From Blaxploitation to violence to misogyny, Black men in mainstream media have gone through phases of what it means to be a Black man in the US. Despite the flow through these phases, the stereotypes and internalized oppression Black men experience from it are glued to their psyche like glitter. Keep in mind that these portrayals of Black men aren’t typically developed by Black men themselves, but rather by money hungry White men who control mainstream media, or the “Big 6”. Whether it’s the war on drugs, poverty, or the lingering impact of slavery, many young Black males are missing positive male role models in their lives, so they idolize the fame, glory, and messages sent by mainstream artists who are just byproducts of white superiority and racism.
Mainstream media has socialized men into believing that they are inadequate if they fail to meet certain expectations or if they deviate from this socially constructed norm. For example, if a young boy or man is emotionally expressive or compassionate, they are often called “gay” (as if that’s a bad thing) or they’re emasculated. This standard is unrealistic and impacts multiple facets of their lives. Whether inherited or nurtured, femininity tends to warrant more emotional awareness and compassion, which are a reality and an expectation for a lot of women for men. Often, this lack of emotional expression causes strain on intimate connections and relationships with women, because the suppression of male vulnerability is present. Additionally, education is often a method to invalidate one’s Black identity. The lack of skills building that comes into play and the lack of knowledge on practice to theory or transference of energy has negative lifetime consequences.
While higher education is an institution for self-exploration, personal/professional growth and development, and the creation of lasting relationships, it is also a place of conformity, rules and regulations, as well as investment. A very small percentage of Black men make it to higher education, and of that small percentage, even fewer graduate. When they come to college, they tend to come unprepared academically, socially, and professionally. The opportunities offered for students are often what keep them there and allow for them to succeed. Unfortunately, colleges are running on tight budgets where programs and services dedicated to Black men, and underrepresented students, are often the first to go and the last to come back. Astin’s Input-Environment-Outcome model is very important to acknowledge when looking at this population. Their input, without proper environmental stimuli, may lead to a negative output. Professionals aim to prepare college students for the real world, but if proper systems aren’t in place to facilitate this flow, then colleges are failing their students. For example, if a Black male has been involved with the criminal justice system for dealing drugs, we shouldn’t take the deficit view, but rather transfer those skills and that energy into something positive. We need to address the behaviors and not the person, because these aren’t bad people. They are exercising their basic human instincts of survival, which happened to manifest itself into something that is criminalized.
How do we, as professionals, show other options when they feel that this is their only option? How do we look at this Black male and see him as a business man with great sales skills. How do we create a space for Black male emotional expression and vulnerability? What can we do to facilitate growth that won’t negatively impact their relationships with significant others in the future? How do we turn them into advocates for women’s rights, nonviolence, and conflict resolution? Do we continue to criminalize them as people or do we redirect their behavior and energy in a new direction? Finally, how do we create avenues for successful Black males to intervene in the lives of these high potential youth?