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Man Up/Man Down: Talking black men and identity crises

With men’s mental health in the spotlight, this podcast covers black men and their identity.


With men’s mental health in the spotlight, this podcast covers black men and their identity.

Photo: Noods Radio

As a demographic there’s an apparent crisis looming over black men, with mental health issues high on the agenda. We’ve been suffering in silence and we’re now recognising the need to talk.

I’d written about issues that negatively impact on black men wellbeing previously, but without encouragement from others in terms of a wider cultural and conducive environment, I lacked confidence that our issues still mattered much. So when invited to take part in this podcast exploring identity in relation to black men, I didn’t hesitate and was relieved. There has been a lack of attention on men’s issues and we agreed that there’s room for change.

“I strongly feel this particular subject is not spoken about enough. People can sometimes be quick to look the other way and I think it’s time to start talking”

On the 16 September, I joined Cory Stewart (MENTalk) to chat with Kate Mabbett, founder of ManUpManDown, in the Noods Radio studio. Alongside some spoken word poetry, we spoke about thwarted life chances, and responding to a racist climate.

For those caught up in the criminal justice system and unduly disaffected by racism, the fact that times have changed doesn’t necessarily fix the damage done – and still being done, insidiously, as Akala recently claimed.

Sometimes it really is four strikes and you’re out of the economic game. With diminished life chances due entrenched systematic bias it can seem like we’ve already lost. Looking back, hip hop may have alleviated the damages and saved me from an identity-less insanity.

MENTalk is a “movement and platform for men to express themselves,” Cory explained, “which also supports them with mental health issues.” He has been posting questions about the state and condition of men and hopes to encourage more participation.

ManUpManDown are ‘creating space for men to talk,’ having taken note of high suicide rates among men and apparent misery from which such irrational behaviour can stem. Kate Mabbett, who lost a male friend to suicide, said: “I strongly feel this particular subject is not spoken about enough. People can sometimes be quick to look the other way and I think it’s time to start talking.”

In this podcast we consider the potential crises we face:

Clearly the more we accommodate conversation, the more we learn from each other and progress to possible answers, yet all too often we seem to steer clear of ways and means to resolve men’s issues, be it depression or societal isolation. Not to generalise but we drink merrily, play games consoles, watch football, we’re party people, yet have put up and shut up instead of facing up to our problems and collectively attempting to overcome adverse circumstances.

Our experiences define us as the men we turn out to be, and if that’s disturbed and disconnected, if and when we do talk and listen, perhaps the aim should not only be about damage limitation. There are good initiatives going on, such as Restore Counselling Service doing Black men on the Couch – live therapy on stage with special guests.

Might circumstantial mental illness curb our capacity to carry on regardless? Are we resistant to compromise? Are we expressing reactive feelings of being discriminated against then being misunderstood? Indeed do we have the answers already? What more can we do to transcend this predicament?

Get involved at ManuUpManDown or via Mentalk

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