These are the types of headlines that I see regularly that bother me…
Man Shot in Detroit Over Air Jordans
It’s a sad moment when someone’s life is worth less than a pair of crappy sneakers.
These shoes cost approximately $15 bucks to make in China, and are sold over here from $150 on up. It is ridiculous. What is even dumber is that a new pair is guaranteed to come out eventually, making these current pairs obsolete, so just like with any other fad, eventually this one will run its course and then people will be back in Foot Locker again wasting their hard-earned money.
If people honestly have the money to waste on these sneakers, that is their business, absolutely. But when the need for shoes gets so desperate as where people are forgoing bill payments or other financial responsibilities or killing over them, there is a huge problem.
How many people truly value life?
Again… I often comment on Black men in particular. Why? Because those are the men that I know personally and intimately. My father is a Black man. His father was a Black man. My husband is mixed, but in most instances I am sure we know that he is identified as a Black man. My son will one day be a Black man, God willing. I have numerous Black uncles, cousins, etc. I have seen their struggles and victories.
There are a couple of things I have come to infer about the psychology of Black men… and please, I am not saying this does not apply to ALL men. I just don’t know. I know what I have been around. And what I have seen is the emotional intelligence and mental well-being of Black men being destroyed by the image of Black men being tough.
What exactly is being tough? Does it differ from one person or group to the next? Some people may think of being tough in terms of physical brawn. In the case of Black men, they have had to be tough all throughout our history here in America leading up until today. They were expected to stand strong and work hard throughout slavery, even as their families were pulled apart and they suffered vicious beatings. After slavery they attempted to provide for their families despite discrimination and poverty and an unstable and probably scary environment where they could be lynched due to any perceived slight (Emmitt Till, anyone?). They are not expected to show any emotion, except one…
Out of all of the little Black boys I have grown up around, it is rare to see them cry even if they are deeply hurt. Why? As soon as a tear forms in their eye they face the possibility of being called soft. They are informed at a young age how harsh society is, either directly by family members or indirectly by being labeled and mistreated at school. They are expected to put up with hurt and injustice and do so while showing no emotion.
But, anger and aggression is acceptable, even applauded on occasions…sports, for example?
What image jumps to the minds of some when they hear the words “Black man”? What image comes to the forefront of their minds?
Is it this?
Or maybe this?
How about this one?
How often does these images jump to one’s mind, generally, when someone tells you to “picture a Black man”?
I won’t ask anyone for a response…
Now, am I saying that Black men have an excuse to be violent? Nope. But I do think that the tough factor that is ingrained in them from infancy coupled with general societal labels of them and what they can accomplish are harmful.
Human emotions run the gamut daily. On any given day, one can feel happy, sad, frustrated, bored, angry, complacent. How might one turn out if they were never equipped to deal with all of them? How would someone develop normally if they were never given the tools to appropriately deal with their emotions, particularly if said individuals are close to or at the bottom of the societal totem pole? There has been some research into emotional intelligence and I am no expert but in my always humble opinion, perhaps we as a society, and in particular Black society, where we also tend to stay away from people who might help us such as psychologists and counselors, ought to be less concerned with our boys being tough and more concerned with their development of a healthy emotional IQ. We need to stop inadvertently teaching our boys that the only emotion they can acknowledge is their anger. If that’s the only one we tell them is okay, doesn’t it make sense that they might overdo it?
Ermer, Kahn, Salovey and Kiehl (2012) published a paper regarding emotional intelligence that correlates the lack of emotional intelligence, or EI, with psychopathic tendencies and emphasizes the importance in both communicating our own emotional states and understanding others. I am sure we can all attest to the fact that our emotional states are reflected in our attitude and how we express ourselves–even if I am not interested in explaining to someone why I am sad, undoubtedly something in my face or how I carry myself reflects that I am sad or unwell (I know this to be a fact. People who know me well can tell when I am disturbed whether I admit to it or not, and I am sure you all have similar experiences). So I assume it is safe to say that if one is angry, it will carry over into their thoughts and behaviors.
Ermer et al (2012, p.1), quoting Mayer & Salovey, 1997; Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2004; and Salovey & Mayer, 1990, define emotional intelligence as “the ability to perceive, manage, and reason about emotions, in oneself and others, and to use this information adaptively”. Higher EI is associated with overall better outcomes in the areas of social relationships, stress management and even a decrease in drug usage among males. Psychopathy is defined as an absence or deficit of empathy and poor behavior control in an individual who exhibits normal intellectual functioning. Low EI is associated with psychopathy.
HUGE DISCLAIMER: I am not a psychologist, nor am I inferring that all Black males are psychopaths! I just used the information from this study to show the potential damage of poor EI. I believe our society, which teaches males from a young age that they have to be tough and show no weakness, is damaging for their EI. With respect to Black men, who have other cultural implications to consider (i.e., higher numbers of poverty, labeling and stereotyping), we absolutely ought not try to tell them they are not ever supposed to get sad or frustrated. That is definitely stacking the odds against them.
My focus on Black men here was pointed. I am tired of seeing guys who very well could be my relatives in the news committing spontaneous acts of extreme violence over perceived slights. I wonder why they can’t control their anger. I had to really think about it and think of how my son is being raised and how my husband was raised. My son’s life has been easy, but he has had his problems too. I have to check myself to make sure I am not being too flippant because he is a little boy. And I know my husband has had plenty of struggles to speak of.
Even Jesus wept. It is the shortest Scripture in the Bible, and there are other instances where Jesus shows emotion. We were created in the image and likeness of God, who undoubtedly displays emotion. Admittedly, I would not be too pleased if my husband ran to me crying every time he hurt himself… but I don’t do that myself. But when the world gets hard on him, when responsibility weighs on him, I hope he would come to me for solace and know that I won’t judge him. Every man, Black, White or whatever, deserves that. I also think men should be more open to talking to other men when they are feeling some type of way… older men need to be mentoring these younger men!
Tough men don’t hide from their emotions, they acknowledge them and deal with them. We need to redefine tough as such. Our men–and I said “OUR” meaning all, seeing that we all live in the same society and same world and whether we know it or not, there is something that each culture can learn from every other culture, and we all need one another… not to mention the fact that we are ALL God’s children living on his earth for a short while… and men in general if it applies that it is OKAY to not have all the answers; it is OKAY to fail sometimes as long as you get back up after you’ve been thrown for a loop; that it is OKAY to weep! As for Black men, this is absolutely imperative if we want to see a decrease in violence. They need to a) be taught about Jesus, the Ultimate Burden Bearer and the Holy Spirit who can guide them, and b) be accepted by society as the emotional beings they are.
I know there are other things to consider in terms of stopping the violence that pervades my culture… I just can’t get to it all in one post. But it is very disheartening to see how we are killing each other. No offense was meant toward other ethnic groups. I think it goes without saying that more needs to be done about the violence in the Black community. There are far too many of our guys in prison.
Ermer, E., Kahn, R.E., Salovey, P., & Kiehl, K.A. (2012). Emotional intelligence in incarcerated men with psychopathic traits. Journal of Personal Social Psychology, 103(1). DOI: 10.1037/a0027328