What Do Young Black Men Talk About?

A Young Black Woman’s Observation

This is an honest and sincere question.

I have a list of real life sisters and sister-friends I often lend my ear to, a shoulder on, shed tears with, laugh with, plot fictional deaths of the worst of celebrities and cheaters and haters, dance with, create with, horribly freestyle battle with, convincingly pretend i can sing alongside, and more. The safe space to be free and real and honest and truthful is so readily available to me that I rarely have time to fully process a disappointment before I decide to pick up my phone, or email a friend, or schedule a brunch, or or or…

I’m always aware of the resources available to me for mental and spiritual comfort. The time and space that I spend with these women definitely takes effort and cultivation, but one that is of ease and necessity, like a hand to the mouth to nourish the body.

In this way am I aware of my privilege as a woman, and in this way have I become deeply shattered about the limits hyper-sexuality has placed on Black men in particular.

With nearly all of my close male friends— especially heterosexual— I’ve come to find that I am either the only one or one of very few in which they open up to about their lives in depth.

I have had the experience of calling up a male friend of mine and being the first to sincerely ask “how are you?” (mean it and probe for a true answer) in days, weeks, and even months. For one in particular whom courted me for an extensive time, we would spend hours upon hours on the phone as he shared time with friends and family; i’d hear him play games with cousins, talk to his sister about financial needs and job possibilities, and even witness a wide range of emotions at the news of a death or illness.

Yet, by the time the few days had gone by and we’d reconnect in person, he would have millions of stories and emotions to express: how he felt being around his soon-to-be-sentenced young cousin; the depression catching up with him due to the inability to provide for his son; the deep anger he felt about the death of his best friend and what he wished he could do in return— but knew better.

I’ve never minded sitting, listening for hours. Naturally, it’s one of the things I do best— process information before speaking and offering advice. My concern for his health was always subsided by these conversations, but heightened when weeks and months would go by without these debriefings. When these moments of clarity, of relief, of a safe space would become increasingly spaced out, often times I would be more frustrated due to the fear of what these extended spans of bottled-up time could mean for him, rather than the hurt it also caused me (neglect, lack of support, and distrust) in our relationship.

Relatively, last week, I feverishly tweeted through the second episode of the Season Finale of “Love & Hip Hop: New York.” Commenting on the embarrassingly horrific display of “love” and “respect” as seen through Saigon, Peter Gunz, Joe Budden, and Rich Dollaz, I stated:


In attempt to either excuse the tweet’s subjects or discredit my opinion, I was sent messages such as: “It’s scripted!” (because I’m obviously unaware of the show’s fictional elements); “No she didn’t pull that shit” (because bringing up the rate of suicide in Black men to a Black man is shady, boots); “You have time to watch Vh1, though” (because all educated women don’t enjoy entertainment); and so on.

I debated once or twice in reply before consciously making the choice to disengage with these men. I’ve been through the Twitter cycle enough with the mentally unstable to know that it only leaves me completely depleted—with absolutely no resolution.

Still, my initial reaction was confusion: why did my suggestion of therapy for Black men trigger a negative response from the subjects in conversation? And why was I then targeted, essentially, as an “enemy” after publicly allying myself with the betterment of their well being?

The easy, surface answer could be read in articles such as “On Black Men Showing Up for Black Women at the Scene of the Crime.” But to dig deeper, there needs to be a true observance of what happens when Black men gather, and why.

Yusuf Neville is yet another reminder of the often overshadowed suicide of Black and male bodies in America. With almost every article detailing his unfortunate death, also accompanied was the sentiment of puzzlement, mystery, why’s and what’s. Noted is that hours, weeks, and months prior to his death, his tweets timeline an escalation of morbid statuses in contemplation of pain, suffering, and the afterlife. While I have also considered the role of social media and suicide in these situations, most important here is the question why no one among his family or friends noticed any warning signs. This is not to blame anyone for his death, but to take a deeper look into the cause for this oversight.

YG’s song “My Niggas” featuring Jeezy and Rich Homie Quan was the second trigger that recently shot up my rate for concern. Following the previous news, I received a notice about radio’s beloved song hitting platinum, with over one million singles sold. This song is a daily reminder of the alternate realities so many young Black men live in:

I said that I’mma ride for my motherfuckin’ niggas
Most likely I’mma die with my finger on the trigger
I’ve been grindin outside all day with my niggas
And I ain’t goin’ in unless I’m with my niggas

But what exactly are these young Black men doing for one another?

I’ve seen it with my own two eyes, and you may have, too. Two to five or more young men all sitting in the same room, listening to the same music, claiming to love one other, promising to go to the end of the world if needed, even if it costs them their lives in prison or hell—yet, each and every one, slowly but surely, dying on the inside. Never telling of the painful death of their dreams of destinations, hopes, and achievements to each other; day-in and day-out, engulfing themselves in realities that escape them from the truth that lives in their hearts, meditating the disappointment into their bloodstream, seeping into their psyche, aching their skulls, digging into their bones, their minds, their desires to live—that anger that drives a seemingly content man from the front seat of their car to the top floor of their apartment building.

Won’t you dare to speak aloud your thoughts of death to the same person who would kill for you? I’m perplexed.

In this same breath do I look at Little Pain. Belonging to the Sad Rap Revolution, I can’t help but weep for these gimmicky souls. All I see here is disaster. Like a new-age, new-slaves to the rhythm of your own self-deprecation, I-can-see-Dave-Chappelle-post-Comedy-Central kind of bitter-sweet-disaster (without the ‘sweet’ and with more rich hipster kids, deeper depression, broken and broke Black boys). Sad Rap Revolution is a new wave of music created to detail the opposite of what you hear on radio— no flashy chains, no flashy cars, designer clothes, good weed, molly, etc. Doesn’t sound bad, right?

Right. Ironically, the problem here is that it isn’t fiction. Little Pain and others alike twist their reality into mockery, not satire. Rapping about crying all day, having no money, no bed to sleep on, and no hope in their life is a real-life possibility which often place actualized people in life-altering mind-states such as depression. Left out of these songs are conversations of ambition for change, the inequalities that hamper on progress, lack of motivation, the dangers of desperation and the overwhelming feelings of failure, etc.

If you’re going to talk about real life, let’s talk about real life! I’d much rather have a broke boyfriend rap about spending money that we don’t have yet, rather than rap about the money that we knowingly don’t have now.

But it’s much deeper than rap. It’s deeper than songs and lyrics and gimmicks and marketing plans. The lack of communication is the reason why suicide is the third-leading cause of death in our young Black men.

The question is: What can we do about it? How do we get young men to get together and open up? Is it about breaking down the walls of what is perceived ‘feminine?’ Is it tearing down the walls of uncertainty and fear of judgment? Or is it simply telling them: ‘It’s okay. It’s happening to me, (or it happened to me) too’?

What now? My name is not Sway, but I, too, do not have the answers.


Jasmine “Jazzi” Johnson, -@bubbleMAMI

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