(Non)Toxic Masculinity Columns

The Beautiful Cord Surrounding Black Men

Robert Monson

Brown skin, you know I love your Brown skin. I can’t tell where yours begins. I can’t tell where mine ends. -India Arie

A new day begins


The exhaustion of thousands of stressors pull me (us) in every direction.

         I have waited this long to explicitly think about my maleness out loud, to write for you all, with you all, in ways that call my specific community to the foreground. Part of my delay has been searching for points to anchor my masculinity to. When I think about some of the experiences that should be common (and enjoyable) for Black men in America, such as going to barbershops or various forms of Black churches, I have had to come to the reality that not all Black men have grown up feeling loved and accepted in those spaces. Some of those spaces have been the source of trauma rather than joy and healing. 

Untangling myself from all that Black males are not, while trying to survive, has been a lifelong journey. To add to this, I have engaged in forms of Christianity that attempted to extract the Blackness out of my maleness, producing confusion in me beyond belief. Today, I simply want to write about some of the things that I have discovered on my journey to recover my Black malehood. I also hope to give language to a beautiful cord that I believe binds us as Black men together.

         Am I Black and proud? Absolutely. Am I proud to be Black and a man? You got it. It is important for me to name that here because…simply because I said so. Even as I proclaim that, there is a twinge of guilt. Am I aware of the plethora of issues that surround Black men in my own community? Of course. The issues and damage that we have caused are innumerable. Fears within and misogyny expressed in a multitude of ways plague us. I will continue to do my part in doing the work within myself and amongst my brothers until I go home to be with Jesus. With all of that said, Black men are more than the sum total of our brokenness. We are more than tools to be used and inflictors of damage. We are certainly more than what the media has portrayed us to be. My starting point for thinking of my being, for the being of my brothers is that we were created intentionally in God’s heart; we were meant to be loved, cherished, and protected in our belovedness to God.

         Black men have unique struggles that sit at the intersection of our identity in a society that threatens us. Sometimes it feels like nobody is listening to what we have to say. Maybe it feels like we don’t know who to turn to with the burdens that we are carrying. Unfortunately, when we begin to articulate ourselves, it often seems to be at the wrong time or in the wrong delivery mechanism. I can say personally that I have been and am guilty of this. I want to know in some way; does anybody see what I, as a Black man am going through? Do you hear me?  

Ain’t I a son too? Ain’t I someone’s son?

  The misconceptions that we move through the world benefiting from a patriarchal society *in the same way* as the white men who built this country are false. It doesn’t help, of course, that the most vocal among us seem to be famous, rich, and adjacent to whiteness. The simple truth is that Black men, although distinctly benefiting from male privilege (more scholarly work needs to be done here to illuminate what Black male privilege is), are multiply marginalized in a society built to dehumanize and emasculate us. Most of us have not risen to grand positions of power and instead are killed on the streets by police officers quickly, overlooked for jobs by those who are less talented than we are, and are insulted constantly in workplaces all across our country. On top of all of this, there is a crisis concerning our mental health that has been spilling over for many decades due to compounded trumas, the oversexualizing of our bodies, the subsequent viewing of our bodies and nature as beastly, being overlooked, and exhausted to the core.

Ain’t I a son too? Ain’t I someone’s son? 

The Beautiful Cord

         What is a Black man? What makes me so proud at my age to be Black and a man? Many of my answers come out as incoherent phrases or tears. Much of what I can express is that I feel in the core of my being that I am at my best when with my brothers. 

I will say that I have observed a Beautiful Cord that binds us as Black men to one another: love for God, love for our brothers, love for the community (this community can be small or expansive and can include a host of genders, races, etc.), and the search for intimate love. I am open to being wrong about the Beautiful Cord. I am also open to people adding to or subtracting from the concept that I am sketching out. (I am aware that many Black men don’t believe in God. For those who don’t, I can only speculate from conversations, but I have found that they have leaned upon the other elements of the Beautiful Cord in order to ground themselves.)  I use the image of a cord because I picture Black men being connected in a complex web of relationships and actions. 

As I close this writing I want to leave the image from Toni Morrison’s book Beloved. In this beautiful book, a particular scene in The Clearing holds much for Black men. In The Clearing, a space set apart from the world, Black men, women, and children, under the direction of the main character Baby Suggs, holy danced, wept, and expressed their full range of emotions. I sincerely pray for and hope for beautiful spaces of rest and reprieve, where we can be our total selves. These Clearings must be free from those who would ogle and dehumanize us; a place where we can be home.