By CK LeDaniel
I open my eyes
& brace myself
for the exploits
of police branches
in our neo-lynching;
bruised fruit hanging from hashtags.
~ Andre G, Black Boy Feelings
Co-Authors Richard Bryan and Jeana Lindo, Black Boy Feelings
Black boys and men are often perceived by the world as hard, impassive, impervious to pain or emotion. As moms of Black sons, we know our boys have feelings. I’ve been there in the trenches with my son’s feelings. It’s been my privilege to be there, to support him when he is sad or scared, to join him when he is joyful, and to help him unpack his anger or his hurt. As moms, we also know that the mistaken characterization of our sons as unfeeling is part of what allows for their callous treatment by the world. It plays a role in their being selectively targeted for the school-to-prison pipeline. It contributes to their being profiled, brutalized, and murdered by law enforcement, whether as children or adults.
Not long ago, my son attended a book party for a friend of his. The name of the book? Black Boy Feelings; Volume 1: Boyhood. That friend, Richard Bryan, who is one of the two editors of Black Boy Feelings, along with Jeana Lindo, allowed me to interview him about their publication. I was surprised to find that much of their emphasis was on how Black boys and men themselves internalize their depiction as hard. What we know about how the world regards our sons, they know in even more nuanced ways. They know it in friendships, in intimate relationships, in the workplace, on the sports field, in their creative expression. They experience every day the expectation that they suppress and contain their feelings, deny their feelings, like all men do – only more so because they are Black. Because they are Black, they are subject to a hyper-masculinity. And ironically, they are sometimes forced to become dispassionate in order to endure the consequences of their misperception as such.
In an effort to address this, Bryan, a multidisciplinary artist and journalist, and Lindo, also a multidisciplinary artist, solicited artworks and writings that addressed what it means to grow up as a Black boy. Here is an excerpt from my interview with him:
Richard, can you share with me what you hope to achieve with Black Boy Feelings?
Honestly, the hope is that we can shed more light on the infinite variety that exists within the spectrum of Black masculinity. We want Black men to think more deeply about their emotions and believe that their artwork is valid and valuable. Mainstream society is mostly only concerned with Black art when it has a directly quantifiable entertainment aspect and so the book is a means of displaying a wider spectrum of art and the Black experience.
How does Black Boy Feelings seek to change perceptions of Black men?
The primary way is as an internal change in the Black community by saying that not only is it okay to feel emotion, it is also imperative to find ways to properly express both positive and negative feelings. Black men are constantly under pressure and we want them to know that sharing their feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. Externally, Black boys and men are pretty much seen exclusively as either victims or perpetrators of crime, so ideally, the book can both soften and deepen the world’s perception of us.
Did you get any submissions that related to experiences with law enforcement?
We had a few pieces that related to law enforcement. All of them were negative, but that’s mostly because we, as Black men, tend to be disproportionately targeted by the police. For example, last year I was arrested and jailed for 27 hours for having a warrant on an unpaid $25 ticket for biking on the sidewalk, which is pretty absurd.
Do you feel you have to make a conscious effort to remind people you are a person with a full range of emotions?
Yeah, I mean even my parents are quick to fall into the “be a man” type of thing. Granted, they’re Jamaican, so a lot of that is deeply ingrained in their culture but it’s still not conducive to genuine emoting. Even amongst my friends sometimes, even though we tend to be better about it, I find that sometimes I have to remind them that we’re not robots and that we’ve gotta be careful what we say to each other.
What would you like a group like Moms of Black Boys United to take away from reading this book? We are roughly 180,000 mothers who are worried about our sons.
I think that it is important for Black mothers not only to raise their sons with the fear of how the world is going to treat them but to legitimately listen to them and allow them to be themselves. The world is going to look at us suspiciously no matter how much respectability politics we’re pumped full of, so a balance has to be found between preparing our sons to be able to survive and allowing them to flourish.
What would you like Black boys and men to get from your book?
It’s okay to express yourself to each other. Tell your friends you love them while you still can. Sharpen your swords. Practice your craft no matter what it is. Make more art.
Will there be a volume 2?
There will be! We’re currently collecting submissions for the upcoming volume Black Boy Feelings: Things My Mother Taught Me. Well then, I know around 180,000 mothers who will be looking forward to Volume 2! For those who would like to purchase a copy, visit blackboyfeelings.com.