Vulnerability might as well be an expletive for men. Everything in us tells us that vulnerability is weakness.
My father and I had our biggest fallout when I was 17. Weeks after that fallout, I remember seeing him cry for the first time. What did that do to me as a young adult? My father, being the premier Alpha male man in my life, made me think crying was an emotion that men didn’t use. “Stop crying. Why are you always crying? Look at the cry baby…”
However, crying is a human expression. Clearly, anything done in excess can be a problem, and crying is not an exception. What I had developed at that point in my life, was an excess of holding back my true emotions – and only expressing through anger. I’d get angry and lash out, fighting and being combative toward authority because I had no practiced tools for truly processing the honest emotions I felt.
My father did his best with the knowledge he had, so blaming him or my mother for how I acted takes no accountability. He was raised in a time when showing perceived weakness could literally mean your life. In his desire to protect me, he taught me how to hide emotion by the way he responded to emotion.
Today, I have two sons and I try to be as vulnerable as I can with them. I want them to see me happy, to see joy and positivity, I also want them to see me cry or even be embarrassed. How are they ever going to learn to process their full range of emotions if they don’t see the premier man in their lives processing?
Don’t hide emotions from your kids; more importantly don’t hide from yourself. You are no less a man because you shed a tear. Emotions are not sexist; we all have them. They are tools that allow us to process situations that may be hard or almost impossible to process otherwise.
Why are we so attached to ideas like vulnerability being synonymous with weakness? Why are we so attached to these ideas of Alpha? In many communities, we latch on to the ideals that justify that we are equal to our counterpart. Why don’t we just feel equal? Why do we need something to justify being “man enough”?
Since it’s Black History Month, we’re going to look at how exactly this Alpha ideal has taken root in the black community… and why it can be very toxic.
Throughout history on nearly every continent – but, for the sake of this article, specifically in North America– the black community was property, without rights or representation. As nations abolished slavery, the United States, too, abolished the practice and ended the slave trade. Not fully recognized as citizens under various Black Codes, black men officially counted for just 1/3 of a man, their wages were capped, they were largely denied access to voting, education and decent housing. The various Black Codes were largely adopted into nationally recognized Jim Crow laws that widely existed until 1968.
And in 2022, we still are fighting for equality. It is not by happenstance that ideas reflective of strength and power are quickly adopted by the black community. Alpha status is not something that is only practiced by the black community, but I do believe it is something that can be very harmful if is continued in its current fashion.
My goal, during Black History Month is to redefine what it is to be a black Alpha male and restore the community and respect we need within our culture.
What does Alpha male mean?
Alpha is a term that is used to represent a dominance hierarchy. The top of the hierarchy would be the Alpha, as in singular. We have perverted the term to mean the Alpha Group, which comes from David Mech in his studies of wolf packs in 1970, mainly in his book “The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species.”
What he determined was that the Alpha wolf, or the leader of the pack, established and asserted his dominance by fighting the rest of the males in the pack. That gave the Alpha wolf more privileges for breeding and plundering other spoils. Mech later recanted his term, Alpha wolf, and after more research, the Alpha wolf status was changed to the breeding wolf. He went on to admit that the term was misused: the male that does the most breeding is now called breeding male; not the Alpha male. A wolfpack is usually just a family. As the males in the wolf pack grow older, they create their own packs. Alpha, in reference to wolves, is merely the parents.
Now, let’s get back to our human adaptation of Alpha male. Socially, anything that gives us a sense of power is attractive, especially to the disenfranchised. We relish in these ideas, feeling more powerful and exuding a false sense of confidence. For a culture that has been treated less-than, it’s easy to draw a parallel between these ideas and the desire of equality.
I like to think back to a quote my father instilled in me growing up, “Fair is not a real word.” Every time I uttered something not being fair, he quoted this to me. He was teaching me that nothing is fair, and in it not being fair, we must recognize our personal advantages and use those to be who we want to be.
Here lies the issue with the current philosophy of the Alpha male. It is rooted in dominance, in an archaic, animalistic fashion. Win by any means necessary: cheat, steal, step over people, value selfishness over selflessness. It spews chauvinism and praises victory with no regard to the sacrifice.
“If you’re not first, you’re last,” Ricky Bobby said in Talladega Nights, as he put everything he loved behind winning. It is a low-energy ideal, a survival mode expression. So what do we do? Do we scrap the idea of Alpha all together? I don’t think so; I think Alpha can be used to express a standard for men, especially black men.
The new black alpha male has characteristics that are important, supportive and high-energy expression. Survival is simply a low-energy basis and we must treat it as such, so that we can use our true gifts that come from our intuitive self. I’m currently writing a book that explores these characteristics in deep detail, but for this article I will name the Alpha 9: Protector, Provider, Vulnerability, Listener, Assertiveness, Respect, Service, Discipline and Moral. These nine attributes, I believe, can do much healing for the black community, allowing us to create standards and morals we can use to mend the pain and heartache we have suffered for centuries.
Creating a set of standards creates goals, upholding these standards builds pride and being accountable can change one man, one family and ultimately the community.
It’s a brick-by-brick ideology, that allows for a strong foundation and builds up our cultural houses. How do we end the violence, help the poor? By getting in the damn game.
The goal is power: power from the inside out, true power and true strength.
The tools we have, such as our emotions, give us the needed power for the situation. In order to restore the strength in our families and the community, in addition to all-around respect, we have to abide by a set of rules. The attributes I outlined earlier, I believe, are a great way to establish the strength, accountability and emotional intelligence we need to center ourselves in the light we should be viewed in.
Once we hold ourselves accountable to a standard, we do not break, we won’t need titles to validate our power. The alpha is innate, it’s who we are, now we need to ensure we execute it. The world is watching and waiting, lets step into the position we deserve. Let’s make the standards of the new black Alpha our new generational pass down.