In Defense of the Sensitive Black Man

My Thing Is: Everyone knows it’s wrong to shame women for defying gender stereotypes. So what about men who show feelings? Can we live?

Matthew Lyons
Matthew Lyons Courtesy of Matthew Lyons

Recently a tweet from a sister jumped out at me from my timeline. She said something like, “I can’t stand sensitive dudes. If I wanted to sit around and talk about my feelings, I would’ve called one of my girlfriends. Man up!” 

The sentiment wasn’t about me, but it made me think. After all, in just the past couple of weeks, a friend (who is gay) told me that two people had asked him if I was gay. Why? It appears that the common thread is that I am considered “sensitive”—or, I guess, more sensitive than one would expect a straight male to be.

Interestingly, I didn’t have a knee-jerk, “Hell, no! I’m a women-lovin’ straight-male” reaction.  Instead, I was curious and concerned.

Why is a man so put down (or subject to assumptions about his sexuality) for being perceived as sensitive? I’ve found this to be particularly the case with black men—from within and outside our community. (Consider how the perception that he’s “soft” or “emo” has single-handedly fueled years of punchlines about Drake.)

It’s the other side of the well-known damaging stereotype that paints us as aggressive, onerous, threatening or just plain angry, or—as we were reminded of by the reaction to Richard Sherman’s postgame interview—”thugs.” While a lot of us need and are completely entitled to have a bit of an edge when we are out on the streets, or combating foolishness in broad social settings, I hate the idea of being boxed into being—or at least acting—hard all the time. It can be a bit much.

It seems that when “You’re too sensitive”—a phrase I’ve heard far too often in my life—is said to a woman, it’s an attempt to silence her emotions and not deal with issues. But when it’s said to a man, it’s meant to deride the guy for caring. He’s being soft. Going all Ralph Tresvant. He’s acting gay (usually from the perspective of someone who wrongly sees being gay as a bad thing) or acting like a little bitch.

But here’s what I think: A sensitive man is someone with enough security and confidence in himself that being sensitive, compassionate or even vulnerable is not a threat.

I think it’s worth clarifying that when I speak of being sensitive, I’m talking about actually taking an interest in others, being willing to listen more than talk, showing empathy and not having sex constantly running through one’s head when interacting with a woman. I’m talking about the ability to show emotion.

Of course, there are limits. I’m not talking about people who fall to pieces. Consider what the word “sensitive” means:

Synonyms: Delicate, fine, keen, perceptive, quick, acute, sharp.