(Non)Toxic Masculinity Columns

Linked Fate and the Wounds We Carry

Robert Monson

Months ago, I was privileged to converse with some colleagues and a mental health researcher, Dr. Olajide. In this particular conversation, Dr. Olajide facilitated a conversation about Kanye West and other celebrities that seem to garner intense reactions within our communities, most acutely from Black men. Although our conversation primarily centered around Kanye, I couldn’t help but think about Tory Lanez, Bill Cosby, Kirk Franklin, R. Kelly, and so many more. 

I was curious about why some Black men seem ready to vehemently defend Black male celebrities who do wrong or harm others. Dr. Olajide introduced me to a term that continues to inspire reflection all these months later: linked fate. Ellis P. Monk Jr. describes linked fate as “…the feeling that what happens to one’s group may indelibly shape one’s own life, is variously conceptualized as an aspect of ethnoracial identity, expression of political solidarity, and/or sense of ethnoracial consciousness.” Linked fate is a  phenomenon that causes us to say “what happens to them could happen to me.”

The concept of linked fate has been critical in shaping my understanding of the frenzy that frequently accompanies accusations against Black men. Many people in our community rush to Black men’s defense even when there are multiple indicators of guilt. There seems to be something brewing beneath the surface when men express their opinions on public matters that concern other men, and linked fate might help explain why.  

The concept of linked fate raises many questions: How should we respond when a Black man is accused of harming others in his community by neglecting to pay child support, being violent towards women/children, or committing fraud? How should we respond when the headlines paint a picture of Black men that will, inevitably, come back to hurt us? I am invested in seeking out these answers, even though it can be difficult at times.

Sometimes, the headlines can make it hard to separate my feelings and traumas from current events. I come from a long line of Black men who have been falsely accused, and I often wonder if Black men will ever be given the benefit of the doubt. Throughout history, Black men have been labeled guilty first with corroborating evidence magically materializing after the fact. From Emmett Till to the Exonerated 5, Black men have not been given the privilege of being innocent until proven guilty. 

Perhaps the first step in handling our emotions when we hear allegations against Black men is to recognize that our feelings matter. We live in a world that regularly dehumanizes us by forcing us to litigate our right to be seen, heard, and validated. Processing our emotions with the right people, in the right ways, and at the right time can help us manage our feelings when we find ourselves triggered by current events. 

It is also important for us to recognize that, although we are part of a collective with which we might share a sense of linked fate, we should still name when our brothers commit wrongs and do harm to others. Naming wrongs can further our collective liberation. 

It is my sincere hope that we will learn to process all that we’ve survived–our traumas, our treatment by society, and all of the burdens we carry with us everywhere we go–and that our sense of linked fate will become the thing that sets us free.