Loneliness, Black Men, and Friendships: Part II

What’s up Superspade family, this post represents Part II of my series concerning Loneliness, Black Men, and Friendships. Today we are going to address the paranoia that concerns Black male friendships and the suspicion of homosexuality. It is time to talk about the elephant in the room.

This post is specifically dedicated to my nephew, whose relentless curiosity and dedication to living a Godly lifestyle never ceases to amaze me. Keep the faith little homie,

Love, Uncle Brandon.

To kick off our discussion, I turn to Lady B, whose comment on the first post sets the stage perfectly,

“If you want to see something dear just watch little boys playing and sharing together in kindergarten and first grade – then something happens and they are taught that they are not suppose to be close or love other boys unless they are gay this is not right.”

Young kids, Black boys in particular, are being robbed of their innocence earlier and earlier. For example, when I grew up in Detroit, my best friends became my “play” cousins. For those of you that have never heard of this term, a “play” cousin is someone who is a close friend so much that you can depend on them like you would a member of your family. In the Black community, a play cousin carries with it a measurable amount of significance. Now can you remember the last time you heard Black men or Black folks for that matter, talk about play cousins or some similar moniker? I certainly can’t remember and I think similar traditions that Black men used to engage in represent a downward shift in the innocence that used to define healthy Black male friendships.

Now fast forward to current debate about brothers on the down low. Thanks to JL King, brothers all over the country are having their sexuality questioned overtly or implicitly. To be clear, I believe that the health and emotional fall out from brothers being on the down low is indeed a legitimate problem in the Black community. However, maybe we should rethink our efforts to encourage brothers to be honest about their sexual activities. I say this because I think we have made it so that many heterosexual Black men, in attempts to avoid suspicion, have withdrawn from their Black male friendships and overcompensated in their female relationships.

So now we find ourselves with Black men with a jaded sense of innocence combined with a barrage of suspicions surrounding their sexuality. These two factors I believe work together to destroy sound friendships between Black men.

Some of the effects of the down-low paranoia have caused Black men to engage in the following behavior to various degrees;

1) We for the most part feel comfortable hanging out with the guys, but a certain stigma surrounds hanging out with just one of our friends.

2) Our sexuality has become more of a central part of what we define as masculinity. As a result, some men to overcompensate their love and appreciation of women almost to the extent of becoming womanizers in order to prove they are not homosexuals.

3) There is a more marked shift between having boys and having friends. Focusing more on having boys enables men to do guy things while keeping enough emotional distance from each other to maintain deniability.

4) We have come to rely on our female friends to be our male friend fill-ins.

5) We don’t use each other as sounding boards before the jinks goes down. This is because we rarely ever tell our male friends anything of substance unless our plans or mistakes have been obliterated.

6) Unless we have something specific to talk about, we don’t call just to touch base and see what is going on in each other’s life for fear of looking like we are keeping too many tabs on our male friends.

7) We don’t feel comfortable sharing emotions with our male friends because if we even do that to begin with, we typically focus these conversations towards our female friends. We rarely tell our male friends that we appreciate them being there for us when they helped us through that tough situation. Or God forbid, we wouldn’t be caught dead telling our male friends that we love them (look up agape and phileo in the Greek language).

Of course, this list could go on and on, but I want you to add to this list based on your own observations and/or experiences. Nevertheless, I don’t think anyone could reasonably argue that the down low paranoia has not affected the quality of Black male friendships. As such, it behooves us to continue to address brothers leading double sexual lives (this includes cheating with other women too!) but at the same time, we have to create and protect spaces for Black men to share in meaningful dialogues. But when we cast a shadow of doubt over Black male friendships, we end up endangering these spaces and create more problems than we solve.

So let me leave you with these questions,

For the men, have you allowed other people’s suspicions affect the way you interact with other men in the light of the community concern about brothers on the down low?

How do you think the down low paranoia has affected the quality of Black male friendships?

How can we address this issue without endangering healthy Black male friendships?

