But do we as men really want to have an emotional, gut wrenching, psycho-spiritual conversation that moves beyond the customary sports, women, sex domination, and money exchanges which tend to dominate our vernacular moments? Do we truly want to hear the pain existing in many of our lives? Do we really want to engage the mess that is called manhood and the gender performance indicators which trap all of us at times? Do we really want to enter those spaces in which men find themselves emotionally stuck, such as in sexuality, relationships, issues with our parents, sadness, and fear? Can we move beyond labeling and thinking of other men as gay, bitches, pussies, punk asses, bitch made niggas, and soft girly men who want to be emotional, open, and transparent with their feelings?
Because in my own journey to become what Mark Anthony Neal calls a “New Black Man,” I have encountered many of my own patriarchal tendencies and stereotypical male gender roles that I have been taught to believe, act out on, and come to know as “normal,” and not only wanted to turn back, but to stuff them into the nether regions of my psyche. I have had to deal with my own issues of depression, suicide, and rage and come face to face with who the real me is. It is not always a pretty sight; and I had a lot of help along the way.
I was fortunate to have another man walk with me through the process. I was lucky to have another group of men who wanted to also “go there” with me—who were not afraid to cry, laugh, yell, pray, and cry some more with me openly. I was privileged to be in a setting where my Blackness, Browness, and maleness were looked at with different lenses; instead of the ones I was always told to see those areas through. I was blessed to have a wife who stood by me and encouraged me to do all of this. The journey was hard, painful, and discouraging at times; but it was worth it and I am continuing on it.
But in all these socio-cognitive travels, I have not met many other men who are willing to join with me in the journey. Sure they get part way, but then are uncomfortable by the issues and want to solve them (both for them and me)—after all many men are taught to “duct tape” life’s problems. Partner up the manifold of religion and you have men who want to “solve” every problem you have with “God”; throw in a bit of ageism (especially men who are older than me) and you have a group of men who simply want to lecture me on what to do—of course because God gave them that word. Most men end up back in the same spaces that they began only the new maledom apartment has pretty window coverings called “just go to church” and new paint whose color is “talk about problems only with solutions” there are also chairs by the designer “don’t complain about issues” and plenty of food to go around that says “man up” every time you take a bite. In the end, much hasn’t changed.
Jovan, what happened? Was Costas right? What if we had talked about some of these issues five, ten, fifteen years ago? Would that have helped Jovan and his partner in any way? Would we, as the public, have truly been open to deal with his pain? After winning the NBA Championship with the Lakers, Ron Artest thanked his therapist for helping him; the social media and blog world went wild; he himself even made light of the situation. When Jessie Jackson Jr. was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder many questioned whether or not he had it or not (yes, I understand the political setting for all this; nevertheless). As I have worked with young men from urban contexts over the last twenty years, not one of them has ever liked being called a bitch, soft, sissy, a punk; yet were quick to use those labels on other men who even displayed the smallest amount of emotion and / or what they described as being “un-manly.” So Jovan, I get it. I get that we live in a culture that does not warrant and allow men to be that open. I get that we are surrounded with labels and mental tapes that do not shut off easily. I also get that violence is, wretchedly, a graspable means of communication for many men and that it is reinforced on a daily basis.
The other night I was leaving the restroom of a Chipotle restaurant when I see my wife outside talking quite fiercely to another man. Curious and a bit on edge, I made my way out to see what the ruckus might be. I quickly ascertained that the man had physically roughed up his wife; my wife—as boldly as God made her—stood in between the man and his wife and allowed the woman to leave safely with her friend. To make a brief long story short, I momentarily spoke with the man to try and bring some sense into his worldview, but it was clear that his thought process, male socio-history, and gender performance could not allow him to see things in another way; his response to my wife and I was, “That’s my wife; I have 3 children with her; I pay my bills and I work hard…I can do what I want with and to her!”
This type of worldview is deep, nefarious, and intricate. Many men believe they own women. Many men feel as though they have earned a space to assert control over women if other socially accepted genres are being filled (e.g. bills, home). Many men also feel as though women owe them in certain regards (e.g. sex, more sex) if those said genres are filled (and often even if they’re not). These are areas that we, as other conscious men, need to help other men understand are not normal and are part of the male hegemony that dominates facets of our American society (yes, even church). It’s not going to get better until we as men take a stronger role in educating other men about these issues, and what I mean be educating is a walk along side another man; just like another man did for me for almost eight years.
This is not a five step, workshop style, conference flair, believe and it will get done type of solution. We as men, in America, and among Black and Brown men, have serious, complex, and strong gender, emotional, psychological, and spiritual issues to contend with. Jovan’s issue is not an isolated event that was “that brutha’s problem.” It is our entire problem as men. It is time we step up and deal with the issues at hand, but in a way that brings healing; in a way that does not have a simplistic answer for every problem; in a way that allows men to speak, in private and public spaces, about their issues. But are we ready to hear that though?