I’m Alright, but I am not Okay

I’m Alright, but I am not Okay

The Black man. Strong. Resilient. Innovative. Intellectual. Spiritual. The Black man. A creative force. Determined. Strong-willed. Tenacious. The Black man. Underestimated. Overlooked. Disenfranchised. Misunderstood. Underserved. Misrepresented. The duality of the Black man is germane. 

As a black man, the initial interaction with another black man or “brother” as we say in the black community, goes like this: 

Me: “What’s up, man? How you doing”?

Fellow Brother: “I’m alright. What about you”? 

Me: “I’m alright”. 

This has become the standard cultural greeting for us but is often far from the truth. As black men, we have been taught and conditioned to suppress, restrain, and withhold any emotions or expressions that could be interpreted as weak and timid. As a result, we suffer silently with frustration, social isolation, and anger, often leading to undiagnosed mental and physical illnesses. 

Photo by Xavier Crooks

In America, we black men have been handed an inheritance of overt racial discrimination, persistent and pervasive poverty, violence, substance abuse, family dysfunction, and a lack of community resources. Regardless of a black man’s educational accomplishments, economic inequality remains prevalent and consistent. Nevertheless, we are required to coexist in a world that seeks to prevent our development and progress. So, we fight. We struggle. We win. We lose. We get knocked down, yet we get up to fight another day. While we fight, we internalize just how tired and frustrated we are. We hide and suppress the feelings of inadequacies, failure, and insecurity. We suffer from sleeplessness, hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. Despite working out, eating healthy, and trying to sleep better, we still suffer. 

As a Pastor and Life Strategist, I’ve often talked with men who have been accused by their spouse, partners, and children of not talking. When asked if they agree with that assessment they answer with, “I talk sometimes, but most of the time I just don’t have anything to say”. Some men even say that they are good talkers. However, being a good talker doesn’t make one a good communicator. It’s a fact that men are hardwired to internalize emotional responses, but it does not mean we don’t have emotions that need to be expressed. 

To the black man, image is everything. He is unwilling to look weak to his woman, his children, his boys, or his community. Therefore, he will go to great lengths to protect and project an image of strength, courage, and determination; even if it means sacrificing his mental and physical health in the process. The truth is, we cannot afford to lose any more good men to strokes, police brutality, or mental illness. 

I believe there are a few positive actions that can help rewrite the narrative of the black man:

1. We must clearly define masculinity. We must go deeper than the appearance of strength and tenaciousness. We must realize and teach that a healthy mind and spirit are all apart of masculine energy. Denying your humanity is not masculinity. Not talking is not masculinity. Being able to express yourself cohesively is masculinity. 

2. Other men must carve out secure spaces for men to have an open and candid conversation about issues that affect us a tribe. Men need those spaces to be filled with other men who are not governed by dysfunctional and antiquated ideas of black masculinity. We must have men who realize that as a tribe we are responsible for helping preserve the unity and stability of our brothers. 

3. Black men must work diligently to continue erasing the stigma that seeking counseling, support groups, or therapy is a sign of feminity, weakness, or failure. 

4. Lastly, we must not assume that because we look and say we’re alright, we’re okay.

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