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Rethinking Masculinity: A Crucial Step in Addressing the Crisis Facing Boys and Men of Color

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

The construction of male identity is fraught with complexities, expectations, and stereotypes, with the traditional understanding of masculinity often betraying boys in more ways than one. This dynamic is particularly significant when it comes to boys and men of color, who face unique challenges rooted in systemic issues, such as racial bias and economic inequality. One stark manifestation of these challenges is the involvement of these individuals in human sex trafficking, a problem that serves as a grim microcosm of the broader issues that we need to address.

At the heart of these challenges lies the patriarchal construction of masculinity, an oppressive system that promotes dominance, control, and emotional suppression as the standard tenets of 'being a man.' It engenders a cruelly gendered expectation, where any deviation from these norms is perceived as weakness, often leading to unhealthy coping mechanisms, risky behaviors, and dire consequences.

To grasp the severity of this crisis, we need to look at some disturbing statistics. As of recent data, men and boys of color in the United States are disproportionately likely to face a life of crime, violence, and incarceration. According to the NAACP, one in every three Black boys born today can expect to be sentenced to prison compared to one in every 17 white boys. This rate is not just a shocking indictment of racial bias in the criminal justice system but also reflects the urgent need to address the root causes.

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Moreover, boys and men of color face significant health disparities. The American Psychological Association highlights that they are more likely to die prematurely due to various health conditions, and less likely to seek help for mental health issues, often due to the stigma associated with vulnerability.

This crisis extends beyond steering young men away from illegal choices. It is about changing the narrative that sees boys and men, particularly those of color, boxed into rigid, harmful definitions of what it means to 'be a man.' The negative consequences of these societal expectations are far-reaching, ranging from higher rates of incarceration to adverse health outcomes.

To tackle this crisis head-on, we need to start at its roots. We need to challenge and dismantle patriarchal constructs that define masculinity, replacing them with an understanding that values emotional expression, non-violence, and respect for all genders. This transformation must happen at all levels, from the home to the school, from the media to community programs.

As mentors, you are uniquely positioned to influence this change. Each interaction with a young person presents an opportunity to shape their understanding of identity, self-worth, and masculinity. It's a chance to nurture their emotional intelligence, challenge harmful stereotypes, and provide positive role models that diverge from the traditional notions of masculinity. We need to cultivate a new narrative for our boys - one that celebrates their individuality, encourages their emotional growth, and empowers them to defy the constraints of patriarchal expectations.

The crisis we face is grave, but it's also an opportunity for transformation. Each young man we reach brings us one step closer to a world where being a 'real man' means being respectful, emotionally intelligent, and free to express oneself without the shackles of gendered expectations. Let us foster a fierce determination to reach every single young male that comes through the doors of our programs. Let's reimagine masculinity together, for the sake of our boys, our communities, and our future.

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Article inspired by my dear friend Amba Johnson


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