“Black men need to take the individual initiative to want to be better for not only their loved ones but for themselves.” -- Dominick Williams on Cooper’s “I Was Forced to Fight, Now I’m Learning to Cry”

Understanding Toxic Masculinity Through The Lens Of Black Men

By Jackie Bueno

Reading Wilbert Cooper’s “I Was Forced to Fight, Now I’m Learning to Cry” were all too familiar for me. As a woman of color from both a Latinx and Filipinx background, I recognized the parallels immediately in Cooper’s article between the realities Black men face to establish legitimacy as men in their communities and the realities that individuals of my own ethnic background face to establish legitimacy as men, such as men in both the Latinx and Filipinx community. Some examples of the many realities and pressures men face according to Cooper include burying their emotions, being violent, feeling pressured to be highly muscular, and being sexually desired by women.

 

I think that Cooper’s article is highly important because it also highlights the dire consequences Black men face from trying to live up to the masculine stereotypes, such as the perpetuation of the stereotype that of all racial and gendered groups, they are the most violent. The perpetuation of violence through toxic masculinity for Black men is grave because in addition to the fervent discrimination they face daily socially and institutionally, they are also more likely to be jailed four times more than white males in this nation.

 

That’s why Cooper’s concluding realization that he can cry and work on his way to become a man who expresses his emotions other than anger, in my opinion, were important to share on the Internet, so all men of color, families of color, and white allies can have exposure on this issue in order to create community-based solutions to adequately address toxic masculinity in our society.

 

By addressing this issue through open discussion, my hopes are that doing so will allow Black men and other men of color, who also suffer from the pressures of society to be a toxic male, to recognize that they do not need to be someone solely according to a stereotype that is deceptively repressive and limiting.

 

To read Cooper’s “I Was Forced to Fight, Now I’m Learning to Cry,” see this link: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/j55yn3/i-was-forced-to-fight-now-im-learning-to-cry

 

For this post, I decided to interview my colleague Dominick Williams, a junior at UC Berkeley on this topic to serve as testimony to the ways college men in the Black community deal with toxic masculinity today. I met Dominick during my first time lobbying on political issues in Washington D.C. this past April and admired his tenacity and passion to address issues like this facing communities of color.

 

Here is our interview:

 

Jackie: As an Black male, where do you think addressing toxic masculinity falls on the spectrum of issues this community faces?

Dominick: It is one of the big things this community needs to address. Toxic masculinity seemed almost as if it were part of my own humanity, so when it would become toxic and would hurt people, I didn’t see its effects on others until it was too late. For me, that’s frightening because if I’m going to be a better son or boyfriend, addressing toxic masculinity is super important. I’m not sure how I could rank this issue because it’s hard to decide which issues are more prevalent than others in the black community; however, addressing it is important because it perpetuates a system of control. It’s something we’re taught. Going forward as a man, it’s super important I understand how I’m hurting people and how I’m projecting myself as a man.

 

Jackie: Describe your upbringing.

Dominick: The article was spot on. As a young black man growing up in society, I grew up poor; my parents filed bankruptcy. My parents were working all the time, so I was in daycare all the time. A lot of what I was growing up with as a child was stressful. The problems I dealt with required me to be strong. Facing struggle, I had to be strong. Facing racism, I had to be strong. Bullies required me to be the strong scary black man. It was important for me to not steer in that direction. At a young age, I had to address my parents’ arguments and protect my sisters from the outrage between my parents. I would internalize it, and I wouldn’t express the emotions necessary to adequately address what I was going through. Expressing these emotions would mean I would need to admit to myself that my father isn’t someone I could always look up to, in the sense that no son wants to see their father as anything less than a hero. But slowly I had to come to the realization that he had his many flaws.

Structurally, black men have to teach themselves how to be very tough. The writer of that article shared a story about how he had to deal with racism. In the fourth grade, the one or 2 white kids in our class made comments about my mom, who’s a white-passing Filipino. I felt so embarrassed and humiliated by the things they’d say. I ended up tapping one kid’s shoulder and punching him as hard as I could. It felt good because it was a day of growth in which I received congratulations from my peers, telling me that violence was a good thing. Defending my honor and my pride was a good thing. From that day, internalizing violence was a good thing. Dealing with things with violence became acceptable, and I’m learning now that maybe that’s not okay. Realizing the effects of toxic masculinity that I encountered as a young child are slowly revealing themselves to me now that I’m older and in a relationship. I’m honestly not sure how I can do anything to prevent repeating the toxic behavior I witnessed growing up because I internalized it and am still learning about myself everyday. I am terrified that I am becoming what I dread.

