Race, masculinity, emotion work and black men in Britain today: A case study of generational change

RTB DISSERTATION SUMMARy BY Israel Enock-Fagbemi

Background

My motivations for choosing this topic for my dissertation came from my own personal experiences. In 2017, when I heard that my close friend had died from cancer, I just broke down. I have never cried like that before in my life or felt that type of pain. It hurt so deep. To prevent myself from feeling that pain again, I tried to bury it as deep as I could, by not allowing myself to cry and keeping people at arm’s length so if they died, I won’t feel that type of pain again. These were serious unhealthy coping mechanisms, which I came to realise further down the line. But what was eye opening for me was that when I spoke to some of my friends about how they dealt with our friends passing, they had similar experiences, with one of my friends saying that he only allowed himself to cry recently, and this was 2 years down the line. That is when this concept of masculinity started to intrigue me, because I realised that my friends and I were silently suffering because that is what we have been taught to do and I wanted to find out why.

Introduction

Masculinity is defined as the set of attributes, behaviours and roles that are associated with being a man. In areas such as London, there has been a rise in knife crime performed by young males, and statistics have also shown that three quarters of UK deaths by suicide have been performed by men. Evidently, the males of this generation have been silently suffering, but they have also been left behind, as there has been no movement to aid them in expressing their gender in a positive way. Instead they are left trapped in an outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength and power. Although the sociology of gender is a prominent field within Sociology, this subject of masculinity is not spoken about as much as other subjects such as Feminism. Because of this, not much work and attention has gone into discussions of masculinity, more specifically black masculinity. With more discussions surrounding topics of black masculinity, social processes and practices will be understood.

Emotion work refers to the management of one’s feelings. By uncovering the emotion work that is performed by males within society, it can allow us to have a deeper understanding of why so many men are led to commit suicide, or why young males are seen acting out in extremely violent ways. This research aims to fill in these blanks as it addresses issues such as mental health, emotional expression and masculinity, things that are not necessarily spoken about within the black community due to stigma. This research will yield data that will be insightful in regard to how black men perform their emotion work, which can lead to increased understanding and further discussions that will
plant a spotlight on these issues within the black community.

Therefore, this research is being conducted as it can be of significant use towards understanding and targeting the problem of masculinity within society and the black community itself. It will essentially be a mouthpiece for the men who are forced to conform to society’s perception of what being a man should be. By combining the experiences and practices of the older and younger generation, we can identify any trends and hopefully be able to offer solutions in the future. Therefore, with the use of interviews, the aim of this research project is to examine and understand how black men perform their emotion work in British contemporary society.

Summary

The dissertation looked at how black British men perceived their masculinity and how they performed their own forms of emotion work. This was done by conducting six qualitative interviews so that participants could be provided with the platform to share their own views on masculinity, emotions, and identity. This resulted in three major themes drawn from the interview which reflected the pattern of responses.

The first theme was emotions. Essentially, when it came to the topic of crying all participants agreed that crying is a good and positive thing that should not be looked down upon, however, the younger participants (ages: 20-21 years old) looked down upon it, because nobody likes an emotional man. This view reflected the emotional stoicism amongst black men.

The second theme was race. All participants felt a sense of pressure from the black community to be a certain way. For example, the younger participants felt that they had to dress a certain way, and this was a way that they achieved their masculinity, whilst the older participants expressed the pressures from their youth of having to achieve their masculinity through sports and body maintenance.

The final theme was therapy. Practically all participants both young and old agreed that therapy is a good thing but, for them personally they would not go to a therapist. This reflects the general stigma amongst the black community regarding mental health and counselling, especially amongst men. I found this to be reflective of why the suicide rates in men are so high.

Advice

If you are getting ready to start your third year and do your dissertation. My advice is to start early, I got a high 2:1 but had I started earlier and had more time at the end to make more edits I would have been able to easily finish with a first. Also, make sure you are always making appointments with your supervisor, it will help keep you on track of everything and continually working at it. If your supervisor is not good, request to change them ASAP because it will hurt you in the long run; I had loads of friends this year who were basically left to do their dissertation without any help because their supervisor stopped answering their emails. Lastly, choose a topic you actually enjoy, this dissertation thing is so long, that writing about something that you do not enjoy is just a waste of time.

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