'Toxic Black Masculinity' and Domestic Violence

Youth Board member Saina explores whether black masculinity contributes to high levels of domestic violence in the black community

Domestic violence is an increasingly big problem all over the world and can be seen throughout society. However, the black community has an especially difficult problem with domestic abuse, with 1/3 of intimate partner murders in America in 2005 being done by Black people. (Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community from the University of Minnesota).

I put this down to Hypermasculinity in the black community. Hypermasculinity has been linked to domestic violence by many studies as it explains the targeted violence towards women and the inclination towards violence. Hypermasculinity is defined as ‘a psychological term for the exaggeration of male stereotypical behaviour, such as an emphasis on physical strength, aggression, and sexuality’. So is there a difference from normal hypermasculinity to toxic black masculinity?

Black masculinity places such importance on physical and financial dominance. For example, we have seen a lot of Nollywood’s most successful actresses become victims of physical abuse in their marriages, such as Mercy Johnson, Ini Edo, Mercy Aigbe and much more. Some people argue that this is because of fragile black masculinity that feels threatened by an equally or more financially independent woman and lashes out to regain power. I think this is deeply rooted in the ongoing effects of the slave trade, as black men otherwise known as ‘Bucks’ were sold according to their strength. They were often punished with public rape (Buck breaking) for weakness etc. So, because of this not only did black men learn to associate their strength with survival but also a way to distance themselves from their trauma. This then became a trans-generational trauma that develops in toxicity and created an angry and fragile masculinity.

In fact, Savash Zahoori says in his YouTube video that toxic masculinity, in general, teaches men and boys to use violence to prove their power. So in the case of black men, I believe that hypermasculinity coupled with the toxic ideas of masculinity in the black community means that when something does go wrong in the relationship the outcome is more likely to be violent.

On top of this violence and aggression hypermasculinity attaches great stigma on any emotions other than anger. A study in Social Psychological and Personality Science by the University of Austin Texas found that long-term suppressed emotions lead to heightened levels of aggression. Meaning that if we continue to teach boys to ‘be a man’ and excuse early signs of aggression we are denying them the ability to deal with strong emotions later in life.  So, when they are eventually faced with the possible end of a relationship they can accept it and work through their grief. Instead we see too many times that this moment can become catastrophic, as we saw when Karen Smith was murdered by her estranged husband in front of her 8-year-old students, and again weeks later as Stevie Steve decided to embark on a killing spree that resulted in the death of 15 people to guilt his wife into returning to him. The total lack of logic and empathy here shows that the real aim was never to regain her love but to regain their power over the respective women after they dared to challenge their masculinity by leaving these relationships, after all, there is nothing more powerful than having power over someone’s life. I’m sure if people look closer into the relationship we will see a history of other forms of abuse such as emotional, financial, sexual etc.

We can’t even hope that these men will ask for help when they notice that they are having difficulties because that is a symbol of weakness. Black men can barely complement each other without having to follow it up with an aggressive ‘no homo’. Within this masculinity, the only emotion that its ok to project is anger, otherwise, you must be gay. Just looking at social media’s outrage at the ‘gay’ Rae Sremmurd cover for FADER Magazine, even though the two rappers are brothers. So, how can we expect them to talk to each other about mental health or difficulties they may be having in their relationship? So, instead, they internalise everything and add even more pressure to an already over boiling pot of emotions.

These ideas of masculinity are so ingrained in our ideas of gender as a community that they have become part of our cultural identity as a wider community. Mainstream black media often pushes these ideas as much as the racist stereotypes we see in mainstream media. So, these problematic ideas continue to be fortified every day. Hip Hop music is almost synonymous with the black community, even to this day. However, it is notorious for its misogyny and its often-violent lyrics. However, one largely ignored element of mainstream hip hop/ rap is its representation of men. It often presents masculinity as an aggressive, violent, and un-emotional thing, with no room for anything else but anger and what is sometimes referred to as a ‘f**k bitches, get money’ mentality. Of course this is I generalisation as many rappers have used their medium to talk about their experiences of mental health issues and their experience growing up around domestic abuse; however, this isn’t the mainstream. I mean what kind of message is it when the ultimate insult a rapper can fire at a rival is that they slept with their ‘female’ or that ‘she pays the bills’, it has even been found that between 22% and 37% of rap lyrics are based on some sort of misogyny with (black) women appearing in most videos to dance or be a symbol of the gold-digging sex object.

However, the problem isn’t explosively the black communities fault. ‘We also see that media that comes from outside the black community is as much implicit in the indoctrination of the black male brutish stereotype that black boys grow up seeing it as default and they have treated accordingly. We see headlines describing 18-year-old Mike Brown and 12-year-old Tamir Rice as men but 32-year-old Ryan Lochte and friends as boys. So, this coupled with such a toxic masculinity means that young black men never learn to be boys so feel as though that must behave like the images of men that they see and then they get punished accordingly.

So, with the normalisation of misogyny and hyped masculinity in our wider society on top of these ridged ideas within the black community, it is inevitable that when domestic abuse does happen it is likely to more extreme than it would be otherwise.

However, this is not to absolve these men of blame or suggest that all men are this way. I’m merely trying to hypothesise why some men choose to behave in such a way and why, in the black community especially, the outcome is so often fatal.


Written by Youth Board member Saina 

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