Looking forward to your responses as we call out the elephant in the room,

Stay up fam,

Brandon.

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9 responses to “Loneliness, Black Men, and Friendships: Part II”

  1. Lester Spence says :

    I appreciate this post, because black people are dealing with some deep gender issues.

    But yet and still I’ve got questions.

    For example, I remember the term “play-cousin” growing up. but when i grew up, we ALL stopped using it. not because the concept died, but because we outgrew it. i’m sure that kids use a term that works similarly (if they don’t in fact use “play cousin” themselves).

    I know brothers who have to deal with implicit questions about their sexuality. And these brothers probably have to moderate or extend their relationships in order to “prove” their “manhood.”

    But I don’t see why the rest of us would behave differently as a result. Even IF the down-low problem is as significant as you say (and women think) it is, there’s no way in hell that women think EVERY “straight” brother they talk to is secretly gay.

  2. Jeremy says :

    It’s pretty obvious that black males are digging themselves into a deeper and deeper hole by keeping their emotional feelings inside and declining the closeness of a true friendship. I can admit that I’ve had suspicions of certain black males and it’s really resulted in a disadvantage…and emptiness. I think black males need to come together, perhaps a forum of some sort, and discuss the epidemic that graced our race. We need specific tools to live by to encourage fellowship. We also need a more positive push from the media by eliminating the “loner” aspect of the black man. Although this may be extremely difficult to accomplish, we at least need to train ourselves to ignore the falsities that thug movies, stereotypes, and statistics portray in our minds. It’s a fact that every man, of any ethnicity has feelings he must get out or else they’ll tear him apart from the inside out. But we often forget that if we simply express ourselves to more than just one person, or one sex (females), the problems we face can be resolved in a more reasonable manner. Isn’t it just common sense that what a black male goes through in his life would be well understood by another black male!? Listen fellas, I need you and you need me. We need each other. Our lives would be a heck of a lot easier if we’d simply put our boundaries aside for just a moment, and express the feelings that were meant to be released into the open for beneficial feedback.

    Much love to my one of a kind Uncle, I love you man.

  3. Brandon Q. says :

    Lester,

    You make some good points, but I think you are address the post from an akward angle.

    As for the “play” cousin excerpt, the gist of that passage was not to focus on the actual use of the terminology. Rather, if we understand that before brothers could be “play” cousins they had to be friends. What I see (and your observations might be different and I respect that) is that more and more, younger brothers are resisting friendships, and therefore, “play” cousins. My main point is that back in the day (however defined, based on your age) it seemed like more Black men dealt with the issue of shedding life long friends where as now, I think our problem is not having enough friends that we can be accountable to and vice versa.

    Secondly, I agree with you that the down-low phenomena does not permeate the Black community as much as some would think. However, this does not mean that it should be brushed aside. As an aside, I think Black families, (and the community by extension) are notorious for keeping family secrets. We have to get out of that habit and realize that we have to talk about our issues without fear of being told to just let it go. I’ll come back to that in another post.

    Anyways, my bringing up the down low debate is not to discuss how widespread it is. I am focused on how the reality/myth, (depending where you stand) affects Black heterosexual male friendships.

    You mentioned that you don’t see why heterosexual Black men would have to act any differently as a result of the down low debate. I am not saying that they do have to act different. But to act as if heterosexual brothers are somehow immune from this debate is fundamentally flawed.

    To be clear, it is less of a matter of why brothers have to act differently. I just merely asked the question, “Have Black heterosexual male friendships been affected by the down low debate?” I think we have to start by answering yes or no before we read too much into what was said in the post. I of course, think the down low debate has affected Black heterosexual male friendships. Now Lester, I would anticipate that you would think otherwise, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth. But if this is true, I am always interested in the “why” behind a yes or no answer.

    However, I do appreciate your feedback Lester and I look forward to your insights. I think your comment is indicative of the wide range of opinions that accompany this issue.

    Stay up and GO BLUE!!

    Brandon Q.

