As you know, we’ve been raising awareness of Men’s Mental Health through the Movember Foundation. We’ve also been sharing the stories of men bloggers who have been brave enough to share their personal story with us and you all every Monday.
This is our last ManCandy Monday of November. Antoine is someone I’ve met just recently and he constantly dazzles me with his positive energy and talent.
We hope you enjoy this and this series as much as we did!
I’ve always been intrigued with the subject of mental health. I’ve never been one to shy away from doing extensive research about the innermost working of the human brain and its functions. Growing up in this country I have never felt at home, I have rarely felt moments of peace and to be honest, I have never felt “normal”. Living in this country as a melanin-rich individual you have to make amends with the fact that your existence will be compartmentalized, your experiences will be marginalized and safety is not prioritized. With all of that being said there have been some consistent underlying factors that have affected so many people in my neighborhood, in my close inner circle and in my family. Those factors are anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
I often remember as a child hearing police sirens and all of the children would scatter, not out of any actual danger that comes about with police presence but because it’s what we were programmed to do. It was fun. We would yell things like “I didn’t do it!” While laughing and hiding behind cars. It was purely innocent on our behalf but as an adult, I recall these moments I am incredibly sad. We didn’t do these things for no reason, we did it because this is what we were accustomed to seeing in our neighborhoods, in our music, and on our televisions. Black men being on the receiving end of some sort of unfortunate encounter with law enforcement.
As a child, I was raised to not trust police officers. Not by my family but by my own personal experiences as a child. I grew up in a residential area where everyone in the neighborhood was homeowners of fairly large homes, my neighborhood was close-knit, everyone knew someone in everyone’s family and the only outsiders were the police. The mere presence of police would serve as a constant reminder that we were not safe and that someone was watching over us, even in our own backyards. As a child no older than 12 years old I along with my friends were routinely stopped and searched by police officers on our way to the park to go play basketball, the police never found anything because we were good kids who played video games, watched cartoons and played sports but every day of the summer we were harassed in our own neighborhood by strange white men who didn’t live in our neighborhood who searched us for drugs, violated my friends religion by making him remove his headdress to search for marijuana and weapons and embarrassing us in a way that no child should have to experience when developing his worldview and perceptions, we didn’t even have pockets for goodness sake, we were just going to the park.
Having this be a part of your daily routine is easily something that’ll produce anxiety by the mere mention of police officers and now as a 30 year old man those experiences that I had as a child seem like I got off easy when I log on to social media and I am berated by images and videos of young beautiful Black children falling victim by system that has failed them, daily content of your people being violated, mentally, emotionally, physically and sexually by law enforcement. This produces a level of trauma that is bound to have anyone feel overwhelmed, helpless and afraid. With fear your response could be to hide, become anxiously avoidant or severely introverted…or you could become rebellious, violent and aggressive.
Not everyone is able to develop the level of objectivity required to be able to engage with everything that life throws at them, especially when in mainstream society it is advertised that these same entities that are supposed to have your self-interests and well-being at the forefront of their job description are doing the exact opposite of what they’re supposed to do. It’s heartbreaking to not feel human and not everyone handles heartbreak in a constructive manner so some of the sweetest, smartest and capable people may venture off into a life that may require a persona that helps them feel safe, these personas are taxing on the spirit because at your core this is not who you truly are. You’re not violent, you don’t want to perform poorly in school, you don’t want to put your freedom at risk by being introduced to the prison industrial complex that is frighteningly resembling being physically enslaved. This life can weigh heavily on the soul and dammit it is absolutely depressing, mainly because you’re not able to just BE.
The examples that I have mentioned this far could easily be used for some kind of sociology discussion or an anthropological piece detailing what it is to be a person of color in the United States and often it is. However, what has escaped most of those who are like me and those who view my existence from afar is how mental health plays an enormous factor in my survival on a daily basis. I never feel safe, I’m constantly on guard and I am absolutely always ready for anything. Not because I am someone who has been deployed to some foreign land as a part of the military, but because I am a Black man in America. A land where my people have been disrespected, abused and have been afflicted psychologically on a daily basis by enormously powerful entities that have the capability to impose their will on our lives at anytime that they see fit. This level of trauma is exhausting, it could leave you downtrodden and it could also send you over the deep end in regards to what you are able to view as true/real/fact, your ability to trust is comprised and out of fear your life experiences can be limited greatly.
My area focus for this piece is not the most gruesome, it’s not even a fraction of the worst that I have personally experienced through my childhood in regards to my encounters with law enforcement. For example, when I was in high school, my principal would threaten to send us to Rikers Island Prison Facility for merely misbehaving in class; my cousin was routinely picked up by police officers and beaten and left in different neighborhoods because they knew no one would care because he had a record; my father has been arrested twice for the stupidest reasons like not having an ID that the officer “liked”; and also once at a high school party the police came into a private backyard and made the announcement “I would only believe that this party is filled with guns and crack” and to be honest the list goes on and I could literally write about this all day if I wanted to, but I won’t.
I’ve done so much work…
to understand my life and everything that surrounds it. I have a degree in psychology, I have done countless amounts of hours of volunteer work throughout the community. I have over a decade of work experience in mental health, substance abuse, and social work fields. I routinely attend lectures and cultural events to find better more well-adjusted individuals who have similar life experiences, I’ve traveled to many different countries around the world in hopes of combating years of implanted xenophobia. I have done extensive research on slavery and it’s effect on me, my people and those who have benefitted from it. I have also built the courage to engage with people who have had a completely different upbringing than I have had and been able to build common ground with people from all walks of life. I have been had to take the initiative to do a lot of the work on my own because of how taboo mental health has been for men in the Black community and on a later date I truly wish to be able to dive deeper into other aspects of our experience and how a lack of mental health focus has somewhat stunted our growth and potential for development in different areas.
Lastly, as a husband for the last 10 years and a father a beautiful boy for the last four months I have finally garnered the courage to finally attend therapy.
You can find Antoine at his Instagram: @antoine.bennett to check out his photography skills and his extremly adorable son.