 

Jackie: It sounds like you’ve had time to self-reflect since the incident you’ve described that occurred in the fourth grade. What was the turning point for you that allowed you to become more self-aware of this issue?

Dominick: The second semester of my sophomore year–I had been learning to self-reflect through my relationship with my sister. I would get into a lot of fights with my sister and think that hitting her back was okay since she would hit me first but then I realized this wasn’t okay. Now that I have a girlfriend, she’s been able to provide me with vocabulary for me to utilize to have in-depth conversations on toxic masculinity.

 

Jackie: How do you think the Black community and other circles of color can create solutions that work to address toxic masculinity?

Dominick: That’s so hard. Tackling this issue specifically is difficult since it’s almost invisible in the community. For example, I was already on the path to growing up full of emotions such as rage and anger, and I didn’t even know it. Anything that requires such a vast amount of change is going to need massive amounts of will. If black men want to rid themselves of the toxic masculinity that plagues them, then they will need to take the initiative to do so. Inspiration and education can help, but black men need to take the individual initiative to want to be better for not only their loved ones but for themselves.

Also, I think that masculinity is a self-defense mechanism against racism, which requires us to repress our feelings and shut others out. Our society perpetuates a system of ways for men to become the way they are now. I think if we were to actually do anything about it, we’d need a community-based effort. Men wanting to treat their women better. Men need that vocabulary. I think it takes a conversation. Informed and exposed men will want to be better.

 

Jackie: How do you think RJ can help resolve toxic masculinity?

Dominick: RJ is difficult because it’s hard for these communities facing the harm to admit anything–I think RJ has a place in educating young black men and young black women by allowing us to discuss and reflect on our our actions. Education is the best way to start. If we’re able to provide accessible education to those who have it and those who have it.

 

Jackie: Do you know of any resources on campus that are working specifically to address toxic masculinity?

Dominick: These conversations are already happening on campus. I’m honestly only able to have these conversations because I go to Berkeley. I’m not sure if I would have these conversations if I didn’t go to Berkeley. Not too sure of the specific events on campus that are specifically happening to address these issues, but Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center is definitely a resource on campus. If you’re going to talk about black male masculinity, it’s there.

 

Jackie: How are you yourself actively working towards solving this issue?

Dominick: It’s an ongoing process. I don’t know if there’s an ideal man. The ideal man that has conquered his masculinity might not be there. As a person who’s striving to be that, the only ways I know how to talk about it are to ask questions. For example, I think it’s important to ask women questions to engage them in this dialogue, practice mindfulness, and ensure that I’m taking a second to think the implications of something beforehand. Also taking the initiative and being vulnerable to having these discussions on issues such as toxic masculinity are necessary.

 

 

End of interview.

Photo Credit: Seth Laupus from Vice Magazine

 

Jackie Bueno is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Sociology. For further inquiries, please contact her at jacquelinebueno@berkeley.edu.

 

The Fannie Lou Hamer Resource Center (FLHRC) is located in the Hearst Field Annex at UC Berkeley. It was finally built in February 2017 after UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union demanded the Center be built in March 2015. The FLHRC allows Berkeley’s Black students to have a center on campus where they can build community with one another while providing academic, social, and professional support.

This article was updated on February 6, 2018 to modify African-American to Black since the author of this post was informed this is now the proper term this community uses to identify their racial identity.

To learn more about the Center, see these links:

http://www.dailycal.org/2017/02/22/fannie-lou-hamer-black-resource-center-opens-in-hearst-field-annex/

http://news.berkeley.edu/2017/02/23/we-have-a-space-fannie-lou-hamer-black-resource-center-opens/ 

http://afrikanblackcoalition.org/2016/08/03/black-student-union-secures-the-fannie-lou-hamer-resource-center-at-uc-berkeley/

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