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The trouble with men

AKA speaks out after Riky Rick's tragic suicide

28 February 2022 - 16:04
Rapper Riky Rick is the latest in a string of high-profile men who have taken their lives. File photo.
Rapper Riky Rick is the latest in a string of high-profile men who have taken their lives. File photo.
Image: Instagram/Riky Rick

In the immediate aftermath of the tragic death of Rikhado Makhado, the fashion-forward musician known as Riky Rick, his family, friends, acquaintances and fellow travellers in the music and entertainment industry reflected on his life well lived, his maverick charm and his deep engagement with his society and community.  

Seeking to make sense of his death, people spoke about the unexamined and unspoken toll of the pandemic on mental health, the pressures on high-profile individuals experiencing unchecked trolling, an overwhelming social media, and the stigma of talking about depression in a context where one has to present constant success and surface happiness. 

But one particular statement by Kiernan Jarryd Forbes — the rapper known as AKA  — has struck a chord.

“The last 5 people I know who took their own lives, 4 of them are men. I’ve seen so much suicide over the last year I can’t even feel anything any more. I’ve spoken to a lot  of people, some of them said 'he just got a bag from African Bank, blah, blah blah etc' ... that tells you everything about this F*cked up fake ass algorithm world we have created for ourselves to live in. Ricky went to Hilton, he grew up around money. I hope that very soon we can address the issue of how damaged and broken the men in this country are. We have no-one to talk to, we just pat each other on the back and say 'get on with it, be strong my boi' ... but in reality, we are traumatised. Generational trauma passed down to us.”

Actor and activist Patrick Shai and hip-hop legend Jabulani Tsambo — aka HHP — are among the high-profile men who have taken their lives in recent years.

Proverb, Zakwe, Big Zulu and NaakMusiQ all supported AKA’s call to arms, while his mother Lynn Forbes wrote: “Kiernan, the courage it took or maybe the point of desperation reached to express these feelings. Be the change you want to see in the world, son, I’m right behind you and yes it’s time to start a dialogue about MEN.”

Dr Thomas Burkhalter, a clinical psychologist whose work is primarily focused on masculinity, reflects: “It’s not just men, women are killing themselves too — for example they fail at varsity and commit suicide — but with women we accept that they are vulnerable so they can kill themselves.

“Masculinity is not vulnerable — if anything it is a defence against vulnerability, and toxic masculinity is the most rigid defence. A lot of these men don’t have flexible and generative ways to deal with vulnerability, be it shame, anxiety, depression or feelings of inadequacy.

“For me, the bedrock of this thing is in a way the problem of women for men.”

Ladies we are not perfect by any means … but damn, we are crying out for your approval, your love and affection. Please can we RESET and go back to FAMILY VALUES?!  
Rapper AKA

AKA goes on in his post to say: “Ladies we are not perfect by any means ... but damn, we are crying out for your approval, your love and affection. Please can we RESET and go back to FAMILY VALUES?!”  

Burkhalter explains this further: “By that I mean we are all born to women and, as Adam Phillips says, we all understand the power of the mother and only some of us get to have the power in return. Boys have to leave their mother and cut their infant strings. It is wrenching. We send them off quite quickly into the world. Masculinity is about getting over that hump — you man up!

“Men are trying to deal with the trauma from the disidentification — that is where they are most vulnerable. This is the root of a lot of  gender-based violence and misogyny — patriarchy gets set up to deal with that problem. Patriarchy has been there as long as we can remember historically. You are trained as a man to get over it — not speak it. We are not raised to put up our hands to say I am feeling anxious. If you do, you are told you are a pussy boy, get a grip — get back in line. Men don’t talk about it, so all you can do is suffer through it or enact it.  

“So the guy who wants to fight with you in the bar because you are looking at him funny,  is because he is anxious.  So then he hits you to tell you he is not anxious. Now you are anxious. Women and children bear the brunt of that — those that our power enables us to put something onto. Male initiation rituals, they are all about not flinching in the face of suffering. If I initiate you at boarding school you will be accepted by taking it. We are toughening you up. Don’t be so sensitive man. Don’t be a girlie boy. Being a man is about not being feminine, therefore not vulnerable.

“Masculinity can be a generative important thing, but the pathology of it — not wanting to say what the problem is or expressing that we are not OK — is identified with being effeminate. We are not OK with being vulnerable and that is destructive. Putin has just invaded the Ukraine — why did Russia go to war? They were feeling vulnerable — Russia is a very masculine place.”

He continues: “Layered on this masculinity, consider the position of black men in SA within the history of apartheid and subjugation — they were rendered powerless and exceedingly vulnerable — and you have a perfect storm. SA used to have a very high rate — as did the American south — of family suicide. Men who would take out their families and themselves to avoid shame, just like the policeman last month. It is all tied up in vulnerability with a masculine overload.”

AKA’s message: “Please can we start some sort of dialogue about MEN in this country because it’s our duty to protect you, to provide and care for you. We cannot make this thing work without each other. We are crying out for your help. This is so traumatic. Please, let’s not forget about us. We [are] not perfect by any means but damn ... Look at the stats, we are taking our own lives at record highs. Something has to change.

Dr Burkhalter concludes: “Nowadays we can’t really complain about the position of men at the risk of sounding like old, white reactionaries, or that we have a bad deal because the patriarchy is still on top of things. But the truth is that while patriarchy sets up men against women, it also sets up men against men. Can you measure up? You are only a man if you can measure up to that thing in relation to other men.”

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