Our Brothers’ Keepers: Ending The Silent Suffering Of Black Boys

African American boy standing with fatherNaturally, a conversation about mental health and the growing awareness around suicide amongst Black men must acknowledge the lost lives of our brothers Don Cornelius, Lee Thompson Young, Freddie E, Shakir Stewart, Jovan Belcher, Chris Lightly, Kalif Browder and others. However, I’d also like to pay respect to the countless brothers that continue to occupy space in our lives that are suffering silently.

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We have all heard, experienced and even perpetuated cultural expectations to “suck it up.” All too often this normalized disaffirmation and invalidation unintentionally silences and shames our brothers (and sisters). This shame robs us of the capacity to honestly and authentically address unresolved traumas or feelings of inadequacy, pain, anger, and fear.

Have you ever heard yourself say, “…I’ve never seen him/her cry…he/she is very strong…”? What makes suffering from a cultural perspective so complex is the recognition that in fact a cautious expression of emotionality is one demonstration of strength. Most problematic is the assumption and persistent belief that our strength, our men’s strength is one dimensional, that strength only looks one way.

Men are not vulnerable.

Men do not cry.

Men do not express affection (especially to other men).

The intergenerational normalization of silent suffering in Black communities is passed down from generation to generation like an heirloom and the catalyst to this form of self-preservation can be directly linked to historical mistreatment, harm and invisibility. From the commonly talked about implications of slavery and the Jim Crow era to the less talked about practices of Phrenology, a pseudoscientific practice that was used to “prove” white supremacy or scientific barbarism conducted by physician J. Marion Sims who performed surgical procedures on anaesthetized African women because they were built for painful medical experimentation. One cannot discount the modern practices of invalidation, macro and microaggressions that are endured on a daily bases by Black men and women.

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Black males are consistently taught that their opinions are irrelevant. Black males are consistently taught that their frustration is irrational and unwarranted. Black males are consistently taught that their pain is unacceptable. The Black male existence is consistently silenced or punished in an environment that is often abusive and traumatizing. There are grave costs to such intergenerational socialization.

Black boys can’t feel upset.

Black boys can’t feel pain.

Black boys can’t feel fear.

Black boys can’t feel….anything and so they don’t.