In Defense of The Angry Black Man by Calvin Eaton

In Defense of The Angry Black Man | by Calvin Eaton

I cry because as a black man I understand the repercussions of displaying anger, I can be killed

These are personal words at a recent restorative peer mediation session I partiipated in that undercut my feeling that as a black man living in white supremacy culture of America; I’ve learned how to suppress public and private displays of anger for fear of being labelled angry, out of control or worse; being killed by the police. One call can mean life or death so I rarely show my anger in a way that can be perceived as intimidating. My feelings echo the words of writer Cause Ray who wrote in an article for Made Magazine:

It’s hard being a black man. The world around us doesn’t see our worth at the same time many of us don’t see our own value either… Let cultural and societal norms tell it, we can’t smile, we can’t show emotion, we can’t get tired, we can’t laugh, we can’t drive, we can’t seek help after a car accident, we can’t listen to loud music, we can’t give out hugs, and the list goes on and on. 

This burden and pressure of being the docile, happy, but not too happy black man wrecks havoc on our mental and emotional health and lead to dysfunctional ways of communicating and relationships that proliferate the black community among men. A study published by Annals of Internal Med:cine found that In 2016,

  • Non-Hispanic black men were nearly 10.4 times more likely than non-Hispanic white men to die by homicide in the United States, whereas white men were 2.5 times more likely than black men to die by suicide
  •  Black men are 14 times more likely than white men to die by firearm homicide (1).

Without healthy outlets to deal with and display anger; most of it gets pent-up and then unleashed in unproductive ways like through illegal firearms. The burden can be even greater for professional black men in positions of power and influence. One wrong move or blow up can tank a career and ruin a carefully manicured reputation. Local black leader and Superintendent of East High School in Rochester NY Dr. Shaun Nelms shared: “And people wonder why I am distant. Our jobs are so public and having fun takes careful thought and discretion. It is why we are constantly stressed and unhealthy. 

Dr. Nelms comments were in response a facebook photo that went viral of another black superintendent Dr. Lee Carpenter. The photo in question shows Dr. Carpenter at a college football game,surrounded by friends having fun with alcohol in hand and making what some deem as “inappropriate gestures” This story just briefly undercuts the level of scrutiny that professional black men face every single day. The scrutiny and constant burden of not behaving what can be perceived as bad has health implications including insomnia, depression, and anxiety.

So the next time you see a black man cry, laugh loudly, display anger, or just exisit ask yourself does this make you uncomfortable? Then ask yourself why? Black men are human and as humans have the right to laugh, cry, smile, be loud, yell, and exist without fear of repercussion,


  1. Learn more about 540’s antiracism programming 
  2. White Supremacy Culture
  3. 540WMain’s #speakoutnow campaign against injustice

Published by Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a non-profit online and community-based organization for accessible education and events that promote justice for all.

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