African American Experience, Racism, African American Lives, Civil Protest, Bell Hooks, Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMN

If Black Men Want to Heal Racism’s Wounds, We Can’t Pretend to Be Strong All the Time

If Black Men Want to Heal Racism’s Wounds, We Can’t Pretend to Be Strong All the Time
2 1 | J U L Y | 2 0 1 6

We’re proud that we’ve survived. But we should be honest about the costs.


BY   Mychal Denzel Smith  |  PUBLICATION   The Nation 

The summer after my freshman year of college, I decided it was time for me to read everything I could get my hands on in order to become a respectable black intellectual. At Barnes & Noble, I grabbed the only book by bell hooks in stock in the “African-American Interests” section—Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem. “I have found myself saying again and again that mental health is the revolutionary anti­racist frontier African Americans must collectively explore,” hooks wrote. She touched on issues of self-hatred, depression, addiction, and emotional well-being. I promptly decided it was one of the most important books I had ever read. Whatever was hurting black people, I wanted to fight. But I soon forgot about the book. I knew people who were in prison; I didn’t know anyone who was depressed.

And that included myself. Starting when I was 16, I had occasional panic attacks. Even so, I failed to connect Rock My Soul to anything in my experience. I saw in hooks’s words something plaguing black communities, not me. My panic attacks were frightening, but whenever they struck, I told myself they were nothing to worry about. After all, I was, by now, a college student. Emotionally stable. Perfectly sane.

Three years later, Rock My Soul became newly relevant. It had always been difficult for me to maintain interest in school, but I had done enough to get by. Now I was finding it harder to pretend. At some point in senior year, I stopped showing up.

I was the editor in chief of our student paper, and my work there was the only thing that got me out of bed on the days when I wanted to sleep until 4, 5, or 6 pm. Often, I would return home and open up a bottle of cheap vodka that I had started keeping around. I didn’t drink in earnest until I was 21—not because I was a stickler for legality, but because I was scared that getting drunk meant losing control. By the beginning of 2008, I had abandoned that fear and would drink that ice-cold vodka more days than not.

Every day, I was lying to people. Responding to a “How are you?” with “I’m fine” was enough to satisfy most people. The more I lied, the more I wanted to believe the lie—and the less I could. Every time I said I was fine, I saw myself dying. Sometimes I saw myself intentionally crashing my car. Sometimes I saw myself jumping from a tall building, frightened and free, feeling the wind beneath me.


HUGHIE LEE-SMITH
AMERICAN CREATIVE – Painter and Printmaker
Painter and printmaker, Hughie Lee-Smith (1915 – 1999) developed a refined figurative art that reflected the challenges and complexities he found in urban society. Born in Eustis, Florida, Lee-Smith’s distinguished career began in Cleveland where he graduated from the Cleveland School of Art with honors, and was inspired by the art of the Harlem Renaissance. Lee-Smith was part of the first generation of modern African-American artists who overcame tremendous odds during the Great Depression. Lee-Smith was also part of a group of American artists whose career benefited from the opportunities provided by the WPA, or Works Progress Administration, of the New Deal. His well-known subjects of isolated figures in desolate landscapes are associated with the urban places he has lived in – from Cleveland and Detroit in the Midwest to New York and New Jersey in the East.
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