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Opinion: Emotional Justice for Black Men Begins the Healing Process

What does it mean to create a Black masculinity of intimacy, empathy and accountability? That’s what Emotional Justice for Black men means. This roadmap for racial healing invites Black men to engage in doing their emotional work. Why? To sever a connection to a masculinity shaped by a society where power is about dominion, subjugation and exploitation. Black men can’t get free that way.

Such masculinity shapes how you see yourself, how you love, how you move through the world. Emotional Justice doesn’t negate the beauty of power within masculinity. Power is swag, sexy, flava and all the things. The challenge we face is the notion of power in America, which is set by the language of whiteness. This language has nurtured a narrative that whiteness built the world, saves the world, and civilizes the world – and Black people need saving and civilizing. While we may philosophically and ideologically call BS on such a notion; it creates an emotional connection to power that centers and privileges whiteness.

That means it shapes how Black men engage with each other, see each other, treat each other. This notion of masculinity makes self-harm, and harm among Black men a love language. Again, we do not get free this way. Black men need healing, a healing that is created, built, shaped according to the specificity and particularity of their experience of being Black and a man in America. The uniqueness of that experience is about a contemporary reality that sits on a history that has targeted Black men as simultaneously incapable and invincible – such a definition strips away your humanity, and reduces your emotional vocabulary.

Emotional Justice for Black men is about giving language to the full breadth of emotional worlds within Black men, expanding their emotional vocabulary and supporting them to do their own emotional work. Emotional Justice is a framework for racial healing that I created to grapple with a legacy of untreated trauma from oppressive systems.

This is not about uneducated Black men, or Black men acquiring more education. We cannot PhD our way out of untreated trauma. There is heart work we must do, and what Emotional Justice offers Black men is a tool and resource to do that work. That work is about expanding limited and limiting emotional vocabulary. Black men’s emotional worlds are complex, pain filled, painful, vulnerable, powerful, harmful, hurting, seeking and struggling, this breadth matters. Being able to identify, name, express and engage this expanse is part of how Black men heal.

Emotional Justice encourages Black men to do their emotional work in a community with one another in ways we have not done before. In Emotional Justice, I call it developing ‘Brotherhoods of Becoming’. It is the Emotional Justice language and framework we have created for Black men’s healing. Building these Brotherhoods of Becoming is about recognizing this is not a one and done type of healing, the word ‘becoming’ suggests an ongoing action, a continuous engagement.

We have had centuries of harm, we need generations of healing to unlearn what has shaped how we see ourselves and the fragments that are our mirrors – not wholeselves, but pieces - shoved, small, big, hurting, sacrificing, drowning, celebrating, and shining. We already have policy and legislation from the resistance movements we built to fight for a humanity that America has consistently denied Black men while simultaneously requiring their labor, desiring their bodies, demonizing their spirits and deifying their beauty.

Emotional Justice for Black men is not about negating the struggle, the sacrifice, the strength, the tenacity, and the sheer drive of Black men – we quite literally would not be here without that. There is no suggestion that Black men do not love themselves either. This is not about that. Emotional Justice is about the toll of the history and its contemporary manifestations on Black mens’ spirit, and on how Black men love. This difference matters. It speaks to the specificity of this roadmap for racial healing.

The mantras of ‘Hey King’ and ‘Keep Your Head up, King’, fall short, and don’t speak to the expanse of what Black men walk with. And quite frankly at this stage we don’t need a mantra, we need a movement – a racial healing movement built with Black people's history, journey, experience, beauty, badassness, pain, shame, and story at its center. That’s what Emotional Justice is, that’s what it offers. On The Daily Show, Trevor Noah spoke movingly about a masculinity that is lonely, isolated, hungry for an intimacy that is not sexualized – but resorts to using sex as the path to keeping company with the parts of their souls that yearn for connection not ejaculation.

Such parts deeply desire a companionship for these quiet parts of themselves, a respite from a deep loneliness for which Black men don’t always have language. Author and activist Jason Wilson calls it ‘emotional incarceration.’ That is powerful language. The bars that break Black men are often wrapped around their own souls struggling to name the feelings that encompass, absorb, and drown them, and for which emotional vocabulary is required. Black men may feel terrified and are simultaneously terrorized. They can become the terrorizers even as they navigate a society that criminalizes their ordinariness. Again, this creates fragments of your humanity. Nobody wants a fragmented soul; Black men need healed souls – and such a healing requires emotional work.

Emotional Justice is a love language for Black men, it is about a tenderness, a grace towards yourself, and your Black brother. But, there can be no emotional justice without the equal division of emotional labor. That emotional labor is identified within emotional justice. Black men, this roadmap and framework is for you, for your health, for your heart, and for your healing.

It is time for Black men to build brotherhoods of becoming, and create a practice of Emotional Justice.

About the Author: Esther A. Armah is an international award-winning journalist, playwright, radio host, and writer. She is currently CEO of The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice, (The AIEJ), a global institute implementing the ‘Emotional Justice’ framework she created. The AIEJ devises, develops, designs, and delivers projects, training, and thought leadership. The Emotional Justice framework has taken Armah as a speaker to a range of prestigious venues including Netflix Inclusion Institute, Stanford, NYU, and Kenya’s African Women in Media Conference. She is based in Accra, Ghana, but the majority of her and The AIEJ’s work are in the U.S. She is also the author of Emotional Justice: A Roadmap for Racial Healing.

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