The Unspoken Burden: Self-Care for Black Men and Why It Matters

By | December 3, 2023

When I was nineteen, I pissed blood for two weeks then rode a bus for 12 hours before agreeing to see a doctor.

At one point, I lost hearing in one ear but didn’t get it checked out because I was in the middle of directing a play so my health would have to wait. I no longer take the health of myself or those that I love for granted.

I began this piece by talking about my personal battles and inability to place my health and maintenance center stage and yet this is not new or original thinking.

My father continues to eat the wrong things at the wrong time and adamantly refuses to exercise.

This translates as: our lives don’t matter and that if we pray and keep on pushing (the slave mentality) that somehow everything will magically, deliciously work out. I have watched my dad battle the flu while I gave him meds and green tea only to hear repeatedly: I’m not sick; I don’t like green tea and of course the old black person’s favorite refrain: I don’t wanna lie in bed.

Part of this nonsense (which is what working yourself like a rented mule is) has to do with the belief that we are only good or decent or have worth based on what we can provide.

Add to this our belief , that we are responsible for the financial well being of those that surround us and love us and you have the ingredients required for the acceptance of ourselves as unworthy of physical care and nurturing.

While physical care is pivotal, it is not the only type we need or require.

I know of no Black Men, myself excluded, who have ever seen a therapist.

Many men I know believe that if they go to work, allow themselves to be systematically emotionally and psychically assaulted and get a paycheck then what does it matter how they feel about anything. At one point, I told an intimate partner that I wanted a different type of job because my current one was dehumanizing and vile. His response was that nobody can dehumanize me. That I get a choice about whether or not someone is “allowed” to dehumanize me. In other words: shut up and take the bullshit; you are making me uncomfortable.

We learn to suffer in silence and that big boys don’t cry. We learn to deny both pain and the joy that comes from making decisions not based in racist/survivalist/gender stereotypes.

Even though our lives are terribly busy and many of us are gainfully unemployed or underemployed, there are thousands of small ways that we can add ourselves (at the very top) to the list of priorities and things that need to be “cared for”.

I am not suggesting that we only take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others.

We take care of ourselves and our health because it is the right thing to do and our lives matter.

Start small.

As of yesterday, I began walking around my block at a steady pace until I had circled my home three times. I am vigilantly watching my sugar intake and continuing to add more brightly colored vegetables to my plate. Limiting my intake of food to one serving at meal times means I no longer eat when I’m not hungry. Parking down the block forces me to walk. Push ups, squats performed while dressing for work are all small changes that yield big results.

What can you do today to make your emotional and physical health a priority ?

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