by Nina Monei
I keep seeing this argument being made that black boys are being “coddled” and that this is why many of them grow up to struggle as men. What confuses me most about this argument is that it’s most often used in conversations about black men who have criminal records, histories of violence, low education and who lack financial literacy and independent living skills. The perception is that “too much coddling” is to blame for these things.
But the dictionary defines coddling as “treat in an indulgent or overprotective way.”
So, to say black boys are being coddled is to say that we are protecting them somehow. Yet black boys/men experience:
- the lowest graduation rates among their peers.
- the highest youth incarceration rates, often for non-violent offenses.
- the highest rates of child abuse resulting in death.
- the highest rates of imprisonment as adults.
- the highest rates of unemployment.
- an alarming number of deaths at the hands of police (in 2018, 191 black people have been shot and killed by police. 184 were men. Of the 15 black individuals considered unarmed – carrying no gun, knives, pipes, toy weapons, or driving a vehicle, 14 were men.)
So what exactly are we protecting them from?
I hear this said most often in conversations about black men being “toxic.” And the people who say this usually reference things like black boys not being expected to cook, clean, do laundry, etc. But these are necessary independent living and self-sufficiency skills every developing child, regardless of gender, should learn in order to be able to function on their own as adults. Yet it’s framed as though black boys are being done a favor — they are being indulged and protected — by being deprived of opportunities to gain self sufficiency.
The behavior frequently described as “coddling” is actually a component of emotionally abusive — and often even physically abusive — parenting practices utilized to indoctrinate black boys to toxic masculinity. They’re not expected or even allowed to cook and clean because “boys don’t do that.” It’s for this same reason that they aren’t allowed to dance, or do art, and why they so often have footballs and basketballs shoved in their hands before they can talk. Or that we shame them, ridicule them, call them homophobic slurs, and even beat them for showing interest in “girly” things, then shun and silence their emotional reactions because “men don’t cry.”
All of these are things that we do to black boys as we try shape them into caricatures of “manhood” before they’re ever given a chance to be children.
Too many of us use our children as trauma dumps for our pain and frustrations and black boys get the worst of it. Again, black boys experience the highest rates of child abuse resulting in death. They’re growing up with mothers and fathers doing untold mental, emotional and physical harm to them under the guise of “teaching them to be men” while simultaneously neglecting their emotional and developmental needs because “he’s a boy. He’s strong. He’ll figure it out.”
We know these things are happening. We see it with the boys in our lives. We talk about the effects as we ridicule toxic men for their “mommy issues.” Yet we’re completely silent on the abuse we know black boys suffer that creates these issues.
We talk about all of the pieces — abused become abusers, toxic masculinity, raising boys in a culture of violence — but never how they fit together. We pretend to think black men are just born bad. Which is frightening to me, because that is the exact ideology white police officers use to over-police and kill them. Are black boys just as disposable and inherently threatening to us as the racists who would see them dead?
Black boys are growing up with all of the odds stacked against them. They’re being taught from an early age that they are inherently threatening simply for existing and people use this logic to perpetrate, defend and ignore violence against them both in and outside of their homes. Studies have shown that black boys are often seen as older than they are and viewed as threatening while doing non-threatening things.
Trayvon Martin was killed for walking home wearing a hoodie, carrying skittles.
Tamir Rice was killed while playing in the park. The 911 caller described him as an “older man” and a “gangster” and said in an interview later that he thought he was 20. He was 12.
But if black men are inherently toxic, if we can hide behind narratives that paint violence, codependency, and criminality as intrinsic traits of black manhood, then we don’t have to change anything about the ways we raise black boys or acknowledge our refusal to show up for them — in life, not just in death. We don’t have to be accountable to our complicity in raising the boys we later vilify as men.
It’s also interesting to me that where I never see this topic of “coddling” come up is in regard to successful rappers, athletes, and entertainers. Nor do I hear it used to describe middle and upper-class black men who have achieved financial success, despite the fact that these are the black men who were actually coddled as boys. These are the boys whose villages and environments successfully protected them from falling victim to the traps of racism and violence that await black boys.
These men are often raised with the same ideas of toxic masculinity and just as likely to rely on their wives and the women in their lives to take care of “women’s work.” Yet the only complaints that I hear about them is that they often don’t choose black wives. But why would anyone want that if black men are so “toxic” and “trash” and toxic masculinity is so abhorrent?
Is it that we don’t actually mind black boys being indoctrinated into toxic masculinity, so long as it manifests in the ways and roles that benefit us?
It seems that the only problem with these normalized, toxic parenting practices for black boys arise when we collectively fail to coddle them. Because black women have long been not only complicit but instrumental in raising black boys into “toxic” black men. Yet the outrage seems to only set in when sacrificing the minds and spirits of developing children doesn’t manifest in freedom from oppression for us by way of the patriarchy.
We punish black boys for the sins of men. We abuse, neglect and demean them, then discard them when they grow up to be the men we “knew” they would become.
The men we all make them.
Featured image by Johnny Silvercloud.