Handle With Care: A Conversation with Black Men on Mental and Emotional Health
Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor
In a democratic society, all voices matter. Individuals and groups can provide insight and clarity to issues that need focus, sustained attention so that meaningful action can take place. When it comes to mental and emotional health, however, it’s often difficult for people to raise their voices. Stigma is real, and folks already dealing with mental or emotional challenges understandably don’t want to add to their fight the embarrassment that comes from being ridiculed or misunderstood. And when it comes to men, take this dynamic and multiply it many times over. But what happens if men are asked, and listened to? Ourselves | Black found out during a powerful conversation with men who are ready to speak and who aren’t afraid to make sure the rest of us hear them.
During this June 2016 Mens Health Month, we continue our exploration of the mental and emotional health of black men and boys (BMB) (read the introduction here) by sharing a moderated dialogue around the theme, Handle With Care: The Secret Inner Lives of Black Men and Boys. Some of the participants’ comments will be what is expected: concern for negative media portrayals of BMB; mention of the persistent health disparities across every measure of health; and the pernicious double standard applied to emotional expression of BMB compared to the expansive and gracious treatment of the same emotions by white men and boys. But some of the discussion will surprise. BMB want to be “listened to just to be listened to”, not listened to solely to give a response (hello moms and wives!). They feel attacked and are concerned that their lives don’t seem to matter—still—in a way that empowers and uplifts them. They want young boys to be socialized in a way that honors their humanity and esteems them by making space for the full spectrum of emotional expression and mental thought. They want to come out of survival mode and move to a place of thriving and flourishing as others seem to have the inherent right to do.
It’s often difficult to authentically hear from people who are perceived as the power brokers, the majority group around whom cultures are formed and for and by whom decisions are made. Feminist critiques of smothering patriarchy aren’t necessarily invalid. It is nonetheless healthy and healing to allow men to speak their minds and hearts. We may think we know, but perhaps we don’t truly understand black men and boys in a way that will bring us together or will mend the rips in the fabric of our families and communities. Yes black men are men, and there certainly does accrue to them a measure of privilege because of their gender. But they are also black, which seems to nullify their privilege in spaces outside the community where they, and the rest of us, have to navigate our livelihood and our existence. So give them an audience and consider what they say they need. Then as we speak our mind, we will depend on their generosity and reciprocity to hear us out, too.
Dr. Erlanger (Earl) Turner, licensed psychologist and researcher. Specializes in diagnosis and treatment of disruptive behavior disorders and is the Director of The Race, Culture, and Mental Health Lab at the University of Houston.
Mr. Walker Tisdale, III, Executive Editor of HealthyBlackMen.org, an online health and fitness resource for men. He holds a Master of Public Health and a Master of Social Work degrees and has worked with the health departments of several major cities, including New York and Chicago.
Mr. Richard L. Taylor, Jr., author, speaker, mental illness survivor, and mental health advocate. He has written several books, including Unashamed: The Process of Reconstruction, and most recently, Love Between My Scars.