Much literature exists to demonstrate the challenges of being Black and male in America. Yet literature discussing how to be supportive of Black men is comparatively non-existent. This essay will attempt to briefly address this topic and in so doing, fill that void. I think this is a relevant topic based on countless conversations I’ve had with brothers over the years.
I must confess that I write this from a vantage point colored by my own experiences and viewpoints. This is important to note, as Black men are diverse with respect to class, sexual identity, education level, religious/political perspective, and any number of other distinctions. I cannot presume to speak for all Black men ( though my views on this matter are shared by many I’ve spoken to), so allow me to define my parameters: For the purpose of this essay when I refer to Black men I mean sociopolitically conscious, heterosexual, Black men born in America.
This essay does not argue that life is easy or easier for Black women. Nor do I want to spark any heated and wasteful competitive “Olympics of oppression ” between us. I am simply dealing with the pressures we face, and some suggestions for how our sisters can be supportive of us.
What unique problems do Black men face in America? There is simply not enough time or space to paint this gigantic complex mural, so permit me to draw a basic sketch:
1. Homicide is the #1 cause of death for black men between 15 and 29 years of age and has been for decades. 2. Of the 16,000 homicides in this country each year, more than half are committed by black men. A black man is 7 times more likely to commit a murder than a white man and 6 times more likely to be murdered. 3. 94% of all black men who are murdered are murdered by other black men. 4. The life expectancy at birth of black men is 69 years compared to 75 years for white men. 5. In the past several decades, the suicide rate among young black men has increased more than 100%. 6. Black males have national high school dropout rates of more than 50%. 7. Young black men are twice as likely to be unemployed as white men, hispanic men, and asian men. 8. As many as 1 in 4 young black men are, have been or will be in the criminal justice system. 9. About 1/3 of the homeless are black men. 10. As much as 20% of Black men suffer from major depression and other mental health issues, and nearly 54% of these go untreated.
In addition, there is a consensus among many Black men that they feel pressured to be the major breadwinner, are expected to be strong for others but deal with their own pain silently, and that no one takes their opinion or viewpoints seriously, even on issues where they have expertise or are highly accomplished! Court-sanctioned child support orders, often unfairly calculated, leave many Black men broke, underemployed, and isolated from their children. In short, many of our brothers are highly STRESSED, PRESSURED, ISOLATED, BROKE, NOT LISTENED TO, AND MISUNDERSTOOD by those they love. These conditions lead to disproportionate instances of hypertension, stroke, heart attacks, incarceration, mental disorders, drug abuse, and homicide/suicide.
I would not be dumb enough to blame these conditions on Black women, who for the most part, continue to be our largest and most reliable source of support. However, precisely for this reason, I want to share a few suggestions with our sisters so that they can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem when dealing with their men. If you already employ these things, great. But I humbly suggest that you read on to incorporate those things you find useful.This is not about finger-pointing or blame games. This is about having the tools and strategies to be there for the Black men in your life so that they are empowered to be there for you.
1. Admit when you are wrong without justifying your behavior or playing the tit for tat game.
2. Encourage the brother to share his feelings with you BEFORE a crisis occurs.
3. Allow him time and space to himself or with friends/family.
4. Ask him about his interests. Be concerned with the things he cares about.
5. If you see him working diligently toward a positive goal, ask if he needs or would appreciate your assistance.
6. Incorporate his expertise in a field when/if the time arises. Ask his opinion about such things.
7. Every now and then, start a conversation about topics HE’S enthused about. Many men are annoyed with small talk or bantering about things he finds irrelevant.
8. If you have a grievance with him, state it clearly and concisely without drama.
9. Contrary to the stereotype, men are not always in the mood for sex. Sometimes we too are tired, stressed or aching. When we are not in this mood, we expect you to be as understanding as we are when you feel similarly.
10. Be proactive. Sometimes do the things he likes without him having to ask you.
11. Study him and take time to really know him, how he thinks, what annoys or pleases him.
12. Apologize to and thank him for the big and little things he does. He may play it down, but he appreciates such gestures.
13. Do not use the children as a means to “punish” him. This will incur his resentment and the children will suffer.
14. Use child support when necessary. If he’s trustworthy, allow him to create a payment plan that is fair to you, and that allows him to live as well.
15. Don’t hold long grudges after an argument. Allow him to make things up to you.
16. Try not to get defensive or argumentative when he raises an issue. Assume there is some validity to his feelings and perspective.
17. Don’t lie to appease him or he won’t trust you. Find a diplomatic way to share difficult opinions.
18. Display good leadership and judgement with your children. This demonstrates to a man that he can trust your leadership and decision-making in other areas.
19. Encourage him to see a doctor if you notice possible health issues.
20. Remind him that you love him even when you’re upset.
21. If he loves and respects you, he might be uncomfortable with you dressing in an inappropriate or overly revealing way. Be patient and understanding. Not every man is out to control or oppress you.
22. You expect him to defend you or be protective. Do the same for him. If someone attempts to disrespect him, defend him as well. Verbally and tastefully, of course.
23.NEVER (unless he has physically assaulted you, or something as egregious) call the police or even threaten to call the police on your man. Police kill and assault Black men regularly. An unnecessary call made in anger could well result in your man being severely beaten or killed by police. If you do this, your man may begin seeing you as an enemy or someone he can’t trust. In any case, he will likely never look at you the same.
No amount of reading so-called relationship advice books, conferring with your girlfriends (especially those who are not in a stable relationship themselves), going to chat rooms, astrology, numerology, etc. will set you right with your man. To do this, you must engage HIM directly, and demonstrate intelligence, good judgement, respect for his ideas, etc. There is no way around this. Being stubborn, unreasonable, overemotional, etc. will likely lead you to the Bitter and Alone Black Woman Club, or will lead him to explore sideline relationships while he’s still with you (temporarily).
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.”
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at email@example.com.