  4. Brandon Q. says :

    Superspade fam, can ya’ll tell that is my nephew? :)

    Jeremy,

    I agree with everything you said man, and in particular, when you stated,

    “Isn’t it just common sense that what a black male goes through in his life would be well understood by another black male!? Listen fellas, I need you and you need me. We need each other. Our lives would be a heck of a lot easier if we’d simply put our boundaries aside for just a moment, and express the feelings that were meant to be released into the open for beneficial feedback.”

    What is ironic to me is that so many brothers talk about how much we need each other in the abstract, but often times our personal friendships don’t exemplify these same virtues. Is it common sense that Black men need each other?

    Of course it is, but too often we talk above the clouds and forget to get back to basics. And that is what the Superspade is really all about, getting back to basics. Most Black men will say that we need eachother, but we don’t dig deep enough to explore the reasons why that mantra is not manifested in our everyday lives, hence the purpose of this series.

    And in part II, I think the down low debate have allowed some Black men to actually believe that they don’t need other Black men in some futile attempt to establish their manhood. Particularly in an era where close Black male friendship is often questioned if it crosses safe boundaries into emotions, fears, advice, or just a sounding board for that matter.

    Jeremy, you scare me sometimes(in a good way). Just always remember that when things get hairy, get back to basics. And keep building on your foundation, because it will serve you well as you find favor in God and man.

    Uncle Brandon

  5. Lester Spence says :

    Thanks for your response Brandon, I appreciate it.

    I think there are men who are deeply affected by the down-low phenomenon. I recall a rumor that was spread about the sexuality of one of the brothers i went to school with in ann arbor. Folks didn’t want to be seen with him as far south as Atlanta, as far west as L.A. Didn’t matter whether the rumor was true or not (and this was years before down-low meant something more than just “being discreet”).

    But I believe these men are a minority because I do not think women mark every male they meet as being potentially on the dl. To the degree men are concerned about being tagged with the dl label, they are concerned about being tagged by women. If men don’t think they’d be tagged, their behavior shouldn’t change.

    I do think that black men need to work together more. But I do not think we work together LESS than we did. Or less than our predecessors.

    A couple of weeks ago an 84 Kappa from Michigan took his own life tragically. I knew his chapter brothers pretty well, and a couple of his line brothers. I asked his chapter brothers what was he like.

    Rather than being a recluse, or being aloof, he was one of the brothers that kept everyone connected…and built networks where none existed. But he still took his own life (and that of his wife as well). I think it is accurate to say there is a greater need for black male “bonding”. I just don’t think it is accurate to say that this greater need exists because we lost the ties we had, if that makes sense.

    back in 87 i never thought i’d say this…but GO BLUE!!

  6. Brandon Q. says :

    Lester,

    I appreciate your responses man, they are really on point.

    I agree with you that brothers on the down low are a minority and that men are concerned about being tagged by women. However, the poing I am trying to make is that there are many brothers out there who have not been tagged but have changed their behavior to pre-emptive strike the down low tag. And by behavior, I mean how they manage their black male friendships.

    You also stated, “I do think that black men need to work together more. But I do not think we work together LESS than we did.” I agree that brothers do work together but using the work analogy, you can work with someone for years and not be friends with them. For example, there are alot of guys I did community service with in college. We were in the trenches together and on the work level, it was gravy. But even if we hung out, I rarely ever divulged anything meaningful about myself.

    I bring up this example because brothers that we work with are for the most part our boys and not our friends. And nothing is wrong with having boys but I think it becomes problematic when you don’t have friends.

    I am sorry to hear about the guy you knew that took his own life and that of his wife. I will pray that God can help heal the pain of their families and loved ones. You said that he kept everyone connected, but I wouldn’t be surprised that many of his Black male friends are saying to themselves, “Man, if he was going through something, he could have just told me.” But I wonder if that comfort level was ever breached. And that is why I think it is important to have a forum to talk about creating spaces for black men to share meaningful parts of their lives so that we see less brothers walking around hurting in silence.

