Okay, I admit it. The moment I watched ‘The Purge’, I didn’t completely dismiss the concept altogether. I actual loved it. For those who are not familiar with the film, it is basically an annual national holiday in which all crime, including murder, becomes legal for a 12-hour period (Wikipedia.org). Basically, “The Purge” is a day where people get to release all of their negative suppressed emotions in a way that, just for that moment, is socially acceptable (Freud would’ve had a field day with this!) Although this dystopian idea may appear far fetched (to some), the core of the message should not be immediately rejected.
As a mental health professional, the concept (and subsequent practice) of “purging” is not only necessary, but crucial to our functioning. Unfortunately, society has perverted this idea, and sadly limits what purging should look like. Thus, we continue to digest ideological waste that threatens our overall health.
The Oxford Dictionary defines purging as a process to: 1. Rid (someone or something) of an unwanted quality, condition, or feeling; and to 2. Free someone or something from (an unwanted quality, condition, or feeling). In psychological terms, this is known as catharsis: “providing psychological relief through the open expression of strong emotions…”
Lauryn Hill, arguably one of the most gifted and prolific artists of our time aptly stated on her Unplugged album, “People want fantasy, but what they need is reality.” Now, I would imagine that most individuals that have interacted with the realities of this world would not argue with L-boogie’s theory. However, I would argue that for many, it’s just that — theory. Which is essentially her point. On stage with a guitar, scarf, no makeup, and a raspy voice, Ms. Hill was preachin’ raw and uncut, but most pointedly, Ms. Hill was purging. Right in front of the eyes of her fans she unapologetically stated:
“People think I’m emotionally unstable…and I am.” As if purging like this, was something, well…normal.
I suppose, like most of my writings, I write for dual reasons. However, the primary purpose is because it’s cathartic. Essentially…I’m purging my emotions. This time is no different. Basically, this piece is me attempting to purge my emotions about how Black people — specifically Black men — are not “allowed” to express their emotions, unless done in ways that the dominant culture deems appropriate (i.e. sports). They cannot simply say, “I’m hurting.” without somehow being punished. And with the proliferation of social media trolls, the “shut up” narrative echos throughout like an empty tomb. This intentional and historical narrative continues to harm the health of generations of Black boys and men alike. I will use a recent comment made by a̵n̵ ̵u̵n̵i̵n̵f̵o̵r̵m̵e̵d̵ ̵t̵a̵l̵k̵i̵n̵g̵ ̵h̵e̵a̵d̵ ̵w̵i̵t̵h̵ ̵a̵ ̵b̵o̵u̵t̵ ̵o̵f̵ ̵l̵o̵g̵o̵r̵r̵h̵e̵a̵ a sports commentator to set the stage for a long overdue but urgent discussion.
Admittedly, men in general are not allowed to express their emotions in certain ways. As a social rule men are taught to suppress, dismiss, and reject an emotional disturbance at all costs, lest it might threaten their identity — i.e. their manhood.
Let me be clear, though; although there is an over-arching message continuously reinforced to men in general regarding shame related to expressing lower level emotions such as sadness, hurt, and emotional pain, the effects and consequences are far more harsh for Black men. To demonstrate, I will juxtapose how Black men are allowed to “purge” as compared to their White counterparts.
Let’s consider for a moment the (reckless) comment about Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Dak Prescott. After he publicly divulged that he was suffering from anxiety and depression from a tumultuous off-season which consisted of many traumatic events, namely the tragic suicide of his brother — he was quickly met with disdain after this courageous disclosure. In short, Dak was charged with looking weak, showing a lack of leadership, and ultimately not representing himself in favorable light that is expected of a leader that plays for “America’s team”.
“What does this have to do with BLACK men and mental health? ALLLLL Men…” (pause). Well, let me explain my friendly neighborhood ‘Whataboutologist’.
First let’s look at this on a macro scale. As stated previously, men are far more less likely to report any emotional disturbance such as mood disorders (e.g. Depression, anxiety, etc.) due to the stigma regarding men and mental health. Yes, in general, men and especially male athletes, are indoctrinated into the belief that there is absolutely no room to exhibit any type of weakness, lest they suffer harsh and unfair criticism and questioning of who they are as a man/athlete. However, Black men may not only suffer the same subjugation to such criticism, but it is compounded by the historical content by which it derives. Now, let’s now look at this on a micro level:
Historically, black men have been used strictly for their labor and “rewarded” solely for their physical strength. Since enslavement, it has been clear that any other part of their core being — which includes their emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being was not only seen as unimportant, irrelevant, and without worth, but subject to unimaginable punishment if these core elements of who they are were attended to by the Black man or his family. Unfortunately, these beliefs and attitudes are still being exercised today. “Shut-up and…” is the implicit message that only a portion of your being, (ironically the disposable part) is worthy. “Shut up and…” means I pay you for my entertainment, and that does not include any other valuable pieces to who you are. Even to the detriment of your physical or emotional being — no need to worry though — You’re disposable.
Thus, when we talk about mental health issues we have to look at it with careful scrutiny in regards to how history has played a role in Black men’s mental health today. In her book: Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, Dr. Joy Degruy, discusses how our overall understanding of the past is a “necessary foundation” in understanding how that impacts us currently, and eventually, in the future.
“People want fantasy, but what they need is reality.”
Specifically, with Black men, much of the historical ideology of leaving pieces of their emotional selves untouched, has unconsciously been internalized by Black people as a whole — thus making it even more difficult for Black men to feel safe to express themselves without someone (including their own) shaming them by questioning their strength and fortitude. In addition, when racial profiling, the unceasing killing of Black men, micro-aggressions, and a whole host of racial trauma is currently at the forefront of society, and these experiences are dismissed or disbelieved — why would Black men dare to to expose any vulnerability? Based on their experiences, whether directly or vicariously, their fight or flight response simply will not allow it.
What I am suggesting, is that these instances with Dak Prescott should not be dismissed as just a “dumb comment” from an inconsequential tv personality, but rather, a strongly held belief that permeates locker rooms, networks, and communities like a strong stench that will not go away. The reality is that Dak represents a lot of Black men, and the reckless commentator represents society and history. Divulging any mental health issues, let alone seeking help for mental health matters, takes on exponentially heightened significance for Black men.
“Shut up and…”
Naw, just shut up. It’s time to make space for Black men to heal.