Like countless others, I sat in front of my computer screen and read Kiese Laymon’s essay, “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others,” on Gawker last weekend. And like countless others, I deeply admired Laymon’s openness and his willingness to express his vulnerabilities, befuddlement, and failings. Some of the incidents and certainly most of the emotions they evoked could’ve been expressed by several of the men I know. And this, above all, is what made the essay so saddening for me.

Among other things, Laymon speaks with startling realism about the causes and effects of depression in young black men. This slow killing he discusses — the fatalistic risk-taking, the feelings of familial disappointment, the absorption of a lifetime of racial animus — is an occurrence all too familiar to the people these men love. A University of North Carolina Chapel Hill study indicates:

Enduring subtle, insidious acts of racial discrimination is enough to depress anyone, but African-American men who believe that they should respond to stress with stoicism and emotional control experience more depression symptoms….  The data also showed that when men felt strongly about the need to shut down their emotions, then the negative effect of discrimination on their mental health was amplified. The association was particularly apparent for men aged 30 years and older.

This is certainly true for Laymon, who attributes the feelings of hopelessness he experienced in his early adulthood to systemic discrimination and the distrust and disappointment it eventually fosters. As for solutions, he doesn’t give us many, just a preponderance of evidence suggesting that much of what we’re doing to lessen the corrosive effects of history on our esteem isn’t working:

I’m not the smartest boy in the world by a long shot, but even in my funk I know that easy remedies like eating your way out of sad, or fucking your way out of sad, or lying your way out of sad, or slanging your way out of sad, or robbing your way out of sad, or gambling your way out of sad, or shooting your way out of sad, are just slower, more acceptable ways for desperate folks, and especially paroled black boys in our country, to kill ourselves and others close to us in America.

I felt the same helplessness upon finishing the essay as I feel noticing the signs, both subtle and blatant, of a beloved cousin or uncle or friend slowly self destructing. It’s difficult to know quite what kind of support is appropriate to offer, particularly if the man in question is hell-bent on internalizing his suffering. But offering your ear, your patience, your doctor referrals, your reassurance, your kind words, your forgiveness, and your continued willingness to engage, to discuss, and to hopefully, eventually understand are some great places to begin.

If the overwhelmingly positive response to Laymon’s treatise indicates anything, it’s that his premise is true: A significant number of young black men are slowly killing themselves (and others) in response to the unrelenting racism they face. If those who love them are contributing to that dying through a stubborn adherence to traditional masculine role expectations or through anger at our sense of hopelessness to change things, we need to contemplate new approaches to supporting their growth and strengthening their will to live.

Did you read Laymon’s essay? What were your initial thoughts? What should be the black community’s response to racism’s effect on the mental health and development of young black men? 

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  • Mademoiselle

    I want to echo what was said in an earlier comment: society teaches men all too often to “suck it up,” “brush it off,” “man up,” etc. when it comes to anything dealing with emotions/feelings/deep personal thoughts. And far too often, we believe that because men give into this pressure it means they have no emotions/feelings/deep personal thoughts that need to be addressed. I believe this is why we see so many men killing each other as a sign of strength, or beating their wives as a way to take control of their lives, or abandoning their children because they have no clue how to nurture others or relentlessly chasing careers that do little more than add to their agony. No issue remains bottled up forever because the pressure is always to great to contain. We can’t ignore the effects that these societal pressures have on men because what affects men affects women the same way that the reverse is true. I hope to see much more literature and activism towards mental health for men. Everyone needs an outlet and hope.

  • Doreah

    I read the essay on the author’s website – I try to avoid news aggregator sites like Gawker that freely mix reporting and advertisement, and report responsibly as often as they report offensively, but I did very much enjoy it, especially the quote that was included above:

    “[…] easy remedies like eating your way out of sad, or fucking your way out of sad, or lying your way out of sad, or slanging your way out of sad, or robbing your way out of sad, or gambling your way out of sad, or shooting your way out of sad, are just slower, more acceptable ways for desperate folks, and especially paroled black boys in our country, to kill ourselves and others close to us in America.”

    When I was reading it, I thought of my black boys, my black men, the ones who are or were doing just these things. We haven’t built a world that cares, we haven’t created a government that’s meant to fix these sort of problems. And we’ve both been directed and directed ourselves to desire and consume, consume and desire – without end – rather than to care and fix. One person caring will always be a drop in the ocean, a grain of sand in the desert, I won’t lie and say one person’s actions are more significant than we all say they are. But it remains that rejecting any one person who wants to promote change, and rejecting change as impossible is the first step to failure. If you aren’t doing something than you are complicit in what’s wrong in the world.

  • Affiliate

    Willie Lynch. The ultimate destruction of African American men is at hand. The politicians have failed. The churches have failed. The community leaders have failed. And we have failed ourselves. Weak and timid is what we have become. A former shadow of what a real man is all about. Black women are not treated the same as black men and never have. I am sorry people..very very sorry…Black Men I have a solution for you. Listen to me and close the door. Leave your wife and daughter in the other room. You only have one last chance to get this right. You have been set up. Someone is telling on you. You are being studied. And you are also being watched. Some of you know this and some of you are clueless. The black woman has chosen to compete against you for the crumbs. There is nothing equal about this playing field. How many African American male Billionaires are out there? How many African American female Billionaires are out there? Unemployment rate for black males. High! Sir, you are at war. The only way out of this mess is to help your brother. If you don’t you will pay and your next generations will suffer tremendously. This is no laughing matter. If you don’t believe me I will provide you with the statistics to prove it. Men educate yourselves and realize your in competition with the women next to you. Not all black women are against you. But that is not the point. You have no choice but to take affirmative action.

  • Pingback: Dealing with the Dark Side: Black Men, Depression, and Racism « blackmaledepression()

  • John Locke

    Young Black men?
    What about us OLD black men? It’s not like we’re skipping along whistling zippy de do dah!

    Black men young AND old are in pain and in danger.