A man holding up a large heavy boulder that has sickle cells on it while calling out in pain for help

Toxic Masculinity and Sickle Cell Disease

First of all, I’d like to introduce myself: My name is Kehinde Salami. I am 39 years old and have sickle cell disease.

Now that reads perfectly... until it's time to seek help and support. Let me paint you a picture: I'm 39 years old,  6'2", and I’m BLACK living with a condition that is hardly understood.

So, what happens when myself and the many other men with sickle cell break down, get sick, and need help?

The Issue

To put it into context "the Black male," according to society, is the pillar of strength, shouldering burdens of colonialism, racism and oppression. So with this in mind, we are conditioned to automatically be in defense mode to the point where we have to be strong no matter what, no matter what we go through, and no matter what we are feeling.

Now, this was very problematic for me, especially as the burden of internalizing everything that was explained prior. In regards to having to have to be Masculine, yet having to live, navigate, and experience a condition that makes you feel vulnerable, less powerful, and unable to do the things expected from us by society puts the label of “failure” to the point you question your very being.

Vulnerability

Sickle cell is a very complex condition that has put me in places physically, mentally, and emotionally that have had me looking for help and feeling unable to claim my masculinity. Due to the feeling of feeling vulnerable to the mercy of a condition that you know eventually can kill you. That’s the reality - cold, blunt, and harsh.

So, what do we do? Most importantly!!! What do I do as a man to tackle this?

Internal struggles

I have often had conversations with myself, navigating my ideologies of Masculinity, especially while living with sickle cell disease, to the point I have doubted my own morality. It can become a recurring issue, constantly battling demons that often led to me not seek help or support. Left to my own negative feelings towards myself and sickle cell, and wondering whether I can advocate for the sickle cell community and a young daughter who also has the condition.

Realization

These battles have been hard, but then realization hits. We are not weak because we get sick. We are not weak because we are hurt. We are not weak for seeking help.

It takes strength and character to realize and seek help. It takes strength and courage to bounce back from every setback. And it indeed takes strength to tear down the common misconceptions about what masculinity is: stripping away the toxicity that can lead to the destruction of what makes us “Human.”

True strength

There is no Archetype of masculinity, especially being a black man with sickle cell in the society that we currently live in. However, what we can do is strip away what society and other people think of us by holding a deeper sense of understanding of what strength truly is. That is living, fighting, and continuing in spite of the hurdles faced. We are strong because we carry on and will continue to. That there is true strength times Infinity.

Keep Fighting, my fellow male warriors - you are not alone, you got this!!!

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