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Decolonise Me VII: The Systemic Barriers Against Black Male Vulnerability

Dwight: Can I ask a question?  Do you find my vulnerability in my blogs a bit pathetic at times?

‘Toxic blacsculinity’ is a term I have coined and used in other blogs, papers and interviews over the years.  The term for me speaks of the adapted for of masculinity black men utilise as a means of surviving the past generational horrors of slavery.  From the beatings of black men on the slave blocks to determine their worth, to the othering and objectifying of our sexual potency, black masculinity has endured traumas which have inevitably become internalised over generations (Akbar, 1984).  Traumatic adaptations which now express themselves in hyper-masculinity, for example.  From the worst edges of the rap or hip hop industry to the machismo of certain black sports personalities, there also seems to be injunctions against black men bucking these racialised trends within capitalist or white supremacist environs.  Meaning it is especially difficult for those black men who want to or are capable of doing so, to step outside of these self-othering, stereotypical tropes of internalised racism.

Like the footballer who expresses care and concern for poor children during a time of covid-19 lockdown, or the grime artist who sponsors future academics to attend courses at Cambridge or Oxford, stepping outside, showing our care and vulnerability for self and other, is often met with a fury and an anger (Various, 2021).  A call for black men to know their place.  A call for black men to return to their box of racialised compliance and supplication (Platell, 2018). 

A Dream: Scene where i am watching as an Asian man (who looks like a gangsta of some type) pretends to get a shave from a woman whilst sitting in front of his crew, so as to avoid the attentions of a matriarch who approaches outside.

The dream changes to where I am watching a Drone flying somewhere through a tunnel only to run into traffic as literally dozens or hundreds of other drones are flying in the opposite direction. My drone tries to rise above this sea of drones but there isn’t enough air up there, so in the end he comes back down into the tunnel to follow the crowd of drones and see where this is going, taking me as well. 

There are those whose ideas could be useful here in understanding this failure to see or recognise the pain of black men.  Echoing Laing (1969) in his recognition of the behavioural aspect of psychiatry and psychiatric diagnosis, and how this often led to the misdiagnosis of many, including Persons of Colour, the fact that the failure to recognise the pain and emotionality of black men is a part of this mental health misstep should not be underestimated. 

The opposite though of the castration of black male vulnerability is black male performativity.  When I borrow the feminist lens highlighted by Butler (1988) and shine the light of race through it, performativity places our own morality in the hands of the white subject.  We defer to them as they expect us to, and we hide our vulnerability, or our reality as a consequence. 

This dream above in many ways speaks for this, and itself.  The colonised self has internalised the gangsta act, incorporating it into the socially constructed part of the false self.  Afraid to be seen as vulnerable by the other parts of the dream, other parts of the psyche.  The drones are all the same, all going counter to my direction, yet I give up taking my own path.  I defer to them, I slide down into the darkness and go with the flow. 

This is literally how racial adaptation works.  In the denial of our vulnerability, we are encouraged to remain silent in the shadow, hidden lest I, lest we, make the white other, or the coloniser subject, uncomfortable in my/our humanity.  I am told to just toe the line, to endure every systemic horror and abuse present within systemic white supremacy.  From ‘micro’ aggressions to enduring the horrors of racism, a black man is never allowed to react. Never.  Out of fear of anything from being ostracised to death. 

It should be noted that this is not just about competing masculinities.  This is also about the systemic rejection of emotional blackness which many cultures reject, and which even sits embedded within our own.  That a good number of white women, as well as some black women and black men, also struggle with seeing the humanity of black masculinity, shows how deep this internalisation runs.  For example, I recall how when I had Covid-19 last summer, how I spent a week on my own in bed, sleeping when I had to, eating when I had enough energy to do so.  Friends and family rallied around mem sending medicines or bringing food and leaving it on the doorstep, their aid never forgotten.  Yet, my partner at the time failed to realise I was in need, not recognising my fear at having to submit to something which had killed hundreds of thousands of people in the United Kingdom alone.  My isolation didn’t register, my fear whilst I was sick.  She didn’t see my vulnerability.  She’s gone now. 

A Story: My daughter doesn’t live with me.  I therefore miss her every day.  Recently, she came to me before bedtime, and she was sad.  I asked her what was wrong, and she said that she was sad because she would not see me that weekend, because I was working.  She told me that she missed me.  I was deeply touched by this, and almost in tears, as I told her that I missed her as well.  We then had a long talk about what we would do on our next weekend together, which left her happier.  When she was in bed that night I pondered on this.  I considered how that would never have happened with my own father; how he would not have even noticed that I was down, or there was never the relational space to say that I wanted to spend time with him.  He was an island.  I was his atoll. 

The decolonisation of black masculinity involves the difficult work of exploring and understanding the internalisations of invulnerability which made us who we needed to be in order to survive.  That they are very much rooted in the collective traumas of our past is undeniable.  As is the fact that these show themselves through the isolations of our elders, the unemotionality of our fathers, the stoicism of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers as well, shows just how deeply rooted many of these behaviours have been, are now, and are in danger of becoming. 

This makes toxic blacsculinity something more than the social construction of toxic masculinity of which we are related. This makes our own experiences something constructed out of the fallout of our engagement with the intersections of whiteness and colonialism.  This ability to reveal who we are on a feeling, on an emotional level, therefore will also challenge our sisters to see us anew.  It will mean a relational realignment with those who desire us, but who have been met by coldness and indifference in their dads and their male elders. 

If we truly want to take back control of what it is to be a black man, to be black men, then we need to see and reject the civilisations of blackness clothed around us as part of the colonial project (a move from that which was deemed to save us from savagery of our primitive past) (Fanon, 1959). As we therefore walk out of the shadow stoicism of invulnerability, and embrace the artistic sensitivity which makes us so much more, we then begin to recognise that black masculinity is a broadening mass which includes the Billy Porters, the Prince’s, and the Stuart Hall’s, alongside the Nelson Mandela’s, the Luke Cage’s and the Muhammed Ali’s.

It is our black male vulnerability which will return us to wholeness.       

Ophelia van Dyke: Goodness no! I think you write from a place of strength.  The vulnerability you show allows people to connect with you as well!


Akbar, N. (1984). Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery. New Mind.

Butler, J. (1988). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Theatre Journal, 40(4), 519.

Fanon, F. (1959). A dying colonialism. Penguin Limited.

Laing, R. D. (1969). Self and others. Penguin Books Limited.

Platell, A. (2018). Platell’s People: Can’t you show a scintilla of gratitude, Stormzy? MailOnline.

Various. (2021). Defaced Marcus Rashford mural covered in supportive notes. BBC News.