SPECIAL FEATURE: AFRICAN AMERICAN MALE DEPRESSION by Giovanni Alexander
(PORTSMOUTH, VA – September 6, 2012) - I don’t know where Depression comes from in African American males. There are too many sources to count- Poverty is a very depressing thing. Witnessing depravity daily in your neighborhoods - trying to read and hearing gunshots - feeling alone and unwanted by life- having nothing and no-one that you can go to. Imagine having NO OUTS-in society at all. No way to change the current situation. These are some of the pressures facing Black Boys at an early age ...
Watch as you drive - how an African American male walking through the neighborhood - observe as he shifts his gait to catch angles and points of view. Notice how his head is basically on swivel almost like a wolf - his senses are on high alert for danger. He is more like the deer than the predator as he carefully weaves through the hood and its many pitfalls. He is almost like the point-man in an Army Ranger patrol.
These are the days of his life: his steps can make the difference between a long life and a short one. He is suffering from PTSD, but there is no relief because the war where he lives is where he lives not in a foreign land. These boys become teens with larger issues who become men who may never have seen one mental health professional in their whole lives and internalized all this angst and feelings of worthlessness - the feeling of "riding dirty" your entire life even though you’re a valedictorian honors student with a 4.0 grade point average and math champion.
It’s the woman who grabs her purse tighter even though you are an MBA and a member of the City Council. It’s depressing to feel these feelings. It’s oppressing and suffocating to be black and male in any level off success or failure. It’s a personal subject. I didn’t even want to talk about it. I have suffered from it as I know many of my silently suffering brothers have, as well. I guess we are just men - quiet bearers of pain internally trained that recognizing symptoms and asking for help is taboo.
This subject is taboo. Any subject relating to getting help is taboo. We should just have a taboo asterisk next to our pictures as men. We have all kinds of gimmicks like saying 'PAUSE’ or ‘NO-HOMO’. At every intersection, we have to put up some sign to let everyone know we are 100% in-line with the rules of manhood.
We suffer from something inexplicable and it’s a psychosis that we are meant to suffer: That being a man means never showing you’re in pain. If you break the man-pain code, then somehow we have bought into the fact that we are less of a man. It’s in every song - in every lyric in every braggadocios way we rally behind a sports team or put our worth and humanness in unfeeling objects as consumers. We may show more compassion for our pooch than ourselves. Man cry? ... No! Never! We’d rather let the song cry.
Man-up and a million other references tell us that emotions suck and pain is gain and mentally whatever is attacking us can only be suppressed by holding it all inside of us. This evil strikes and it cripples you. I have experienced it once through a battle with and through "writers block" where I was writing a book and – being emotionally tied to this book - my soul was in this book - and I couldn't finish a sentence or put a thought together at the same time feeling like every word was garbage and worthless and therefore questioning my worth and intelligence.
Finally, not wanting to even think I zoned-out and a whole day had past - no appetite - no fluids in the dark with on intention moving at all ... A few days literally past with the phone off - out of the fog - I had to snap my brain together.
Was this a panic attack? A seizure of my faculties? Was I going crazy? Did I need some damn meds? IDK! It was as if I lost my entire will to exist and had no energy to fight - as if I could slip away. ( I ended up putting that book down for 3 years). That was one episode.
There are many triggers, like the death of a loved one - or the loss of someone you love - or just an insane feeling of worthlessness – like who would even give a fuck if i was gone?? Who cares?
Black men don’t see a line of people who care about their struggles forming at the corner and the intersection of their despairs. The Church has not altered its message or come up with a powerful enough hook to draw young Black men inside its doors. Where’s the love if one is contemplating suicide?
Yeah, I said the dirty taboo word. I said it because it needs to be said. Somebody has to have the balls to talk about uncomfortable shit.
Once, I lost something I built with my own money, sweat, and hard work. It crippled me mentally and I knew that if i did not fight these feelings of doom - it could change me permanently into someone who I was not. I am a scholar in the devious science of "Male Depression". I am not only a client, I could be an exec in the "depression” company.
I am in good company. Statistics show African American Males suffer silently and die often by their own hands unnoticed by media or the community. Let’s face it: Historically, our lives have had and still have very little meaning. In recognition of this global phenomenon and the weight of the world and other cultures devaluating us in media, in folk lore, in song, in deed - there is a pushback psychologically a Black man has to do inside himself to prove we are worth our own lives. Read that sentence slow again -
We almost never get help. We shut you out - turn to the bottles – drugs - drive faster - take more life- changing risks - change our entire moods – act-out but never have a discussion about feelings. (Taboo!)
Imagine feeling and being shown your own worthlessness in every aspect of culture and life. Imagine feeling as if the entire world is against you. Imagine being programed to hate yourself so much that killing someone who is as brown as you means absolutely nothing to you because you could kill a thousand you’s and it would still not heal the hole you’re trying to fill. What hole? The hole of being born - born into such a precarious future outlook - born into a hopeless situation - born virtually hero-less and example-less of a way out of said situation.
