black men. More rappers, artist and actors are coming forward to share on social media their support and understanding for the struggles set upon young black men in our society. Back in 2016 rapper, Kid Kudi openly talked about his struggles with depression on social media. Which led to the hashtag #YouGoodMan making it a point to tackle the issues around Black men’s mental health. Designed to help encourage Black men the movement offered a space to talk more about these issues as a community. It was a real moment to watch. We saw that one shift take place, but for many, it’s not enough.
There’s an issue of masking the pain, especially prevalent amongst black men. In the Justin Simien film, come hit Netflix series ‘Dear White People”, we witness a heartbreaking story of one of the main characters, Reggie. First portrayed at a strong, unbreakable black guy, we later see him descend into depression when he suffers from PTSD after being held at gunpoint by his university campus security. The event shakes Reggie to the core and he hides all his problems away because he’s afraid of not being man enough and showing how vulnerable he is feeling to his friends. He suffers greatly because of this and as a viewer you can see is all he needs id for someone to reach out to him and say it’s okay to feel this way and to understand what he went through was traumatic. Something he shouldn’t have had to go through in the first place.
Many men (arguably most) struggle with the idea of being openly vulnerable and sharing their emotions. And for the boys that grew up sensitive, they are the subject of shame, and for what? Expressing natural and healthy emotions? These things cause men to mask their problems rather than coming forward and seeking help to tackle them. Many black men are suffering in silence because they don’t think their problems are that deep or they don’t want to show that vulnerability; this is an issue we need to face as a community.