By Latoya Powell
David Grant addresses mental health, hypermasculinity and the stereotypes that impact the lives of black men in his thesis They Don’t Care About Us. His research deconstructed the “angry Black man” stereotype through a series of interviews with incarcerated Black men from Scarborough, Ont.
They Don’t Really Care About Us takes a deep dive into analyzing physiological, environmental and societal issues that Black men have to deal with throughout their everyday lives. Grant uses the critical race theory and storytelling method to explain his research.
He interviewed four Black men who’ve experienced incarceration at one point in their lives. Grant picked similar themes that all of them shared and categorized them by emotions that were placed in the subsections of Finding and Discussion chapter. In this section, he focused on mental health, depression, and fear in the stories titled The Pain is Worth It, Gotta Stay High While I Survive and They Got Me Caged like an Animal.
The Eyeopener got to interview Grant to discuss his research. The answers have been condensed for reading purposes.
Q: Can you talk about the stereotypes that you wanted to disprove with your essay?
One of the stereotypes I wanted to debunk is that Black men and Black boys are inherently alike. That is completely false because people think that young Black boys just automatically become angry by chance, and that’s not the case. There [are] so many external environmental factors. A lot of the things that have been indoctrinated in us, relates to white people. [When Black men first experience racism] we inherit that… From that, we’re not just growing up seeing certain things with our own eyes. It becomes a doctrine in us and unconsciously we begin to internalize it. Once it’s internalized, of course, anger begins to fester in us. So we, of course, grow up being angry at certain things.
Another stereotype about Black boys is that they all want to be thugs and gangsters, and that’s pretty much all that they could ever amount to. Which again, is not the case. No one chooses to be a gangster. One of the participants [I interviewed], said that choosing [to sell] drugs were a “choice”, but it wasn’t necessarily a “choice”. When you’re looking at your life circumstances understanding that nobody wants to hire [you, you start to think] I’m the only man in the house, [and] my mother is working three jobs and we’re barely making ends meet. In technical terms, of course, you have a choice to do something else, but if we’re looking at it in reality, if we’re looking pragmatically a lot of these guys honestly don’t have a “choice” per say.
“One of the most interesting findings is that these guys [would] put on a tough exterior to hide these vulnerabilities of addiction, of extreme mental issues”
Why did you focus on the male Black community instead of the Black community in general?
There has been a lot more research on young Black women or black girls in my experience, than young Black boys. [Also], young women and young girls are surpassing young Black boys and young Black men. I mean, you can look at statistics or just in general, you can look at university campuses. They’re surpassing us and that’s an amazing thing, but young Black boys continue to be left behind in all aspects of the economy, academic institutions, and life. We are not represented. But we got representation in the prison population and in the homicide population rates. So I want to specifically focus on young Black boys and young Black men because it’s a population that continues to be stereotyped and negated in general. People have this unique type of hate and fear towards young Black boys that I really wanted to address.
What were some of your most significant findings?
There was honestly, a fair amount that actually had me in shock. One of the participants said that he started smoking from Grade 7, but by the time he was at least 13 or 14, he was smoking a lot of weed [and] drinking a lot of alcohol. One of the most interesting findings is that these guys [would] put on a tough exterior to hide these vulnerabilities of addiction, of extreme mental issues. These guys would [say], “I was in prison and I was depressed. I couldn’t smoke weed. I was, crying, then angry then sad. I was messed up.” Another guy [said], “I’ve heard voices and I’ve been on medication.” That was a very powerful finding. It’s very satisfying to show how detrimental their experiences have been with racism, with environmental challenges.
What was the most interesting story you came across while interviewing your participants and why?
One of the participants told me [a story about him and his cousins]. He was between 12 to 14 years old and was living with his older cousins because his home life with his mom was just not healthy.
His cousins were gangsters. They drank all day, they smoked all day, they robbed people, sold drugs, pimped out women. You named the crime, they did it. He said, they were riding out [one day] and they went to go meet this guy. He thought he was just coming to confront this guy. [Before] he realizes it, [it] was turning into an armed robbery. He said he saw one of his friends take out a hammer and swing at the guy [and hit] his head and luckily the guy dogged the hammer and ran away then all the guys went [to chase after him], including him because he was like “I just have to run with them”. And they just started beating on him. He said that his cousin and his friends were insulting him continuously for freezing. They were slandering his character, saying, “You’re a punk, you’re a bitch, How did you freeze like that? What is wrong?”
He was so young. He never forgot that moment. He said that he was just so hardened by that incident that he never wanted to be that “punk” again. So he said, he had to be the that bad guy. That story stuck out to me.
What are some things everyone can do to improve Black men experiences?
We need to understand that (Black boys) are human beings, because, understanding them as human beings, just like white, Chinese and Indian kids and every other child are human beings, but Black kids; we understand how human beings have natural emotions. But also take into account that these are human beings who have been subjected to a specific type of racism, a specific type of lack of opportunities, a specific type of exclusion, but they’re still human beings. Once we are able to understand that concept, well then, we can actually start to make progress for Black boys.