Perhaps one of my favorite shows on Netflix is Friday Night Tykes. It’s a show featuring children between the ages of 9 and 12 who play violent organized football in Texas, their overzealous parents and the personally and professionally volatile adults who coach them.
Over the past few seasons, the show has delved into how concussions can affect a child’s brain and how over-competitive adults can be a threat to the child’s love of the game, but the most prominent thing we’re shown is how often these young babies are screamed at to “man up.”
In the final episode of the most recent season, the 210 Outlaws—a team comprised predominantly of Black boys—lost a close, hard-fought championship game and the boys were all reduced to tears. They worked so hard for the entire season, and the win slipped away.
Minutes after the final horn signaled the end of the game, the coach was already trashing their tears. It was confusing to watch because even grown ass athletes sometimes cry when their team loses. The lesson these boys learned, like all the rest of the young boys on the show, is that there is no place in our society for being heartbroken.
While the coach may earnestly believe that that is the way you’re supposed to nurture and cultivate strength in adolescent boys (because that’s how many of us were raised), there’s a side to it that many of us don’t understand: how we instill in young boys that an entire part of the human emotional spectrum is unavailable to “real” men.
Far too many of us don’t see how encouraging these boys to ignore their vulnerability undergirds the most negative aspects of toxic hyper-masculinity. An unacceptable number of us don’t realize how this behavior will affect their future relationships, and the ill-fated women they come across.
But there’s another side of the coin that we often don’t look at. When a boy who is screamed at to “man up” by his mother or father, the boy is socialized to view being vulnerable as anathema to strong Black manhood to everyone, boys and girls included. Everyone is raised to believe that as well. While young women may adopt a more evolved position on masculinity as they mature, those scars never leave that boy, no matter how old he gets.
How a boy is taught to handle his masculinity during his formative years will have a lasting effect on how he envisions and defines manhood as an adult. Those boys —like many before them—will define it as being guarded, impervious and nonreactive. Now, imagine taking that mindset into a relationship with a woman eager to engage in a truly open and emotionally earnest manner. Hell, imagine applying that mindset after an emotionally overwrought breakup, and trying to move on to date again. That’s what Black women have been dealing with from Black men for years.
As a Black man who once subscribed to hyper-masculine ideologies with every fiber of my being, who has also been through many traumatic relationship events and a couple of exhausting breakups, I realized there was nothing less sympathetic in our society than a heartbroken Black man. Your boys don’t want to hear it. Your homegirls don’t know how to deal with you, and single women want no parts of you. It’s an incredibly isolating experience, but what makes it so scary is that we feel our intrinsic manhood is being irreparably denigrated every second we allow ourselves to feel. If you want to understand why men deny their sensitivity, it’s because it rests in the “no fly” zone of human emotions.
Until we show young Black boys that their manhood can and should include organically navigating the range of human emotions, we’re going to continue to cultivate Black men who don’t know the first thing about coping, managing, or even accepting their natural feelings.
Lincoln Anthony Blades is the lead anchor for the All Things Being Equal Network. He can be reached HERE on Twitter and HERE on Facebook.