Little Black Boys Need Love Too…Hug One Today
I have an uncle who says he never wanted to play football in high school, because “That’s too much touching of another sweaty, stinky guy. That’s gay.” This is a common conversation of his during large family gatherings where he has thrown back way too many adult beverages and everyone’s shooting the ish about the good old days. We laugh at his homophobia. We always laugh at his homophobia. Sometimes it’s easier for Black folks to laugh at our homophobia, especially when discussing our boys. Our boys must grow up to be strong, virile Black men. It’s in their DNA or we make itbe in their DNA. When they are old enough to listen we tell them, “Get up. Brush that off. Stop crying like a girl.” or “Don’t let him punk you. Hit him.” or “Don’t play with that doll or makeup or your mama’s heels. You wanna be a faggot?” What is wrong with us? What is f’ing wrong…with us?
You see, early onblack boys are taught that being gay is perhaps the greatest sin they could commit—a sin worse than murder, rape or violence in some households…Black boys must follow an obscenely strict gender standard, rooted in exaggerated machismo and emotionlessness. Black boys must be stoic; they are not allowed to cry or to feel. We encourage them to be athletes or rappers, but rarely dancers or artists.
Black boys should play with action toys that promote an unrealistic idea of power or encourage violence. They should like “masculine” colors and choose “masculine” careers. Black boys are not allowed expressions of love and kindness—these are forbidden signs of weakness. Crying is sinful. Love is for the weak. There should be no prolonged physical contact between black men.
Hugging is against the rules, unless it’s after a sports win.
Hugging is against the rules, unless it’s after a sports win
Hugging is against the rules, unless it’s after a sports win.
When do our boys get the opportunity to be in spaces outside of sports to feel…human? To hug? To express emotions outside of anger? To release their brokenness? Sadly often times, never. This creates a cycle of men who are not emotionally prepared to be adults, mentors or fathers. This…is…a…problem. We must break this cycle. Now. Like, right now. I thought about how we can help do this a couple of months ago after school. I had an aha moment.
I typically decompress after a long day at school by watching our male students play basketball at the courts across the street. They love when I come by to show me their wanna-be-Lebron skills and I love going by to talk trash with them. It is a wonderful release of stress from the day. This particular day I was watching our young men in middle school playing hard—shirts off and sweat flinging everywhere. I thought about my drunken uncle and said, “Boy y’all are touching each other waaaaaaaay too much. Stop dribbling and play ball.” I clearly got into the mind of the boy with the ball and he shot up a brick. I shouted, “Bink!” We all laughed and I leaned against my car. I reflected. They were hugging and grabbing on each other more than usual and they were our young men that displayed much machismo in the building. After more deep thought, I realized that this might be the only time that many of these young men receive the human touch we all crave. I seriously felt sick to my stomach. How did I not see that before? We simply do not have a culture in our families, neighborhoods and especially in our schools where young Black men truly feel safe loving each other as brothers—checking up on one another, expressing themselves to each other or God forbid, hugging one another. What is f’ing wrong with us?
Theseblack boys grow up to be machismo-driven caricatures, emotionally stunted little boys in grown man bodies, who can’t maintain relationships for fear of being perceived weak, and who can’t be what they want or dress how they want for fear of repercussion. It’s a tragic curse of social group-think and programming, that so many would rather defend because they are ignorant of its toxicity.
I think it’s easier for girls to overcome any brokenness they might have. Girls are expected to feel deeply, be emotional, cry, and get frustrated. It is behavior that is accepted and oftentimes expected. Boys are too often told not to act like a girl, and so they hold on to feelings that they should release. Yet, they don’t feel free enough or safe enough to relieve themselves of burdensome emotions.
It’s time for us to break this cycle and redefine what manhood means for our young men. It must include adult men teaching their sons and little brothers that it’s OK to cry and communicate emotions other than anger, feel love for their brethren and show them by hugging. We have to collectively teach our young men that they have safe spaces with all of us to express their emotions and not be considered “gay” or “less than a man” because of it. Then when they are faced with deeper issues they will feel comfortable releasing and finding solutions. The hope is that with this release our young men will lean less and less towards negative outlets to express their emotions.
Leah Maxwell spoke with Darby Fox, a family therapist specializing in children and adolescents, to discuss some ways on how we can raise more emotionally expressive andsensitive sons.
- Recognize their innate sensitivity. “It is our job to encourage emotional expression and strong boundaries… to raise respectful, empathetic children, regardless of sex,” she says. That starts with acknowledging that boys are capable of feeling and showing emotional sensitivity.
- Don’t train them to stifle their emotions. When boys look to their fathers as models of behavior, it’s especially important for men to not only encourage sensitivity in their sons but to show it themselves.
- Mothers have a special responsibility to fight stereotypes. Society at large has done much to discourage in boys what some would consider feminine or “girly” behaviors. Mothers should not only encourage and celebrate sensitive behavior in their sons but in their husbands as well.
- Teach boys empathy when they’re little, but don’t stop there. Understanding the feelings of others is the first step toward your boys being able to carry themselves in a caring, respectful manner.
- Talk, talk, and talk some more about feelings with your boys. The key is to help them learn to deal with their feelings, not try to take those feelings away.
- Treat them as you want them to treat others. Fox…emphasizes that it’s critical to start early with lots of nurturing, hugging, and laughing. We don’t want this to stop, so it is important to encourage expression continually. It’s important to start saying ‘I love you’ early and continue always.
- Make kindness the rule. If practice makes perfect, make sure you give your son plenty of opportunities to engage in acts of kindness, on both a large and small scale. Start at home by showing kindness to your spouse and each family member, and insist that siblings treat each other with kindness too.
- Expect more of them. “It’s OK to acknowledge that it’s often hard for boys to settle down, act with sensitivity, and behave with decorum, but don’t let that be an excuse to avoid teaching them to be better. Parents need to instill the same values and structure with boys as they do with girls,” she says. In short, children deserve to be brought up to be sensitive, caring people regardless of sex.
Emotional literacy is important for young males…There is a direct correlation between how much boys share their feelings and rates of depression…“They are looking for people who really understand them…I’m just talking about your typical boy who wants a friend, who he can be vulnerable with, who he can share his deep secrets with.”
We must add that it’s OK for men to express feelings of all kinds into the narrative of what it means to be a strong Black man. We have to stop forcing our boys into hard-core manhood by the time they are walking. We are dead wrong on so many levels. Our boys deserve to be children and enjoy all the rights and privileges that come along with being kids. As they grow, it is imperative that we have authentically emotional conversations with our boys often and teach them how to have those conversations with others. Most importantly, if our sons, brothers, other family members, friends and students are questioning their sexuality or are gay, we want to ensure they feel safe having conversations with us about it and being who they truly are around us. Let’s teach our boys that it’s ok to express their feelings in a healthy manner everywhere. We need our Black men to be emotionally healthy, so we must tell our Black boys that we love them each day no matter what and by all means hug them and hug them often. One love…