Loving Through Trauma, Part 2

Before we, as Black men, love others, we must first love ourselves. Loving through trauma requires that we 1) acknowledge our privileges and how we use them, 2) embrace femininity and vulnerability, and 3) purge ourselves of internalized white supremacy.

Given the gendered racial and economic oppression of Black men, it is sometimes hard for us to imagine how we are privileged. We take our privileges (i.e. based on gender, class, heterosexual orientation, education) for granted and do not recognize our responsibility to use them to empower and not marginalize. This unconsciousness sometimes contributes to us using those privileges to silence and dominate those closest to us (e.g., Black women and children). Black men participate in systems of oppression although they offer little rewards with the exception of perceived power. However, what good is power if it is at the expense of the pain of people we claim to love? To paraphrase Toni Morrison, if we have to put others on their knees to feel tall, then we have a serious problem. We must check our privileges.

Black men will never be whole until we embrace and harness the feminine energy inside us. Male supremacy and effemiphobia keep us in boxes restricted by gender norms that dictate to us that being emotionally effusive or nurturing is something that “real men” avoid. As boys we are taught that creative and artistic pursuits are “for girls.” Thus, we grow up valuing physicality and shaming our peers who do not meet the standards of corporeal prowess. We are restricted in our fashion, modes of interpersonal interaction (i.e., men are more likely to have relationships centered around physical activity and competiveness whereas women’s relationship center around emotional processing), and career choices. We are also hypervigilant of our own mannerism and others’ gender violations. A rejection of femininity and all of its associated traits (i.e., cooperativeness) isolates us from ourselves. Too many of us are emotional deserts who are afraid to ask for the help and love we need. We are sometimes paranoid of our own vulnerability and punish others who make us feel vulnerable. In my father’s attempt to protect me, I was often told to “toughen up” and “stop crying.” For my father, an emotionally expressive or delicate Black man was an endangered one.

The isolating and self-destructing rejection of femininity is compounded by white supremacy. White supremacy renders Black people worthless in white societal domains. It also pits Black men against Black women by convincing us that Black women emasculate us and therefore make it difficult for us to achieve economic and social progress. In addition, white supremacy paints Black men as dangerous while rendering us unsafe due to police violence, environmental racism, and mass incarceration. Black men are presented a double bind as we are deemed dangerous, then punished for minor transgressions while at the same time encouraged to be aggressive and ridiculed for being vulnerable. White supremacy also limits our sexual expressions. For example, Black men are often seen as sexually dominate (e.g. aggressive or tops) and either embraced or rejected for how well they perform that stereotype. Racial tropes, like patriarchal norms, restrict Black men’s modes of being.

We, Black men, must liberate ourselves from the holds of patriarchy (which underpins homonegativity) and white supremacy. If we are to be our authentic selves who are not constantly reacting to oppression, we must retrain ourselves to be vulnerable and value intimacy beyond sexual intercourse. We love through trauma by:

1. Affirming our value as a human being, period. If your maleness was taken away, who would you be? If your ability to make money was taken away, who would you be? Look in the mirror and find something lovable about the person without any privileges.

a.     Keep a daily list of 3 three things you like about yourself that is not based on external status or achievements.

2. Making space for alone time with ourselves in silence. We must learn to tolerate and celebrate ourselves by ourselves.

a.     Try mindfulness meditation where you focus on the sensations of your own body or your breath and nothing else.

3.  Seeking social support from people who will encourage your vulnerability and not fighting them. Being vulnerable is not about being weak but becoming strong through human connection.

a.     Have a conversation with someone you trust and share a vulnerable emotion you felt at least once a week.

4. Acknowledging that we have privileges (whether based on cisgender male body status, education, or class) that we sometimes us (consciously and subconsciously) to empower ourselves at the expense of disempowering others.

a.     Complete The Black Male Privilege Checklist.

5.  Examining our communication and interaction styles.

a.     Ask yourself:

       i.     Are your interactions with others mostly from a distance?

       ii.     Do you have close friends (besides female partners) with whom you discuss your emotions?

      iii.     Do you tend to talk negatively to or avoid conversation with men who you deem effeminate?

      iv.     As a same gender loving Black man, do you try to hide your femininity in public or avoid effeminate men?

6. Using your own experiences of racial and patriarchal trauma to feel more empathy for other oppressed people. When we affirm the humanity in others we bolster our own.

a.     For example, speak up for the women in your life at work and at home.

b.     For example, hold your sister accountable for telling your nephew to “stop being a punk.”