There Is No Sympathy for Black Men Struggling With Mental Health
Pursuing my own peace of mind for 15 years hasn’t been easy, but it’s been indispensable
Most times, when someone asks “how are you?” I lie. It’s not that I’m a sociopath, or have a pathological aversion to the truth; it’s that, for a Black man living with depression, those three words are loaded enough to induce angst. If I answered honestly, it would result in a heavy conversation, which is generally the opposite of what someone expects in response to an autopilot pleasantry.
What motivates that heavy conversation changes day to day. Sometimes I could be fresh out of an elevator ride where a White lady instinctively clutched her purse tighter. Sometimes it’s the memory of being followed by a security guard in a grocery store. Or it could be thinking of a former roommate who, after I refused to go to a bar to be her wingman, launched into a tirade that included the veiled threat, “I am a young White woman with a big Black man in her home.” (To avoid confrontation, and assuage my fears of having to explain myself to the police, I packed my suitcases and moved out. At 4 a.m.) Or the ex who called me her “personal Mandingo.” These are but a few of the razor blades that lie within the sugar bowl of my Black brain.
To face the world, Black men have to arm themselves with various self-preservation and self-defense tools, and participate in emotional martial arts just to prove they deserve to exist. This daily battle, compounded with approximately 10 generations of inherited grief, creates severe emotional dis-ease. In media, culture, and film, Black men are frequently told to “man up,” that showing emotion is “soft,” and that “real” men don’t cry. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight was vindication for so many of us — even if many Black people didn’t see the film because of its queer narrative. (And believe me, that’s a whole other essay.)
According to Souls of Black Men: African American Men Discuss Mental Health, a report by the Morehouse School of Medicine-affiliated organization Community Voices, 7% of African American men will develop depression during their…