Trauma and What I’ve Made of Isaiah Hickman’s Emoblackthot

Do we care about Trauma, today?

In 2013, I was deeply traumatized by an experience at a PWI culminating in the creation of my record, the first time I’d ever been in handcuffs and the development of my more serious contest with Adult depression. The memory of my paralysis before the prison hue of orange and the overwhelming terror of midnight suffocation are not things I can easily escape some six years later.

So, when I say Emoblackthot’s story of trauma and deception is not entirely what the first reaction would impress upon us. According to Isaiah Hickman’s testimony of experience and pain, he has endured something of a significant trauma both on his own Blackness and his own sexual agency, admitting to have survived a sexual assault earlier in his new adulthood.

Culminating with the habit of mistrust and suspicion, an account that was originally started to act in a sense of healing was born. In truth, nothing about this singular act is problematic. While many perceive a sense of entitlement within social media and creatives who employ it for branding’s identity, time and energy, they are not and it’s factually insensitive to assume you can have access to someone’s entire being, particularly if their own mental health is at stake.

A lesson that I have had to follow ever since my own battle with suicidal ideation and depression caused by a tic-for-tact on the very same app that Emoblackthot branded for his own wellbeing and health. In honesty, I was confused by where Hickman could’ve seen that he’d be in trouble for revealing himself, at first. On some level, I grew suspicious that he was suffering from the same sense of entitlement and access that I had been had one point: a guilt for not giving 100% of my all to people who’ve I’ve never met in my life.

I know too well that mistakes I’ve made personally because I was not, could not process the realities that my race almost destroyed me, and that someone else preyed after my being through the tight river of our relationship and trust. It fucks up your ability to ever want to be seen again. Today, despite my own publicness and outward energy as a middling writer and a larger than myself medium of my craft, I still hate the idea that I can be seen, read, consumed by anyone and everyone.

I’m terrified. I can’t stand it.

However, when we dig deeper into Hickman’s story and history as Emoblackthot/Madblackthot, we uncover a truth of the matter that I overlooked.

There was a time when Hickman envisioned himself as a Black woman not just in pronoun use, but in personality and lived experiences.

Blackness as a culture is obsessed with Authenticity. Who can do what, who has lived what, and how that has realistically informed whom and what they are. This ism ostly because Blackness is a form of Ethnostate in America — and without a language, Blackness has to identify itself in specific qualifiers, motions and ways of life.

One could easily make the argument that gender identity, being the lucid thing we want it to be on social media, shouldn’t matter in this situation; after all, I personally did not see emoblackthot as anything outside of the they/them pronouns I could deliver (thought, I DID envision Black femme-hood in some way).

But, that’s not the case here. There was no intent for Isaiah Hickman to have believed his reflection of being a Black woman. There are even dangerous cases of Hickman himself soft blocking individuals for outing Isaiah’s lived Black male-ness. And in that lies what Isaiah should feel some form of shame for and uphold a level of accountability.

Black women are allowed to feel whatever they feel on the personal journey to their identies being infringe and stolen by a culture that will do anything, but respect them. When we’re discussing the culture of Blackness that is being robbed in mainstream media, we are discussing the actual way Black womanism and feminities’ birth rights and creations are robbed from the proverbial cradle.

The accounts who are revealing stories of opening up to Isaiah Hickman’s emoblackthot are honestly shattering; particularly, because Isaiah Hickman himself seems to have internalized the reality of what he has done in his trauma

And there lies the thing that many aren’t investigating within Hickman: the trauma of it all. The reality that, perhaps, Hickman’s actions were not an intent to mock Black women, but a mad rush to invisibility. If in truth Isaiah has done what he has done not in honest realization that he was emulating an experience, rather than rejecting a reality that was in some way dangerous to a clean slate of healing, is he wrong?


He is.

