'blackboyfeelings' combats toxic stereotypes through art
The 218-page book — filled with short stories, poems, and screenshots — strives to illustrate that the lives of black boys are valid “simply by existing.”
Image Jeana Lindo
Masculinity and emotion are often understood to be mutually exclusive. From the moment boys begin walking, they are commonly told to "toughen up" — a declaration barked by fathers like a coach amping up his star player for the final quarter. Emotionality gets hobbled. Internalization and repression become dangerous, default approaches to managing feelings.
While this social pressure is forced upon boys of all ages, sexualities, and ethnicities, the hearts of black boys in particular are forced into extra-small boxes. It's not that black boys don't have feelings, it's just that they are so rarely given a stage on which to share them. As The Opportunity Agenda points out, the most common representations of black males are news stories involving criminal acts. This "disproportionately [paints] them as aggressors," the study "Media Representation and the Impact on the lives of Black Men and Boys" argues. "They are not only likely to appear as criminals, but likely to be shown in ways that make them seem particularly threatening."
Thankfully, blackboyfeelings has arrived: a 218-page book that shares the happiness, sadness, and all the in-between emotions, that black boys experience. NYC artists Richard Bryan, 23, and Jeana Lindo, 22, came together to capture the nuances of black male identities through short stories, poems, screenshots of texts, and Facebook statuses. For example, in a short personal essay, artist Djibril Sall talks about the fetishization that black gay males often have to endure, writing, "I look back at the men I've slept with. They're taken aback when I say I prefer being bottom so I always add on the vers tag to my dating profiles to assure them I am capable of domination."
These are the kinds of vulnerable, soft-spoken moments that alternately break and mend your heart as you flip through blackboyfeelings. i-D talked to Richard and Jeana about putting together this mammoth collection of voices and experiences.
How did the idea for blackboyfeelings come about?
Jeana: One day we were having a conversation about how Richard got a haircut from a new barber and he was like, "When you get a haircut from your new barber and you feel like you're cheating on your old barber." I responded:"#blackboyfeelings" — and there was the idea. We discussed it further and worked on it throughout the summer.
Was this your first time making a mixed-media book?
Richard: It became a book because of the amount of submissions. It was only halfway through the project that I realized how important the book format was. There's a respect that people give to books.
Jeana: Originally, it was going to be a zine but a disposable format wouldn't have done justice to all this work. It had to be an everlasting book.
Why did you want to include so many candid shots of black boys just having fun and hanging out
Jeana: My intent was just to show guys being. There's one photo of my friend eating chips and I took other pictures of friends hanging out at barbeques. It's saying, we're valid simply by existing.
The book includes a lot of text conversations and Facebook statuses. What role does social media play in your connections to other POC and activism?
Jeana: Social media is a space where people go to express themselves. There's a lot of genuine emotion in the statuses and I wanted to elevate them as art pieces. People often think that they're not writers, but they'll make a status in which they tell everybody what they're feeling and it takes bravery to do that.
Richard: Yeah, text messages are really intimate. The internet allows us to distance ourselves but simultaneously reveal deeper parts of ourselves that we wouldn't necessarily reveal in person.
Since this book is all about feelings, what are you both feeling right now?
Jeana: I'm feeling really frustrated at the moment. I'm really excited about this interview, but I have to go back to do makeup for someone for a photoshoot so I'm feeling anxious about getting that done.
Richard: I'm feeling pretty boundless. I'm enjoying this patch of sunshine that I'm under and I'm thinking about non-drowsy benadryl.
What are your ambitions for the future? Do you plan on making a volume two?
Richard: I'm looking forward to not getting complacent, sharpening my sword, and working on more mixed-media projects. Also, I need a job if anyone's hiring!
Jeana: Also, going home for the summer and getting back to creating work.