The realities of racism and socio-economic inequities have made trauma an all too familiar facet of the Black male existence. A traumatic event is one that threatens injury, death, or the physical integrity of self or others and also causes horror, terror, or helplessness at the time of incident. Think about all of the things you, or your loved ones, have experienced that fit into that category. And despite dominant narratives of what is widely considered abuse, there are many aspects of the Black male experience that are not commonly thought of as traumatic—which means the victims receive no counseling, treatment or consideration. Without intervention, the cycles of broken homes and hearts, higher unemployment and low graduation rates will continue to flourish. The first step is identifying some of what’s wrong in real time. Here are four common traumatic events experienced by Black boys, and men, that derail them from success and require some intervention (group therapy, counseling, etc…).
In America, the way Black boys are taught to equate manhood with hypermasculinity and violence is triggering. We beat them if they play with the wrong color. We tease them if they stand the wrong way. We emasculate them if they show emotion when hurt. It makes us uncomfortable to see our children behaving in ways that may make them “targets,” or expressing themselves in ways that we don’t understand. It’s time to change our community lens. We must lean in and learn from our fears. Discuss them. Call folks out. Re-think what you learned about being a boy or girl, and how it’s shaped you. Reflect on how you would have changed your experience. Consider the creativity the little ones in your life can have if they are allowed to explore and express beyond what you can imagine for them. There’s power in that possibility.
According to the Childhood Domestic Violence Organization, minors who witness their parents physically fighting are three times more likely to repeat that behavior in adulthood. But it’s not just physical altercations that are traumatic. There are so many other ways we can create fear and violence that don’t include striking our partners. Ask yourself, what am I teaching my child when I interact with my partner or family? What are they learning from me? If you’ve been modeling hurtful things, you have a chance to stop now. The best way to prevent a cycle of violence or emotional abuse is to get the support (through group or individual counseling )you need to change.
Police Brutality and Assault
Just as Black girls learn (often through men) that their bodies are deemed public property, so too do Black boys. For Black boys it often comes through the police. They learn this through constant intimidation, unwarranted stops and state-sanctioned stalking. It creates fear, anger and feelings of powerlessness. It can make us disconnect from the desire to feel. It’s depressing. Talk to the males in your families about these experiences. Encourage them to speak up. Let them cry, or just sit with how difficult life can be. Console them and help them find solutions to cope. You won’t be able to stop everything, but knowing you have their backs can make a big difference.
Sexual predators prey on both girls and boys. And for Black gay and gender non conforming folks, sexual assault is a common tactic used as punishment for “being.” Ask the boys in your life about sex and their sexual experiences. Talk to them about consent and that “no” can be both verbal or non-verbal. Help them get the support they need. If you’re not ready to talk about non-hetero conforming sex and sexual expression connect youngsters with folks who can. The exploration of pleasure, consent and empathy is one that cannot be avoided.
Abandonment and Neglect
There are few experiences that I have seen hurt Black boys more than neglect. Sometimes we neglect our youngsters in the education system. Sometimes we neglect the emotional development of our boys. We leave them without the tools to understand their own feelings, which eventually leaves them without the elasticity necessary to engage in the maturation process. Sometimes we neglect our boys who are incarcerated. We become complacent in the belief that they, unlike others, should endure the terrors the powers have created. Neglect kills the soul. No one should ever be neglected. Show up for the Black men in your life. Let them know you are there, and most of all, be there.
Yolo Akili Robinson is a wellness advocate and founder of B.E.AM. Check out his work in CASSIUS’ 2018 Wellness Guide.