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Leave or Live: Why Suicide and Black Manhood are Wrestling

Veiled behind the smile is a world of hurt. Concealed in bravado is a torment that this kind of man can only describe.

Black man smiling contemplating suicide
Suicide or Otherwise

Black manhood is served with the burden, the pain, and the sacrifice seemingly leading to one crossroads. Live or leave. The will to live is evading us. The motivation to try again is overwhelming us. Why? That’s the question that has seen too many of us black men make the unabated decision to call it a day. Others would label it as a cop-out, while the reality is black manhood is a place all too many of us have ventured into and quickly learnt that our readiness is a figment of our imagination. I label it black manhood because this is my reality and the lens I must see the world through. As a black man, Society has taught me to be strong and quiet, and yet, the burden of truth is that I can’t be silent if I am going to become a better me. There’s a healing gap I have to contend with that very few, like me, are willing to give transparent insight on inevitably presenting many fears that come knocking physically and mentally daily.

Recently I learnt of another black man taking his life. The reasons? I don’t know. All I know is that there’s a real psychological and spiritual warfare that we men go through when trying to navigate the demands of life. As I sit and write this, I can’t stop but think of the moments I’ve held back my words, knowing fully well that if I speak, I may be stating the truth, but my environment may not accept it as such. I think of the many circumstances where I’ve seen men silencing themselves at the threat that if they say another word, they’ll be out the door rejected, a.k.a. “Cancelled." Which voice has an audience? The one with the most influence is oftentimes determined by money. The man fitting the often advertised persona of a successful man. The celebrity. But even they are committing suicide. Why? There’s a vicious and vitriol silencing men continue to encounter that has manifested in the suicides we see today. It doesn't matter what status you hold in society, the thought is getting louder in many black men's minds. We are quiet in the quest for external peace while we are wrestling back what we think and feel inside. We are silenced because we don't have a job, don't have "enough" money, and aren't "man enough" to satisfy several unreasonable expectations demanded of us.

I remember having suicidal thoughts because my father would not accept me for the choices I had made with my future. I remember wanting to call it a day because the outward expectations I imbued did not match the turmoil I felt inside. I remember being scolded that I wasn't man enough and wondering what manhood was. I remember pondering if what I was dealing with was only a figment of my imagination because there’s no Black Manhood where I come from. It’s manhood. Even then, it's not clear what manhood is. Time-scape out of Africa to the Western world and there you will find a different manhood. Here, race becomes a critical factor in the manhood experience. In my case, black manhood is a real thing on all levels of Society. Black manhood is the discriminatory cesspool that black males have to live through because they are black. It’s the uphill and unrelenting warfare that chokes the life out of us because Society sees it fit.

The cycle is unforgiving, yet fewer solutions are being made available. If one wants to go to therapy, the cost per session is a significant barrier because a good black man fends for his tribe and tends to himself after all are safe. If one looks for an alternative in the form of a friend, it’s not safe enough because the said friend will take that business out to the world. A step further, the authenticity in the relationships mano-a-mano lacks the substance necessary to help brothers off the ledge. What do we resort to? Something that helps us cope a little longer until it doesn’t satisfy. What that is either keeps us going, but in most cases, it’s the thing that eventually has many of us jumping off the proverbial cliff. If it’s not drugs, it’s porn. If not porn, it’s another vice that works counter to strengthening and healing us for the future. Black manhood is complicated. There’s a definition of it that’s dependent on us Black men actively taking the lead through means that deconstruct and debunk the foreign and confusing perspectives that take away from the essence of us Black men. But black manhood is also ours to live through and become better.

God made us relational beings. In doing so, He also wanted to provide us with a way to carry each other’s burdens. By casting them unto Jesus, we should, in turn, be doing the same unto the Church. We are all broken and trying to navigate this life. What’s missing is providing a space that allows us to speak openly and safely and learn from non-hypocritical feedback to become better versions of ourselves. There are areas in my life where I can share with my wife without a filter, while others require another man to sound off in sharpening me. Does this mean my wife can’t be a part of the journey? Absolutely not! As a matter of fact, the better version of me is what she needs to experience less turbulence in our journey and become a better version of herself.

But succeeding in black manhood and overcoming the lure of suicide is needed for the black community to thrive. Too few model black families are available in our communities that help the transition from boy to man and teach black manhood. The rarity of these causes many of us in the black community to turn to sources laced with a destructive black narrative. Turn on the TV and click to BET. There, you will find shows that advertise sex, drugs, abuse, and more morally degrading content that begs the question, why are we doing this to ourselves? Why are we feeding ourselves content that kills us rather than builds us? Remember those days the village raised the child? Remember when cursing wasn't permissible in our community? Black manhood had a part to play in that. The family was our desire. I remember a time when TV was wholesome entertainment. The show that comes to mind is The Cosby Show. While it was cancelled, it carried a message of openness, authenticity, and community on multiple fronts. Cliff Huxtable may have been comical, but because he leaned in on REALationships with his family, there was a space created to deal with the day-to-day issues of a black man. There was no shortage of drama on real issues like teenagers transitioning into adulthood and the changes parental relationships must mature into when dealing with an ever-changing World, but what was consistent was the messaging that helped define positive black manhood. Cliff would often sit and share some experiences happening in his life with his dad and other men to figure out how to deal. He would also lean on his in-laws, friends, and spouse to gain insight. The result was a solid message on the value of black men and families. What’s the missing piece for black manhood today? Community. Our community does not offer an authentic, safe, healthy space for growth. Black men do not have other black men they can lean on and learn from, or rather, the black men that offer a space have an ulterior motive that’s not conducive to growth. On the contrary, the model they look at is inauthentic, dishonest, and lacks the moral compass required to build, support, and protect black manhood. As a result, black men give up on their responsibility to live because they don’t have a cardinal point to follow in their growth.

The will to live will continue to evade us until we begin to shape the future we want to see. If my son is going to learn how to contend with what’s coming his way as a black man, it’s my responsibility to begin to frame it for him. Our response to our environment must be measured with intentions bearing the future we want. We must not be silent on matters that relate to our livelihood as black men, nor should we sit by the wayside as our brothers give up and call it a day. We must come together and become true gatekeepers of our sons livelihoods. It’s time to bring them in on the real and share with them the things we are wrestling with. It's time to impart in them a wholesome definition of manhood that's not centered on sexual prowess but founded on leadership on all fronts. It's time to show them what manhood is a model citizens rather than the mentors we hear speak but don't show. It’s time to establish authentic REALationships that will change the course our community is on. If we don't, we may wonder why our children are where they are when in actual fact we are the ones that didn't stop to build healthy black manhood. You want to stop suicide knocking? Be the change, be the leader, be the model.


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