Low life expectancy, high chances of incarceration …
African American Males are not only endangered, but stalked by every vice and every agency and the system that profits from vices. Why do rich white children seem miserable? Why do they act-out on reality shows and in real life? Why is entitlement not enough? Why is there a hole they need to fill that has nothing to do with money or living to see next week? ‘Why’ is almost the same reason as African American men? A feeling of emptiness where money has replaced love in us: a feeling of hopelessness where there is no money and not enough love to fill the hole/void of being 1/3rd a man in society.
Many Black men become something extreme to cope with reality. They may overcompensate and buy bog Polo symbol shirts, labels on all the clothes, loud colors and prints and big, extreme jewelry to say to the world I am somebody - spinner wheels - chrome – wild hair styles - cuts in the eyebrow - one pants leg up - sagging draws - some outward call for attention.
Look at Me .. Look at me ..Look at me... I have a Condo on my wrist..
Ralph Ellison wrote about this in the “Invisible Man.” It’s a historical fact. We have been emasculated and worshipped as big dick swinging Mandingos – animals and thugs - violent predators and lowlifes - criminals - drug dealers - pimps - pushers and infamously the first person killed in every movie since 1970. This is our narrative - written BTFU - By Them for Us. We have drunk … the proverbial Kool Aid and internalized the story of our worthlessness to the point that if we are not a rapper, baller, singer, dancer, star or worth lots of money …… we feel like failures - emasculated by history.
In my DNA are my father’s father’s father who had to watch men take his wife - rape her - and sell her in another state. They took his kids away. They beat him – dehumanized him … and somewhere this has crystalized into the current state of how a man can walk away from his own family, his own kids, his whole life. It’s terrible, but in our DNA: the failures and cycles of complete and utter failure at being able to provide - the cycle of hate of himself and his community of clones – the cycle of taking the entourage of thugs along for the ride after you have struck it big because you cannot relate to anything outside of your block.
‘Dr. Nigger’ was the joke they told when he got his Ph.D. - chicken and watermelon on the clubhouse menu was the joke they told when ‘Tiger’ won the Masters - and who can forget the racism shown President Obama and the Office of the Presidency? It has been demeaned and disrespected numerous ways. In every example of fame, there is an underlying tone that no matter what we achieve as Black men - we are nothing. Mere animals or we didn’t earn it on our own. We are affirmative action-appointed - or we stole it.
Could it be so far a stretch that with 25% unemployment in Black communities that men of African decent are feeling even more worthless than ever?
With the rise of reality shows and the predominance of the unsupportive, independent black women who have been equally brainwashed to expect less from a mate, father, husband - the Unity and bond of two of God’s perfectly created duo has all but been destroyed for one another. The dis-harmony in us is evident.
Our extreme misogyny - our rightwing attack musically of the bond of sisterhood, motherhood, daughterhood and the sanctity of the woman’s body have also caused men to lose the feeling of love. Who can truly love the objectified playground for a male’s desires - if a woman is compared to a jeep in 2000 and a bag of money in 2012? We are truly trapped and confused mentally.
The struggle of professional Black men from Ivy League schools and HBCU's with bowties - over achievers turning their backs and forming a separate black culture because they hate and are ashamed of themselves in the way that people often turn their backs on a place they hate once they escape and where they originate from.
Do you know how hard it is for these men to constantly prove they earned their status in life - how hard a professional Black man has to balance his identity and be twice as good as a White person to get the position? How hard he has to alter and code-switch his persona to walk in separate worlds and not be characterized as a nigger? That is 1000 pounds of pressure. There are pressures on a Black man: to conform, to not conform, to hold on to his ‘hoodness, to let go of his ‘hoodness, to rise and never ever ever fail - at anything.
Never go back to being broke - never go back to being nothing in everyone’s eyes once they make it out of dire circumstances. Are my examples the examples of every black man’s life? NO. Are there pressures that no other race has that are in our lives? Yes. Are many men born without fathers? YES. Did the crack epidemic rear its ugly head in the form of 400,000 crack addicted black boys? Yes. Are there mental health professionals in our community talking to brown men? No!! Are there thousands of Black men unable to cope with their existence and killing themselves? Yes. Is it a silent epidemic? Yyes.
A friend asked me to do my best and weigh in-on the subject. She said, "Yo, black men are killing themselves." Where do I even start - after the tragic death of Chris Lighty? A man who built his empire and empowered other African American males to become millionaires ... A man who gave back to his community and was well respected. What demons could have been innately inside of him to make him feel worthless and a failure?
We may never know his inner-battle. ‘African American males’: Listen to the sound of those words ... Say them a few times out loud ... African American males ..
What immediately comes to mind? Is it a positive image or a negative one? If negative, why? Why do we have to fight our brother man, fight for our education, fight against and with and for our woman, fight the system and its traps, and fight the world: To stand up on our own two feet and proclaim our value.
Lately, we have been fighting with our own battle scarred minds and mental states ... We have been losing the battle in convincing ourselves to breathe another day under these circumstances and it’s sad ...
What do you think?
2 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.
This article was right on it. I am an african american female that never really saw how hard black males have it until I gave birth to one. So very sad that this society continually puts our black men down..This is probably why so many of them run to white women, trying to feel validated. All I can say is what a mess this world is in and how do we change the way african american males feel about themselves without being able to change the way white america thinks of them.
Extremely poignant & revealing article. This is an issue that demands attention. Kudos to the author for breaking the silence.