An Open Letter to Black Men on Mental Health

Kid Kudi, Luke Cage and the Myth of the Bulletproof Man

Andre Spivey

Andre has over 10 years of experience in Tech and Start-ups ranging from the advanced tech in the US Air Force to building his own educational software company Live 2 Learn Differently. His is a proud graduate of Morris Brown College and Cornell University.

“Stop crying, suck it up, toughen up! The world won’t stop for your tears!” These are all of the things that I heard growing up as a young boy.

 

These are the very sayings and motivational mantras that have helped me through some of the most challenging parts of my life, but they also left a missing since of something during other times in my life.

 

Toughness is a value and virtue that all of us need to survive and thrive here on Earth, but the definition of toughness remains something complicated, aloof, ever changing and debated among men.

 

Just like most my peers, I spent the majority of my life, having never, ever seen men cry aside from rare occasions, such as when friends and family died. Many of these sayings affected me much more deeply and negatively than I expected.

 

I internalized these beliefs and was able to use this mentality and mantra to succeed in some areas, but this same attitude caused me to fail other areas. Having a steady diet of Iceberg Slim, Hip Hop, Hollywood machismo glory films, doesn’t necessarily enhance a person’s willingness and ability to express and accept feelings.

 

Feelings, mental health, and honesty with oneself is trial and error for most men because we are not practiced in it from a young age. The numbers of relationships, I’ve destroyed simply due to not being willing or perhaps being afraid to say what I felt cannot be counted on both hands, but as time went by I’ve discovered or at least explored why.

 

At a relatively young age, I was a high flying amazingly successful man; I’d used the ‘tough it up’ mantra to guide my way through an Air Force career full of high scores, early promotions, and fantastic travel. I had wonderful sons and a wonderful wife; I’d even managed to amass a large amount of rental property in the Midwest, both apartment buildings, and single-family homes. Even through all of these successes, something didn’t feel right, I always felt like I was checking off boxes to prove something, but never could prove anything to myself.

 

Those feelings started off minor and quiet; I was able to ignore them and keep them to myself, in other words, I sucked it up. I figured that the world wouldn’t stop for my tears, so there is no sense in shedding them.

 

During that same career, I watched friends become injured, and some died during war, I pressed on. Men whom I worked out with daily, clowned around with every day and talked to on Friday, were dead by Monday and I pressed on because “they won’t stop for my tears, so stop shedding them.” That did not work, that failed miserably, my dissatisfaction did not just affect me it affected every single person around me.

 

The tears that I didn’t shed and the words I were afraid to say, became tears that my wife and children shed. My unwillingness and lack of ability to get help and fix myself destroyed my relationships with others, and hurt others. The internalization of this constant confusion and pain can lead to depression, anxiety, and suicide. Current studies show that men have the highest risk of suicide; the World Health Organization estimates that over 1 million people commit suicide annually and, in every country, it is men who commit suicide more than women.

 

Men are also less likely to talk to a friend, family member and seek help than women; this is due to the stigmatization surrounding mental health issues. Within the past month, we’ve heard the GOP Presidential candidate state that troops who seek help for PTSD aren’t tough, and can’t handle war, this is the same candidate who used a foot pain issue to avoid the draft. This example is used to show you how wide this stigmatization reaches.

 

Before this article, very few people if any knew that I went and got help, this is why I applaud Kid Cudi for his decision to seek help and find a way to rebuild himself and come back even better. As men we tend to cling on to this myth of a shell that is impenetrable, the more pain that we are in and the more we are attacked, the more we cling to this shell. This phenomenon is much of the reason for the success of Netflix’s new series Luke Cage.

 

In an era where relationships are increasingly complex for black men, police are becoming more aggressive, where are young black men to seek refuge. Where shall we ask for help? Those with mental illness rather than being assisted by authorities have been killed by authorities.

 

Luke Cage is the ultimate vision, or fantasy, if we could just be strong enough, indestructible, we could take back our communities, convince women to love us and value us and live longer and safer lives. Even in the case of Luke Cage his so-called bulletproof powers and motivation come from a place of pain, that he has yet to express or move past.

 

The death and betrayal of the women in his life have left him confused, distant and unable to get close to others in general. He uses his power of being bulletproof to take actions based on loyalty and revenge; essentially he is seeking to express and validate his real feelings. His actions are quite often destructive and isolate him, from those who care about him most.

 

At one point I was invincible, more work, more women, and more power didn’t cover up, my feelings of emptiness and confusion, more money and fame didn’t solve it for Kid Cudi, and on a fictional note, being bulletproof still hasn’t resolved Luke Cage’s issues.

 

This is why stepping out boldly and addressing these issues are important, our mental health and well-being not only affects us, but it affects the society that we live in and those around us. Our mothers, daughters, sons, wives, friends, children co-workers and more are affected by our state of mental health, and we are affected by theirs also.

 

Most studies show that not only do those who seek help, get better; they also become resilient and have amazing tools that help others who are in need of help.

 

Getting help for yourself helps us all, that’s what true heroes do. If you are seeking help in general, there are resources available and some of those are listed below:

 

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Veterans Crisis Hotline

Stop Soldier Suicide

 

We are humans, we are not bulletproof, we may be able to “toughen up”; “suck it up”, and “ride out” through our storms and mental anguish, but perhaps those around us cannot and should not.

 

We deserve a better, safer and healthier us, for all of those around us. That is what Misty Knight was saying when she looked Luke Cage in the eye and said: “You may be bulletproof, but Harlem ain’t.”

 

Get help for yourself, and because others do care, and they need you better. Kid Cudi is an example of bravery rarely seen among men and, ever less among hip hop artist and black men. That must change now. We are needed, as human as everyone else and worthy of help.

 

 



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