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On Black Male Vulnerability

Days after a white police officer shot Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, in 2015, I presented five photos for a class I was taking. Our task was to take 300 photos highlighting light and color and to present the best photos for an in-class critique. It didn’t occur to me then that my photos were of only black men and women, nor did it occur to me that others saw these photos much differently than I did. When I presented one of my photos, the first comment to come from a classmate was, “Wow! I work with Marques, but I’ve never seen him like this.”

The critique quickly turned into a discussion about how we identify, classify, and react to black bodies, and I began to realize how more photos like the ones I presented in class could add to a needed conversation on how black bodies are perceived. This project is still a work in progress, but I’m excited to share a sliver with you now. My mission is twofold: to offer a depiction of black men as multi-dimensional, complex beings, while also validating the shared experiences of black men who are told time and time again that they are—and can only be—one particular way: either oversexualized or hyper-aggressive or some other form of extreme machismo. And so below I hope to provide a glimpse of the small moments of release you catch when talking to young black men—if they have the space to be full, complex, and vulnerable.

Black Male Vulnerability 2
“I didn’t want to be a burden.”
Black Male Vulnerability 3
“My mom is the nicest woman ever, and sometimes it’s sickening.”
Black Male Vulnerability 4
“It was her birthday, we had been playing phone tag, and when I finally talked to her, she said, ‘Now that I’ve spoken to you, my birthday is made.’”
Black Male Vulnerability 1
“How would you react if you saw someone who owes you money? / Wow! I work with Marques, but I’ve never seen him like this.”
Black Male Vulnerability 5
“My daughter pulls all that out of me… I was rolling around with her on the floor, and I knew I looked crazy but she was so happy.”


Simone McPhail is an associate producer at New America, where she supports the external relations, editorial and event teams.