Black masculinity’s role in society has been a topic of heated debate for decades. Most recently, the success of Creed III has brought attention to this conversation putting it back into focus brilliantly. It’s also been expertly explored in music through Kendrick Lamar’s emotive album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and Nas’ King’s Disease Trilogy. I’ve also explored the topic in my own work as expressed in my book Letters to the Sons of Society: A Father’s Invitation to Love, Honestly and Freedom. A consistent thread throughout these works is the narrative that society has placed unrealistic expectations on Black men, forcing us into a never-ending cycle of excessive toughness and limited vulnerability. These expectations significantly impact Black men's relationships with our children, our partners, the world and ourselves.
As a writer and storyteller I learned early on, to be mindful of one-dimensional narratives that constrained our potential and homogenized our individuality. This realization gave me a deeper sense of responsibility when crafting our stories. I knew it would be important for me to approach them with a sense of hope, fill them with optimism, highlight our opportunities, and articulate my belief that anything is achievable, while being honest about our traumas failures and painful moments. Instead of focusing only on dead-end roads, I envisioned endless paths across a beautiful expanse, like a spaceship journeying towards the unknown fueled by love and hope. A love and hope that weren’t hazy, unfocused ideals—but strong and potent counters to a societal narrative hellbent on boxing us into monolithic narratives.
As Black men, we need to fully embrace our humanity by loving deeply and unapologetically. We must break free from the limiting stereotypes imposed on us by society and embrace the endless possibilities of what it means to be both Black and male. To achieve this, we must have the courage to write our own narratives, showcasing the full spectrum of our humanity, from tenderness to strength and everything in between. Only then can we experience true freedom. It's time to move away from the all-or-nothing mindset that has figuratively and literally imprisoned Black men, and to move towards a more compassionate and nuanced understanding of what it means to be a Black man in today's society.
We are warriors, fighting a never-ending battle which starts in our childhood, of constantly striving to meet the expectations of a world that does not always see us for who we truly are.
Yes, we are warriors, fighting a never-ending battle which starts in our childhood, of constantly striving to meet the expectations of a world that does not always see us for who we truly are. We are expected to be strong, unbreakable, and stoic when navigating work, play, artistry, and entrepreneurial pursuits, yet tender, vulnerable and loving when we are at home. It's a dance that we have been taught to perform with grace, but one that can leave us feeling exhausted and alone. This stark contrast doesn't leave room for nuance or a deep understanding of how complex it is for us to move between these spaces while interchanging the masks we wear.
Our reactions on social media to Black men showing authentic, vulnerable and non-conforming masculine behavior brings this complexity into focus. A$AP Rocky was criticized for appearing on Rihanna’s cover of British Vogue for walking behind her while carrying their child. I saw it as him being a supportive partner and loving father. Then Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors were criticized just for showing admiration and friendship while promoting their film Creed III. To me, all of these artists showed that being a Black man is about more than toughness and aggression; it’s also about love, camaraderie and celebration, both publicly and privately.
As a man who values emotional growth and deep connection, I feel fortunate to be able to hug and embrace my father, my friends and my son deeply and often. It's more than just a casual greeting; it's a meaningful and affirming hug that imprints our souls onto each other and acknowledges all aspects of our identities. As a writer, I have the privilege of exploring the painful and traumatic events of my childhood and how they shaped me before and after my own incarceration, as well as the unbridled joy of being a doting dad, and the sense of fulfillment in my love life and career.
When we forge a new path where tenderness is valued, love is essential, and our friendships are deep and meaningful, society will be forced to recognize the importance of a more inclusive and positive representation of Black masculinity.
I believe we are and will continue to forge new paths where tenderness is valued, love is prioritized, and friendships are authentic and meaningful. We are worthy of the beautiful things and experiences that soften the hard edges, soften our home lives and soften our experiences in the world. Our tears, laughter, joy and intellectual prowess are needed, as much our strength, resilience and hustle. It's time for us to seek out moments of connection and embrace love and emotional availability as strengths. I believe we should celebrate our complex and multidimensional identities as Black men and continue to write our own narratives of hope and possibility.
When we forge this new path, one where tenderness is valued, love is essential, and our friendships are deep and meaningful, society will be forced to recognize the importance of a more inclusive and positive representation of Black masculinity. The success of Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors' creative collaboration on Creed III, as well as Kendrick Lamar's Grammy-winning album and Nas and Hitboy's epic run with the King's Disease trilogy, are examples of how Black men are more than capable of successful collaborations, emotional vulnerability and writing our own narratives. Word by word, song by song, film by film, we are dismantling harmful stereotypes and expectations that have been imposed on Black men for far too long. By embracing all aspects of ourselves, we are creating a brighter future for everyone. Let us continue creating works that celebrate our depth and lived experience to remind ourselves, and the rest of the world, who we really are.
Shaka Senghor is the New York Times best-selling author of "Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption"in an American Prison," and released his second book "Letters to the Sons of Society: A Father’s Invitation to Love, Honestly and Freedom" in January 2022. He currently serves as Vice President, Corporate Communications at the tech company Navan.