    Lastly, the reason why I started the title of this series “Loneliness,” is because for the most part Black men can be very engaging (especially on first impression), have alot of friends on facebook, tons of numbers in their cell phones, but all of this extra stuff does not mean a person has real friends they can go to to help work out their problems.

    Having said all that, I do believe we have somewhat lost the ties we had, but I will go into more detail in future posts.

    Thanks Lester,

    Stay up fam

  7. Anonymous says :

    Dear Brandon,

    I want to start out with a question – “Do you think that this isolation that occurs between our brothers in terms of being able to develop deeper friendships with each other is because of a sense of not being able to deal with admitting failure. How can one brother tell another brother that I made a mistake in courtship, a business deal, marriage, drugs, etc. without looking stupid. We were always supposed to be “mama’s little man” – capable of dealing with any and everything and admitting that we can’t just doesn’t feel right.

    Little boys are pressured into manhood without being able to be sensitive to their own or other boys feelings. They are taught to be better than the rest not consider the feelings of others. This society rewards the best not the rest. I am special – not we are special.

    I wish that we can get beyond this because the truth is that we are only as successful as our weakest link.

    One thing that I find in observing successful Black men is that they hate looking or feeling “stupid” in any situation. This adds to the problem of the development of deep friendships.

    Also there is a build in mistrust that people have and because of this mistrust we are not allowed to see the true power that lies just beyond the horizen. The true is that there is power in Unity – Iron sharpens Iron and if we can somehow get beyond the isolation, mistrust, etc. just image what power you Black brothers could wedge.

    Just a feel thoughts. Stay strong!

    Love, Lady B.

  8. Anonymous says :

    Dear Brandon,

    I want to start out with a question – “Do you think that this isolation that occurs between our brothers in terms of being able to develop deeper friendships with each other is because of a sense of not being able to deal with admitting failure. How can one brother tell another brother that I made a mistake in courtship, a business deal, marriage, drugs, etc. without looking stupid. We were always supposed to be “mama’s little man” – capable of dealing with any and everything and admitting that we can’t just doesn’t feel right.

    Little boys are pressured into manhood without being able to be sensitive to their own or other boys feelings. They are taught to be better than the rest not consider the feelings of others. This society rewards the best not the rest. I am special – not we are special.

    I wish that we can get beyond this because the truth is that we are only as successful as our weakest link.

    One thing that I find in observing successful Black men is that they hate looking or feeling “stupid” in any situation. This adds to the problem of the development of deep friendships.

    Also there is a build in mistrust that people have and because of this mistrust we are not allowed to see the true power that lies just beyond the horizen. The true is that there is power in Unity – Iron sharpens Iron and if we can somehow get beyond the isolation, mistrust, etc. just image what power you Black brothers could wedge.

    Just a feel thoughts. Stay strong!

    Love, Lady B.

  9. Brandon Q. says :

    Lady B comin’ with the hot fire as always!!!

    Everything you said was on point and every time I write a post, somebody always preempts what I am going to write in future posts. So I will keep my comments brief for fear of writing full out posts in the comments section.

    However, I think Black men in particular have a hard time admitting failure or looking weak. One example that comes to my mind is that throughout my education, (including college) whenever a Black man in my class was called upon to read aloud and had trouble reading, there would generally be two responses; an attempt to act like they were not trying, like it was no big deal or a deep embarrassment and agony in trying to complete the passage.

    But to get back to your question, I do believe that a significant part of the lack of healthy Black male friendships has alot to do with not being able to admit failure. In future posts, I will explore how this manifests itself in everyday situations.

    But in essence, it takes too much time and energy to deflate our egos to the point where friendship can be explored.

    Also, the issue surrounding “mama’s little man”, is going to be meticulously examined not just as it relates to mothers, but the premium many Black men put on being accepted and/or received by women.

    Now I am mad because now no one is talking about how the down low debate has affected Black male friendships, :) I am just kidding, please speak from the heart and let me know what’s on your mind. I am confident that by the time we are done, we will be able to flesh out some real solutions to help build up Black male friendships.

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