Over the past few years we’ve all bared witness to the heartbreaking assault and murder of black people. We relived the trauma repeatedly through videos shared on news outlets and news feeds. We talked and debated and bemoaned the system. We laughed to keep from crying and sometimes we just shook our heads and shed tears for the black lives lost.
From North Charleston to the streets of Southside Chicago, there was a litany of events that we all endured this past year leaving many of us defeated and deflated. We waded through these troubled waters.
The oppressive violence and trauma affects all black people of all genders. There were more black transwomen killed in the United States this year than any on record.
Black non-transgender women were not immune to police violence and still are experiencing domestic violence, by our hands, at an alarming rate. According to the American Bar Association the number one killer of African-American women ages 15-34 is homicide at the hands of a current or former intimate partner.
However, as we’re getting settled into the new year, I hope that 2016 will be about black men trying to get free from the violence we perpetuate and fall victim to — rather than doubling down on the toxic masculinity that turns women and feminine people to prey or that passes judgment on other men who define their masculinity by what feels right to them, not what makes everyone else comfortable. This year I want Black men to be unafraid — unafraid to smile, dance, show love to our brothers and value our sisters. Here are five ways to get carefree in 2016.
Not being afraid of your own vulnerability or feelings doesn’t make you less of a man, it makes you human.
- Value Women Leadership. Love Femininity. Creating carefree masculinity isn’t just about letting go of limitations. It’s also about our relationship with women. If womanhood and femininity are looked at as a masculine person’s kryptonite, then moving towards a space where masculinity and femininity can work in unison and be influenced by and grow with each other will be impossible. Masculinity shouldn’t be defined by how "opposite" it is to femininity or completely voided because of its presence.Femininity isn’t the enemy. Women are more valuable than just the sum of their parts. The #BlackLivesMatter movement was organized by black women. Our sisters have stepped up as the leaders of this civil rights movement and have shown fearless loyalty and fight for the lives of black men, when we don’t show up for them in the same way. We have to value their lives and trust their leadership.
- Believe This Truth: Rape Culture Is Real. In our culture, rape, sexual assault and violence against women is made normal and so easily denied when women share their stories. The egregiousness is not just the vehement denial of a women’s experience,but the fierce defensiveness, distracting, and victim blaming that follows. It’s never a women’s fault when they’re the victim of sexuality assault. It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing, how much she had to drink, if she said yes before, if she’s a sex worker, or if she’s had multiple partners. You personally may have never sexually assaulted anyone but the idea that a woman can stop her own rape or that sexual assault is not that big of a deal perpetuates a culture that devastates so many.
- Listen More. Talk Less. Ask Questions. Last year a video of a young women being relentlessly harassed while walking down New York City streets went viral. I found myself debating men online for days on end about the validity of women’s concerns and feelings about being cat-called in the street. Many of the men I engaged with flat out refused to believe that a “simple compliment”, even if it’s yelled at a women over 30 times a day, is scary when so many women on the thread were arguing that it was indeed very uncomfortable. Women are not in a perpetual state of consent or in need of our validation from the moment she wakes. Men, or masculine people are not entitled to take up a women’s time and her sexuality belongs to her. Listen to how she feelings. Ask her questions about her experiences without questioning its legitimacy.
- Having Emotions Won’t Kill You. Not being afraid of your own vulnerability or feelings doesn’t make you less of a man, it makes you human. We all have emotions and the ones that make us vulnerable don’t belong to women alone. It’s okay to be head over heels in love, to cry, to be frustrated, to not always know the answer. When we repress our basic human emotions as a way of defining our manhood it creates emotional immaturity that too often hurts the people in our lives, namely women.
- Stop Policing Other People’s Masculinity.There isn’t just one way to be masculine and no one owns the patent on it. A person’s masculine expression should be tethered to their spirit and not a compromise by other people’s expectations or limitation. Odell Beckham, the superstar New York Giants receiver was dogged by fans in online forums and by players on the field because of a video that surfaced of him dancing and having fun with another man. His sexuality was questioned and his manhood challenged. Here is a young man being carefree and having fun in his skin with his brothers but is torn down because he isn’t brutish. There is a gentle and fun-loving charisma to how he carries himself however many folks equated that to him being less of a man instead of him being his own man.These strict limits on how Black masculinity shows up not only silences men who don’t want to fit these molds but also influences the stereotypes that become our own undoing. Darren Wilson, the cop who murdered Mike Brown, justified the cowardly killing by saying that Mike was “Hulk Hogan like” and a “demon.” Too many times Black men are deemed aggressive, violent and criminal just by virtue of existing. Our manhood is so much bigger than that.