It's Okay to Be Emotional
Updated: Jul 31
Most Black men growing up in America have been culturally conditioned to be strong at all cost. Since I can remember, my friends and I have been told that "boys/men don't cry", "never display weakness" or "cry and see what happens". Punk'n out or going soft was not an option because the streets would eat us alive. Asking a man's advice outside of our "circle", which often lacked a male presence, was rarely encouraged. Therefore, mom or maybe an older brother was the only option. And talking to the Police, PLEASE don't... because snitches get stitches. A teacher, "ooo you're teacher's pet". Nevertheless, whenever Black men have been disappointed, frustrated, or sad, many of us were told "tough it out" or "hold on to God's unchanging hand". I'm not saying that God's love or ability is not sufficient. It's that there were days when Black men yearned for an adult to comfort us and ensure our safety.
After discussions with friends and clients, I discovered that each wished for someone to provide a safe environment to nurture our feeling and express our emotions. Studies demonstrate that harsh punishments and emotionally dismissive parenting negatively affects a Black man's ability to build meaningful relationships. It is difficult to learn to express the depth of emotion beyond anger in adulthood if it was not modeled as a child. And if he hasn't seen it displayed in a marriage, then how can it be expected that a Black man simply knows how to be intimately and emotionally connected in marriage. Here is the acid test for intimacy in Black relationships.
For a moment, reflect on the number of Black men you know who have grown up in families who provided examples of healthy married, parental relationships. Were you or anyone able to name four? Now look at the Black men in your life who were exposed to seeing their fathers engage in promiscuous behaviors, physical and emotional battery, or dismissive of their spouse's feelings and perspective (even if right). How many of them turned that behavior toward their sons and daughters? Where those children told "be strong or suck it up" when an adult had the opportunity to embrace them and validate their feelings or experience. It's the lack of hug or words of encouragement in their most vulnerable moments impacting them today.
For many Black men, their first indoctrination to the "be strong, men don't cry" conditioning began at an early age. I can recall at the age of six being with my father in the emergency room. He'd accompanied me to the hospital to get stitches above my eye after being hit with a baseball bat. While lying on the exam table, wrapped in a child restraint, my dad assured me that I was going to school tomorrow. As a grown man, I remember laying on that table thinking, "Are you kidding me? I'm hurt daddy, hug me. Let me stay home with you tomorrow." I was just traumatized seeing the amount of blood gushing from my eye. However, I knew that I had to be strong and tough it out or else there were consequences for being weak or vulnerable. Therefore, like many in similar situations, I took my emotions and locked them inside and developed strategies to never engage again.
Being true to the creed of "Be Strong" has done more bad than good. Being strong has robbed many relationships from true intimacy, one of the greatest expressions of life. The biggest challenge many Black me have is being emotionally present and sustaining healthy intimate relationships, especially after the sexual fantasy has faded. Many are uncomfortable in a committed relationship that requires them to reciprocate a unique intimate expression. They lack a healthy understanding of cognitive, emotional, and sexual intimacy or are unable to engage with their partner in basic communication about hopes dreams and desires. As a result, they've experienced failed relationships with some of the most compassionate, dedicated, driven, educated, loving, powerful, sophisticated and supportive Black women in the world. Nevertheless, they all have a desire to be loved, express love and enjoy life to the fullest. How can someone help them?
This article is a call to action to alert men that it's okay to be emotional and apprise women of the fact that Black men aren't just being mean. Look, common sense is what is common to that man or woman's experience. So, the next time your partner experiences a significant event in life, let them know they have a safe space to be emotional and vulnerable. It's okay men to speak of your pain from a friend who has betrayed you. It's okay to express that you were crushed by her harsh words of criticism. Express fear that you might not make her happy or don't know what to do because you lost your job. I understand that we can't turn generations of misinformation around tomorrow, but today is our moment. It may seem impossible, but together, couples, we can commit to improving one day at a time.
Franklin Muhammad, EMBA, MHA
Certified Master Sexpert and Clinical Sexuality Coach
TMI Counseling and Coaching