However, our thinking around what is authentic here is wrong. A lack of acknowledgement of the intent behind his actions is wrong. Accountability requires us to chastise accordingly to what we are looking at, the nuance of the thing, so that we find the heart of the matter at our feets. In this, we are not providing proper accountability if we do not actualize everything we as a community and culture have stated about the grand crime of trauma.

If we believe that there is error and flaw in the act of pain, that Black men are routinely subject to a specific set of standards and pigeonholing and the internalization of this creates a wrongness which expels itself in a variety of ways, then what are we to make of the ways we should be holding Isaiah Hickman accountable for his actions.

We do not make this arguments to uphold a praxis — that checkboxes are the entirety of the thing we are criticizing, not the spectrum of the problem and where the person stands on that spectrum. We uphold that we look at people completely and wholefully, because there is a portion of this problem that is easily repeatable, unless we express our anger without lying or denying the things we are really looking at.

And none of this is really about protecting someone because I empathize with them, or because of their clout on social media, or because I am a writer — in truth, this is about caring about the thing I feel we should be looking at ALSO.

Or not. I could be wrong.

Keeping my Ego as a Black Writer is the Best Advice I’ve Ever Received

Photo by Steven Van on Unsplash

Wherever it was said it was unprofesssional to position your confidence before the interest of people who do not care if you can get out of bed in the morning should be shredded, along with the book, the pen and the author’s hand who was goofy enough to write it.

I’ve spoken to many writers in my career as a twitter savant and an artist in a digital, clout-based industry like culture writing. One tip, by the genre-defying Clarkisha Kent, was to cling to my Ego as not only a defense, but as a justification for the expectations I hold for any contractor who even breathes in my direction for my art. As a Black writer — it’s all I can maintain whether I am paid for my work or not. This Ego is what I will hold on to even when the well of career success runs completely dry.

Ego is what is being explored in all artforms. Some English majors pretending to like Shakespeare right now will reflect upon this as “the Human Condition” — that analysis of what it means to be a person, to have personhood and, most importantly, be aware of your rapidly approaching demise. Yet, we’ve so many professionals standing above us and demanding we tailor this natural, human understanding o what and who we are.

Freelancing is particularly emotional because of this. As a writer, we are expected to face rejection countless times with a strong smile and a stiff upper lip. It’s a feeling completely alien from the criticism and critique of workshop, where ego is expected to be subject to worldview of those surrounding you. A rejection letter feels as if the talents you’ve accumulated are not good enough — that your world will never appreciate the effort you put into a thing of substance. When your financial security depends on this, it also accumulates such a painful stress that gathers and builds upon itself. Multiply this by twenty different publications and platforms and over the span of six agonizing months of peanut butter sandwiches and water, you’re still expected to take it with a smile.

To do this without the expectation of ego is cruel and inhumane.

Ego is the protective shell surrounding all of your endeavors as a creative, especially when it is earned. In today’s digital era, we are surrounded by those whose work have been supported and reiterated as captivating and important to them. The work executing the thought that went into it is commendable, because — as a writing tutor — I’ve seen how few people can get their clear and established ideas onto paper, let alone published into the cold, judgmental gaze of the internet.

Personally, my ego is the only reason I continue to write. I’ve written at large about different topics that have faced constant rejection from every larger and smaller publication, but have garnered life-changing reactions from the fan-base enabled by public platforms like those found here, on MEDIUM and on my personal Blog, Blaqueword. My work has merit and talent behind it whether another has interests within it and my ego is not in that I expect to be published or admired for it by those with money, but that it deserves a level of respect from myself and a level of respect from people who expect to consume it.

In a different era, this Ego would be unprofessional. In that era, writers served the interests of platforms and publications who controlled the audience. However, the internet is as beautiful as it is atrocious and is the grand equalizer. Content creation is a vigorous industry and requires a constant feed of work by, you guessed it, writers. To treat ego as an “unprofessional marker” in a world where you do, in fact, need us is strange. Today’s industry is as much about clout as it is about skill set. Clout does not decide talent or the dedication put in to prove that talent.

