In Our Corner: Showing Up As Real MEN and Leaving As Little BOYS

“I am what time, circumstance, history, has made of me, certainly, but I am also much more than that.  So are we all.”

-James Baldwin, Writer

“I have discovered in life that there are ways of going almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.”

-Langston Hughes, Poet, Writer

“The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals.  The struggle within yourself—the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us—that’s where it is.”

-Jesse Owens, 4-time Olympic Gold Medalist

“Strong men who are truly role models don’t need to put down women to make themselves look more powerful”

-Michelle Obama

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My Dear Readers,

In my clinical work as a clinical traumatologist and psychotherapist, I focus on what lies within the psychological self.  In this work, I have found that there are large numbers of African-Americans who carry invisible scars from exposure to hostile work, school, or social environments.

Within these invisible scars lie extreme levels of internal emotional tension as people seek to establish intimate relationships, often in their own demographic groups.  For instance,   African-American women have historically built formal and informal social networks for themselves where they can be emotionally supported, share experiences, and more.

This has not generally been the same with African-American males. African-American males have been socialized to maintain silence when it comes to their inner emotions and feelings, which reinforces a message that their feelings are not valid, and forces isolation and distance from others.

To address this, we are starting a new series called “In Our Corner,” which will focus on maintaining emotional and mental health in African-American males.

There is a stereotypical belief that due to cultural values, mores and differences in communication, African-American males are more resistant to talking openly about their feelings than other racial and gender groups.  This silence often extends to participation in child rearing and parenting, participation in household chores and role placement within couples and marital relationships.

A young male patient of mine recently said, in response to comments about the lack of respect that young males have for their male elders:

“What do you expect?  Look who is raising us!   We are only following what we see.”

Ouch.  That comment cut me deeply because it was true. Regardless of the intention, my generation’s actions as well as our silence serves as unconscious model for other generations to follow.   I am often asked:

  • Why do black males act the way they do in intimate relationships?
  • Why do black men feel disrespected?
  • Why are black males unwilling to let small slights go, such as poor customer service?

I have learned that questions beginning with the word “why” lead to circular answers that don’t contribute to resolution or understanding.  Instead, I choose to focus on asking “what” questions to get at the root cause of the issue, such as

  • What are the factors impacting black men regarding intimate relationships?
  • What is occurring in the experiences of black men that reinforce their feelings of being disrespected?
  • What is the definition of a “small slight?” What could be the meaning of such behavior or actions towards black men?

Today’s letter comes from an African-American female who may sound harsh, but is simply speaking her truth. Let’s see how this silence impacts her world.

******************************************

Dear Dr. Kane,

I am a 50-year old, no nonsense African-American woman.  I am sick and tired of old ass men acting like little boys.  I am a grown woman and I am sick and tired of this nonsense.  I want to be around real men.

Recently I’ve been getting to know a man of similar age that I’m romantically interested in.  He went out of town not long ago, and he committed to calling me when he came back.  Well, instead of calling, he sent me a text to “check in.”  It has been more than a week and I haven’t heard his voice.

What the hell! I am so sick of black men who cannot effectively communicate their feelings.  Now, I am left to look at his actions and try to figure out what the hell is going on.

One of my friends suggested that I write to you, so here I am. Please tell your brothers to wake up and man the hell up. Grow a real pair! Women are looking for real men out here!

Angry & Standing Up, Seattle WA

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My Dear Brothers,

As a black man reading this, you have a number of options:

  • Delete and dismiss this letter
  • Deny and ignore this letter, or:
  • Avoid listening to someone who is has been impacted by another’s behavior.

Or simply…listen.  Follow along with me as we explore her words.

This is not the first time that black men have received messages debasing their actions and focusing on their inadequacies, and it will not be the last.  In general, there actually are black men who have difficulty in effectively communicating their feelings and emotions.  The question is this: What is occurring within the individual that impedes his ability to effectively communicate? Is there an issue with communication at all?

Attachment in adult relationships includes friendships, emotional affairs and adult romantic relationships.  There are four main styles of attachment in adults:

Secure, Anxious-Preoccupied, Dismissive-Avoidant and Fearful Avoidant.

  • Secure people tend to have positive views of themselves and of their relationships. Securely attached people feel comfortable with both intimacy and independence.  This style of attachment usually results from a history of parents modeling warm and responsive interactions within their relationships in front of their children.
  • Anxious-Preoccupied people seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness within their relationships. They sometimes value intimacy to such an extent that they become overly dependent upon the relationship and their partner.  Compared to secure people, people who are anxious or preoccupied tend to have less positive views about themselves, and they may exhibit high levels of emotional expressiveness, worry and impulsiveness in their relationships.
  • Dismissive-Avoidant people view themselves as self-sufficient and invulnerable to feelings associated with being closely attached to others. People in this group tend to suppress and hide their feelings, and they tend to deal with rejection by distancing themselves from the relationship and their partners, whether it is warranted or not.
  • Fearful Avoidant people have mixed feelings about close relationships. They may desire to have emotionally close relationships, but tend to feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness. They commonly view themselves as unworthy of responsiveness within their relationships, so they don’t fully trust the intentions of those who they seek to be attached.  Members of this group frequently suppress and deny their feelings.  Because of this, they are much less comfortable expressing affection.

Black men are no different from anyone else in that they mirror the experiences of the environment they grow up in.  Whatever we observe or fail to observe as children is held with the core of the psychological self and because it becomes a part of the individual’s structure,  it can be consciously or unconsciously expressed.

So, understanding how you grew up and what you saw (or did not see) regarding intimate relationships, what group do you belong to?

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Closing Words-Dr. Kane

“Yesterday’s survivor and a survivor today will be a survivor tomorrow.”

– Dr. Micheal Kane

The term survivor can be defined in the following different context

  • Someone who has had an unpleasant experience and who is still affected by it.
  • Someone who hasn’t died; a person who has been through a horrible experience.
  • Someone who remains alive or in existence.

It is without question that historically, black males of all types, classes, incomes, educational levels, and positions have been victimized and scapegoated.  There are many who, due to no fault of their own, are disenfranchised, unwanted or not needed within today’s highly technological society.

However, every individual black male holds the key to his own empowerment.  Walking the journey of self-discovery through self-actualization and joining in discussion and contemplation with identification of other males who seek to do the same can help to achieve it.

The time has come for black men to examine and explore their psychological selves within the context of their socio-economic group.  I invite those seeking to either to understand, question or facilitation discussion of issues relative to African-American males to join the readership of this new set of themed writings.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.  We are the ones we have been waiting for.  We are the change that we seek.”

-Barack Obama

 

Until the next time, Remaining In Our Corner…

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