March 30, 2023 | CDF-Ohio Youth Blog
By Emanuel Addae Aweah, Ohio State University Undergraduate
By Emanuel Addae Aweah, Ohio State University Undergraduate
Black men are some of the best actors, yet most of us have never acted. In our lives, we’ve worn so many masks, played so many roles, drawn to exhaustion, the curtains are closing, and the end credits are rolling. I sit and ask myself how I even got this role that I never auditioned for. Who placed me in this scene? I want out. I just want to play me.
During my final year of undergrad, I reminisce about why I came to college in the first place. Aside from the desire for more knowledge, I wanted to finally know myself. For the last 17 years, my life was laid out for me, I just had to follow the blueprint, I’ve been coasting by on autopilot. It was time for me to grow in a new environment and play all the cards I’d been dealt by my rules. In a journey unlike any other, there were high learning curves, different friends, different activities, and moments of joy and despair. After all these years, here I was, holding my cards in my hands, and it finally dawns on me that I am not sure who I am, or who I want to be, but I soon realized that I wasn’t alone and that this was a common thing among my peers.
Black males are born into these challenging roles from the beginning, and we bear the brunt of society’s stereotypes. The negative media portrayal of Black men heavily outweighs the positive. Black males are tied to a set of stereotypes and assumptions deeply rooted in the history of slavery, which gets reinforced by how the media portrays Black male violence and criminality. In fact, one 2020 study from the National Research Group found that two in three Black Americans feel misrepresented in media and on screen. In most cases, people don’t stop to consider how this impacts a Black male’s racial identity, but Black men like myself don’t get the luxury of being able to shrug this type of treatment off because we’re living it, day in and day out, like a shift at work for a job we never applied for.
Racial identity development is vital for adolescents of color who are faced with negative race-related interactions (Cross, 1991; Parham & Helms, 1981). As a society, we must recognize our role in this, if we always show black males in a negative light, and only lift them up for their athletic, entertainment, and musical achievements, we box them into these identities where we do not promote their growth. This prevents black males from forming their own identity based on what they like or want to do because everyone has already defined it for them. It’s okay for a Black male to be a teacher, engineer, politician, or doctor. In fact, we need more of them, now more than ever. In data released early this year, the Association of American Medical Colleges found that just 5.7% of physicians in the United States identify as Black or African American—and this has significant consequences on public health, especially for Black patients. For example, one study found the impact is so significant that the disparity between cardiovascular deaths among Black patients versus white patients could be reduced by as much as 19% if Black patients were treated by Black doctors.
As Black males, it feels like we have timers set on us, we only get certain identities for a certain amount of time. In the blink of an eye, we were cute, bubbly toddlers, and now society and the media have labeled us as imbeciles, incapable of fitting into the norms of what a Black male is supposed to do and act like. Once you break those restraints your time as being seen as innocent has run out. Living life on the edge, I constantly ask myself, “Does this make me look too Black or am I not Black enough?” These are skills we weren’t taught in school, only in “this is my life, this is the truth” class. At age six, I learned you cannot walk into a store with your hoodie on and you better not have your hands in your pockets. At age 12, I learned my skin is dark and my peers can’t see me when the lights went off in the class, which made me wonder how I can get lighter to fit in At age 16, I learned how to code-switch my speech or certain opportunities would not be granted to me. At age 18, I learned not to walk too close to white women, not to look at them too long, and do whatever I can to make them feel safe, even though I’m subconsciously villainizing myself in my mind. There are always just little nuances that come with being a Black male. It just felt like: who am I? Who can I be?
As I became my true self, the world shunned me, but if I played by society’s rules, I lost the grace of who I am. Since I came to see that this is a struggle a lot of other Black males face, I wanted to find out how to solve this issue, where it comes from, and how I can try to help ease into a solution. I believe that a big change that we need to have within the Black male community is a renewed sense of brotherhood and community. There’s too much unnecessary competition. I want to live in a world where communities of Black men build each other up – not one where, if I learn how to do something new, and my brother wants to learn how I did it, why would I deny him the opportunity because I fear he may be better than me. As we build this sense of community and foster it between us, we have control over how the media depicts us; although the media can say whatever it wants, if we’re in a community together, where we witness positivity in those who look like us, that is what you’re going to remember. Us as black men, we rarely get to experience intimacy from each other, the moments where we can break down the wall without fear of the next man, women, individual using it to suppress you. A lot of us walk around with so much baggage up in our mind, that we would love to unload and just feel relief from just for a moment; but our identity is so tied to having to showcase just being a “man” 24/7 and whatever stereotypes come with that. I have a friend, Cole, who told me that sometimes the pressure just gets to be a little too much, too many people expecting so much out of you, demanding life out of you that you sometimes even forget that you’re also just human too, and humans need moments of breath before we keep moving forward, moments of help from each other before we keep moving forward, someone to take the step with me before we keep moving forward. Utilizing mental health resources also goes a very long way. I’m glad that mental health is getting more attention, but there are still outdated stigmas around it that need to fade. We’re too reliant on ourselves, and see it as unmanly to ask for help, we’re full of so much pride and ego that it causes us harm in the long run. As Black males, we owe it to ourselves to have that outlet to vent frustrations and concerns and have room to reflect that therapy gives; we owe it to our generation to break generational curses due to unresolved trauma.
Finding our racial identity can mean spending time outside of our comfort zones, which can be isolating – but it’s not just worth it, it’s necessary. You may be the only one out of your friends who enjoys painting, or maybe crocheting, or coding, but just because you may not see other people who look like you in those areas doesn’t mean you should hide your passion and pride. I’m begging of my brothers who, like me, have been given a role we never asked for and are yearning to live our own truth: keep pushing, be the trailblazer, be the person you wish you would’ve had for that individual who is now in the place where you used to be growing up Black in America. Learning to understand yourself and nurture the desires that you shy away from in the world due to the fear of judgement is harm to yourself. Cultivate who you want to be, outside of the expected or the “norm”, and be the best. Like Cole said, “If you don’t aim too high, then you aimed to low.”
Emanuel Addae Aweah is currently the social chair and event coordinator for Prep Scholars Mentorship and Marketing Chair for Black Mental Health Coalition. Emanuel is currently a Psychology major with a focus on Pre-Medicine at the Ohio State University and a Patient support Assistant at Ohio Health Doctor’s Hospital.