Back in 2016, Vanity Fair ran a super endearing, idealistically beautiful black and white portrait of actor Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler. The picture sang praises to the imagery of successful black men, strong jaw lines, clear skin and damn good beards.
Following the release of the image, however, Jordan, Coogler and Vanity Fair received unexpected and unwarranted criticism, all for featuring two black men in an embrace. As the story goes, putrid comments of rampant homophobia from predominantly black men and women ensued.
They ranged from, 'The demasculation continues. I hate this pic!!" to "Of the hundreds of photos taken during a shoot ... This is the effeminate image the Vanity Fair photo editor selected to display to the world. No self respecting heterosexual males pose like this naturally."
In short, reading these comments hurt me. As the black daughter of a black father with black sons, I can attest to the fact that never in my life had I seen my father embrace his sons– with no doubt in my mind, due to the homophobic, fearful and insecure ideologies similar to those showcased above.
The black family archetype in America has been burdened with the struggle of needing to be publicly and privately hyper-masculine, straight down to the women as well. 'Weakness' has been made to be avoided at all cost and unfortunately, that has included the embracing of black men by black men.
This, in short, is a deterent to black culture, where so much vibrancy exists, but still, so much toxic masculinity and so much stigma.
The image and comments were made viral this week once again by Michigan-based graphic designer and illustrator Jermaine Dickerson, a.k.a. @JermaineDesigns. After posting the backlash, Jermaine devised a plan to combat these notions of hate, fear and insecurity by developing the hashtag, #BlackBoysEmbrace.
According to Jermaine, #BlackBoysEmbrace was, "inspired by @gianorama to combat the toxic masculinity expressed by black people when black men display a certain level of intimacy." He reminds us, "black men should be able to show all kinds of affection without being stigmatized– whether we kiss our sons or each other."
Jermaine invites us to share images of black men embracing one another whether it be platonically or otherwise, in order to begin rectifying the harm done by toxic masculinity and rampant homophobia displayed throughout the black race. For many of us, these were images we didn't even know we needed to see until now.
With the conversation started for us by great samaritan Jermaine, we can see images many of us have never seen before. Black men embracing one another, joyous, happy and okay– not only in their sexuality, in their extensions of affection but in themselves.
With an understanding of how disruptive seeing a lack of affection by black men in families can be, we can now begin working on ways to further combat these harmful stigmas while thoroughly enjoying the fruits of what the hashtag has produced, below: