If there’s anything I’ve been taught about courage, it’s not about the things you withhold from others to give the perception you’re strong; it’s about being able to openly put your fears on display, face them and not be afraid of what follows.
At one point or another, the majority of young men have heard the phrase “man up” in their life. This phrase is used to reinforce what a stereotypical, masculine male is supposed to be. Stoic, immovable and tough. These are all words that can contribute to what the stereotype of a “real man” is. However, the phrase “man up” is dangerous because it normalizes the suppression of emotions, which has the potential to lead to bigger problems down the line. If one cannot express their emotions in an appropriate manner, the potential to create relationships with others diminishes quite a bit.
I’d like to specifically focus on how this ideology is a huge problem within the black community. In my experience, there seems to be a heavy emphasis on masculinity in the black community, and it’s simply a part of our identity at this point. We’ve been put into circumstances that aren’t favorable to us and as a result, we’re considered more on edge, aggressive and sporadic. What people don’t talk about, though, is the why. Why are black people more likely to exhibit these traits?
According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, black Americans are 10 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than non-Hispanic whites. These problems include depression, Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and Post traumatic stress disorder. If you’re living with these problems but never had the chance to talk about them, it’s more than likely you won’t know how to deal with these problems when they arise. Throw in the fact people who live below poverty are more likely to develop a mental health disorder, noted in a study done by Dr. Christopher G. Hudson. Plus how many black people live below poverty (due to other past situations which is another story for another time), and you get a generation that’s confused about whether or not they’re feeling the “blues” or if they’re clinically depressed.
This doesn’t mean that African Americans don’t attempt to seek help, though, because around 25 percent see therapists to learn more about and get to the bottom of their mental struggles. However, there have been cases in which therapists attempt to separate racism from a person’s mental health as if the two cannot be related, even though a person can develop PTSD from racist encounters, according to a study done by Dr. Robert T. Carter.
To say there’s an overnight solution would be naive; however, there are steps that can be taken starting from black households that set us up for better situations in the future. We have to educate our communities about the importance of mental health and how it plays a role in our lives. Also, as simple as it may sound, we just have to talk to each other. We have to talk to our fellow brothers and sisters just to check in with each other to make sure we’re all right. We cannot invalidate each other’s feelings of depression by saying things such as, “If our people can make it through slavery, you can make it through a bad day.”
These days, it’s not that we can’t afford to be sad in a world that’s already against us. It’s that we can’t afford to not be mentally sound to continue our fight to civil equality.