The Privilege of Tears: Little Black Boys Cry Too
Over the past few weeks, the conversation around Black masculinity has been particularly invigorated in several ways. From Frank Ocean’s coming out to Lupe Fiasco’s shedding tears on thinking of the violence in Chicago, we’ve seen Black men produce profound moments of emotion—in a society where the showing of emotion is often positioned as oppositional to masculinity. And of course, Black masculinity. Along this vein, I think we should celebrate these moments that work against the ill nuanced narrative of Black masculinity. We should celebrate the fact that Black men are equally emotional beings, and many of the problems that exist in our world, partly lie in the fact that from as early on as their youth, we condition Black men to depreciate the expression of emotions that aren’t aggressive or competitive.
It took me years to discover—in fact I am still learning—that part of the process of loving myself as a Black male, necessitated the discovery that I have the ability to love and be loved as a Black male. Understanding myself as a Black male, who loves, has turned into quite a revolutionary affair, precisely because traditional notions of Black masculinity did everything in their power to rob my adolescence of the most quintessential part of its humanity. Its ability to love. To feel. To be vulnerable. To cry. Whatever this thing is we call Black masculinity is, it did, and is still doing, everything in its power to disenfranchise little Black boys from the privilege of their own tears.
We are all guilty. We are guilty when we tell little black boys that their wounds don’t deserve tears unless they are bleeding. We are guilty when we tell them that they are “crying like a little girl.” We are guilty when we call men “bitches” and “pussies.” They should not cry but rather they should “fight like a man.” What erupts is confusion. We construct derogatory and grotesque versions of femininity, launch them against little Blacks boys when they are hurting—and then call upon them to hold up their families, support their wives, and rebuild communities. In our effort to create strong Black men who must be strong, we forget first that they are human. We deny them the right to their own emotional and intellectual complexity, and then we ask each of them to become an Atlas. But I’m sure that even Atlas cried.
Growing up, I was afraid of Black men. Even though I was one. I felt alienated amongst them because I was not aggressive. I did not relish in competition. I had a sincerely emotive mother who never devalued the brevity of my emotions. My home was about love. It was about expression. When I cried, my mother said, “What’s wrong?” She never said, “Stop crying.” Yet the men in my life – my uncles, my barbers, my peers – they constantly derided me, calling me a “cry-baby” or a pussy, because I did not want to engage in their games. This amalgamated into a bizarre way of being for me. Wherein I began to associate the feminine with love, and the masculine with aggression, anger, and alienation.
But of course. I do not blame these men. For they were merely performing the internalized standards of a society built on a depraved form of manhood. A type of manhood that tries to mask the necessity for emotion with aggression. In order to begin fighting violence in our communities – especially among young black boys – we must first begin to develop the capacity for human empathy. If we are to make room for Black men that don’t fall along conventional notions of sexuality, we must challenge our understandings of what makes a “Black man.” We must allow Black men to express themselves in their various emotional complexities. Being strong does not mean lacking emotion. It means being able to channel and control the emotions we have. There will be times where we cannot cry. But there are also times where we must cry.
As I have grown, I have luckily began to form healthy relationships with Black men that have shown me that being a Black man is not necessarily synonymous with anger, aggression, and competition. I can be a Black man and be vulnerable. Plain and simple.
We must remember that Black men are humans too. We must remember that little Black boys cry too.