Fear of Vulnerability in Black Skin

Kipp McKenzie – Program Partner
The stress of being a person of color can feel insurmountable at times. This feeling can make being vulnerable a nonstarter, especially as a black cisgender, and straight man. You always hear talk about how important it is to be vulnerable. Very well, I will be vulnerable within these margins. I am afraid and I can admit that even though it is difficult. I am afraid of not being enough…afraid of being a failure. Even afraid that I have already failed. When people in your family have called you a failure, especially when the ingredient of the intersectionality of being a black man in this world is added, it tends to graft itself onto your spirit and mind like a tattoo. I replay these words daily and they occupy my mind like a song that I find annoying, and I cannot get it out of my head. As a black man, the margin of error is razor-thin and even nonexistent the majority of the time. I cannot afford to be a failure because it reinforces the stereotype of black bodies and I carry that pressure constantly. In addition, there are times I am afraid to let that pressure go because I do not want to become complacent and complicit in giving people the excuse to continue to promulgate the damaging narratives constantly heaped on black bodies. Writing about it in this space causes me uneasiness because the trauma can be unbearable at times. I constantly feel a stream of shame because I wonder if I am doing enough and is it good enough. I even wonder if other black people look at me with a sense of contempt because they feel I am not good enough or doing enough for the community.

Coincidentally, it motivates me. It is this type of smoke that supplies the fuel, but I have to be aware that it does not become a sarcophagus of anger and rage that fortifies those feelings of failure. It is of the utmost importance that I cannot let those elements consume me. That prevailing fear can paralyze and incapacitate. I am supposed to always be powerful and invulnerable, especially in a world that has socialized the narrative that black bodies are inconsequential, reprehensible, unsuitable, and burdensome. Admittedly, there are times I feel I have no value and I do not feel strong. There are times I force myself to get out of bed and I cannot show weakness because it is not an option. I am a black man and I am not supposed to feel this way I continually tell myself. This internal strife and conflict are exhausting, but I know I have to fight. I will say that I am not enveloping myself in a veneer of self-pity since some people will view it in that spectrum. If I was afforded white privilege, my statements and the full disclosure of my feelings of vulnerability would be lauded as courageous. I am willing to take that risk of not being seen in that light.

Furthermore, it is easy to numb me through egocentrism instead of giving myself permission to hurt and acknowledging the trauma without fear of judgment. It is easy to center myself in egocentrism by washing myself with a false sense of pride and confidence because the pain and fear can be excruciating. This is an impregnable fortress that is vital for surviving those feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. I cannot allow myself to be seen hurting, feeling unworthy, and helpless sometimes. I do not want to be seen as losing my balance, free-falling into an abyss of self-doubt, and being impaled by the protruded spikes of anguish that await at the bottom. These components can destroy the essence of how masculinity is viewed within the context of societal paradigms.

There is a term in a Greek tragedy, or any literary work called “Anagnorisis” meaning “recognition” and it refers to a character’s sudden realization of a situation’s reality or the nature of a relationship with another character. It produces a moment of clarity. There can be other nuances to the terminology, but this is the main interpretation. Regarding my experience, there were many situations where I had that same realization of certain realities, but they are too numerous to list at the moment. I am not comparing myself to a Greek tragedy because I am not that important and it would only make me a legend in my mind. I am simply saying that being in a place of vulnerability and opening myself up is painful. It feels like a sense of betrayal to myself as a black man because we are constantly being told to “man up”. Crying is not an option because I am conditioned to believe that my tears are streaming vessels of hydrochloric acid that disintegrates my masculinity because it holds no value. It is a way to legislate and devalue the humanness of my black body on a sliding scale.

In conclusion, we are told not to cry and not to feel because to survive in this world of white supremacy we have to be invulnerable. We have to be this way to protect our families so we do not have time or the luxury to hurt and be vulnerable. Bills need to be paid, work needs to be done, food needs to be put on the table, etc. Vulnerability requires being truly honest and being unashamed to get uncomfortable in that nakedness. It’s about embracing that vulnerability because that is where the power and courage reside. I am continually working on that and as a brotha, I am cool with that.
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