Black men who dare to be brave are men that are not afraid of being vulnerable. Under white supremacist cis-hetero patriarchal capitalism, vulnerability is a sign of weakness. But what if there was strength in vulnerability?
When I attended the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference last year, Laverne Cox gave the keynote speech. At the conference, her words embedded themselves in my mind and now I am in a constant state of reflection. She said, “We have trouble with empathy because we have trouble with vulnerability.” The ability to love and be loved is a power that has been denied to black men—we live in a society that constantly reminds us that our lives do not matter.
To be brave is to be vulnerable, because vulnerability is a dangerous feeling. This is especially true in the racist, sexist and homophobic regime that we call America. Black male sexuality has been a site of domination and suppression. The fear of black men, their brute strength and sexual prowess has been a narrative that has manifested itself in dangerous ways. Physical and mental castration, lynching and policing of the black male body are historical traumas that have led to the internalization of pain—like a disease that is inherited across generations.
My first experience with internalized trauma of black men came from my father. Growing up, he made it his duty to police my gender and make me “strong.” I was not allowed to cry or act in any way that seemed effeminate. I secretly resented him for the over-policing of my body as a child, but now I understand that his anxiety comes from a much deeper place and is bigger than both of us. My father and my forefathers’ experiences as men have been shaped by trauma—the historical castration, and having been forced to watch helplessly as their slave masters rip their progeny from their hands to sell them into slavery.
This trauma has created a wound that is in need of healing. The fear that some black men get when they feel as though their masculinity is being questioned is a feeling that stems from colonization and the capitalistic exploitation of our African ancestors.
My experiences with other black men have been interesting—either I came out of our interactions inspired to change the world, or with self-hate and humiliation. Being raised in Brooklyn, New York, I have been afraid of passing other black men and black men walking in packs. Countless times black men have sized me up by either looking at my sneakers to see how expensive they were or my outfit to see how “fresh” I look
The most traumatizing experiences have been in middle school where the worst thing you can be called is “gay,” especially in a school where the majority of the student body is Afro-Caribbean. Other young black boys who have been socialized to perform hegemonic masculinity would taunt and bully me because of my effeminate nature as a child. I remember when a black male teacher in middle school told me that I would never make it as an archeologist because I was black. I remember when a black woman counselor in high school told me if I was to become a criminal lawyer, she would not hire me because I was both black and male.
These small experiences have been traumatic to my personal and social development, especially as a queer man of color. Some of the positive experiences that I have had with other black men have been with those of the older generation inspiring me to do better, but sometimes even those encounters have been bittersweet. These encounters have reminded me that I have a rich history to be proud of, but they never allow me to escape the fact that as a black man the odds are against me.
I have to say that I am fortunate enough to be able to go to college and take history and gender studies classes that were able to help me understand my position as a black immigrant. Here at Lawrence, I was introduced to the language that I needed to communicate my experiences to others, but most importantly I had fighting words. This privilege has offered me the opportunity to not allow this cycle of internalized trauma to continue, because crying, for me, is the release of all the pain that I harbor inside. That feeling of vulnerability that I have always tried to avoid has saved my life countless times.
To all the men of color, specifically black men—be brave. To be brave is to be vulnerable. I want you all to know that it is okay to allow yourselves to feel and let the walls come tumbling down. The idea that men shed no tears and should stay emotionally strong is a socially constructed myth that helps maintain the existence of hegemonic masculinity.
Men of color tend to have a violent introduction to masculinity, because we live in a world where we have to constantly compare ourselves to the already privilege white cis-heterosexual male body. We let not having empathy stop us from loving those in our lives that have been there for us. It makes us devalue women of color who have historically been a crucial aspect of liberation movements. It makes us hate ourselves and our queer brothers of color who have been a symbol of castration, because they represent the feminized existence that we try to avoid.
Alice Walker once said that “Healing begins where the wound was made.” I did not write this piece to say black men should cry for all the pain they been through—I write this piece to tell you that it is okay to let your guard down, because to love and have empathy is a revolutionary act, and it is the first step to loving ourselves.