Art acts as a reflection of my continued introspection as both a human and Black male from West Philadelphia. As I journey inward to explore and dissect my own consciousness, learned behaviors and ego, I recover my identity and how it has shaped my temporal perspective on futurism, love, creativity and happiness. Within this exploration of freedom, I offer this analysis.
Phrases like “toxic masculinity,” “hyper masculine,” and “cis” are now used to describe characteristics I once revered as simply as Man Law: A collective consciousness of rules, parameters and behaviors that have been taught and reinforced from generations of Type A masculine men. Back then, I was not yet equipped with the true knowledge of self and the ability to accurately identify this social construct, and decided it was time to shut up and listen. After several failed romantic relationships in result of ego, heated debates with Black women discussing their disappointment with Black men, analyzing pop culture, art and media and discovering literature like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between The World and Me,” I’ve come to better understand perspectives and truths about how defensive acts surrounding Black bodies--a direct result of slavery, colonization and systemic racism--has created a pervasive dark cloud that plagues Black women, the LGBTQ community (groups that I was taught to not even consider to be be apart of the conversation) and emotionally crippled some Black men--Men with heightened defense mechanisms, decoded love, individuality and lack of self awareness who are teaching the same lessons and perpetuating fears to generations that follow.
I believe that we as men have limited our expression of both love and vulnerability to actions that were in the confines of man law while reserving additional or gentler forms of expressing love are considered weak, feminine or gay. As I start to examine not only my actions toward other men, I notice my own defensive mechanisms, lack or limited expression of love and social acceptance among my bros growing into manhood and want to add my own perspective the spectrum of masculinity.
The expression of brotherhood I witnessed while in Cuba was noticeably much gentler, loving and embracive than what I grew accustomed to in the United States of ‘Merica. A common male Cuban greeting of a full two-armed hugs followed by a kiss on the cheek versus the creative squad hand shakes, the combination of a handshake and one armed hug or a two handed, full embraced hug with a loud two, three or four pats on the back. Both were ways and rituals where men expressed love and respect for one another in ways that were noticeably different.
The barbershop is the cornerstone of the Black male experience and universally known as the place to catch-up and/or assert your opinion on sports, politics and pop culture, but a closer look to show it’s also where the transformation and the beautification process of Men takes place. Contrary to popular American opinion, men like to feel beautiful or “handsome.” In the Black and Latin communities these bi-weekly trips are essential to the representation of the one’s personality, character and in certain scenarios can improve one's social status. Our confidence and esteem relies on trust and vulnerability that we place into the hands of another man. Trusting in another man’s precision and skill, allowing close physical contact to the head and face in order to give one the satisfaction of feeling fresh and complete, are the tenants of our beautification. Shop conversations can range from women’s behavior, expectations and men’s beauty standards--One may argue this environment is a breeding ground for toxic masculinity or a collective consciousness but this process is both universal and gentle. This is the evidence that vulnerability, beautification and self preservation aren’t reserved for feminine humans.
Boxing is a tribal, brutal and masculine sport. This sport teaches not only the art of strategizing attacks and counter-attacks but also pins one man against another; Survival. Inside the ring there is little to no room for anything but to train your mind and body to withstand pain, control adrenaline and destroy your opponent. There was a moment when one of the boys injured his wrist, which isn’t considered an obligatory occupational injury to withstand, and there was an overall feeling of emotional support from the fellow boxers and coaches that I’ve rarely seen in any boxing gym, basketball or an sport institution in America. The gentle, loving behavior and reassurance I witnessed has left me with an altered impression of the two sides of a warrior; one who can exhibit supreme strength and ferocity as well as generosity and care. That even in a sport known for its brutality, there in Havana, Cuba, was an equally intense level of care and embrace. One of the younger and smaller fighters came over to give him a hug and it wasn’t met with commentary from the other fighters that his expression was too soft or homosexual! While on the other side there was a fighter in blue shorts and top was complaining that he wanted to take a break because of a body shot taken to the stomach. In his moment of pain he refused to fight and started to walk away from the training area with disinterest. Because he wasn’t showing any signs of excruciating pain and able to continue, he was aggressively ordered to continue. This is vital because it’s a training technique to separate your mind from pain, use your defense to never show your opponent your weak spots to exploit or everything you’ve trained for can and will be lost.
These were Men who transitioned from boys to become leaders, faithful followers, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, uncles and mentors. They displayed different mannerisms, expressions of love and friendship, fears, guidelines, struggles but they were indeed Men.
While cleaning off the mirror to show the world itself, I looked into it and finally saw myself.