Or maybe that’s the Capricorn in me talking. Actually, no. Art of any kind is incredibly difficult to do right. Everything within our field is circumstantial and experimental; however, so many of us have accumulated an understanding of what works for us — the tools to utilize for specific behaviors and interpretations and the techniques that breed majesty from these mechanations.

What are actually the risks of retaining your Ego in this industry? Some Editors feels it is unearned in so many people; some may not guarantee you roles or work according to that parameter. These places fucking suck and will largely try to take advantage of you — they can suck your gigantic dick (and if you don’t have a dick, they can envision one — the sentiment is the same).

As a Black Artist, there is seldom that we can do without our ego. The bravado is essential to avoid the world that will tell you to expect and want less for what you can provide — and only you can provide.

Have your Ego: it has almost zero risk to anything other than making the insecure unsafe in the roles they’re taking up.

Black Boys and Bird-Chests: The Racialized Legacy of Body Dysmorphia

Black Boys and Bird-Chests, or the Racialized Legacy of Body Dysmorphia in African-American Men

Photo by mwangi gatheca on Unsplash

The burn in my chest the first and last time a friend’s mom punched me was the final time I allowed myself to be okay with having a “bird-chest” and lanky arms. I remember the thought crossing my mind followed solely by the immediate regret of showing up over this house at all, and I should’ve demanded such a thing the day white friend told me he was blacker than me because he could dunk on a full-sized rim and I couldn’t.
However, the catalyst for this sudden change today came somewhere between the push-ups and sit-ups, and everything she thought was a favor to build me into a more suitable image of what she deemed acceptable for a young Black man to be when I realized that anyone speaking of my body or forcing themselves upon my body’s right to exist was not okay. Perhaps if I made such a stance for myself sooner, I would have a prouder self-image that doesn’t equate my body’s lack of athletic hardiness to a failure to live up to my cultural pride.

The world is obsessed with the Black male body image, in a way that often crosses into the gross. Not only in how these bodies can perform as a tool or commodity, as we often find in sports but in how one should conduct itself within parameters of Blackness. In the last year alone, we’ve seen Terry Crews having to defend his body against other high-profile Black men about what he did or didn’t do to protect himself during a sexual assault. The power isn’t with Terry Crews, however, and while it is also with these other celebrities, it speaks to a culture surrounding Black bodies; it’s rooted in a traumatizing experience that many Black men go through in their youth that not only pressures Black boys that dictate Black identity only as an extension of our bodies’ physical worth — and more specifically, only when we abuse it.
To be frail in a Black space is to be seen as less than Black. This was the case for me even before that day at my friend’s house in Ohio; it was like this before I was old enough to know, everything I did at a young age was dedicated to hardening my body to the same icy stone that one might expect of Black men.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

At six years old, I was expected to know how to play basketball, I was expected to race and run laps, and fight and be struck square in my chest without crying, caving on flinching because I had a ‘bird-chest” and that, in the world of West Philadelphia was not okay. The fantasy of my future involved a sport, and only a sport — and somewhere down the line basketball, and the revulsion of anything feminine, but the over-consumption of anything female. There were even dreams of what my first tattoo might be.

Imagine my mother’s disappointments when despite all of this, I still lacked all repulsion with anything athletic. And honestly, to this day I’ve never had little more than an ear piercing.

It was not my mother’s disappointments that concerned me or continues to do so, but the point of view of my family — both young and old — that somehow I tarnished my sense of Blackness by not dedicating myself to physical achievements. No matter the academic or emotional milestones I hurdle, we can always come back to the failure on my part to end up Strong in this one real way which counts to them — even if I no longer have a “bird-chest”. It always ends with an expectation to hit a gym sooner or later.

Infamous image of Gordon, or “Whipped Pete” (1863) depicting his scarred back

And, it wasn’t until that eventful night where a punch took it steps too far that I realized this was not regionally specific behavior — this was behavior canonized across Blackness and where I rebelled against it, it became the basis of my peer’s masculinity to the point it ostracized me from my Blackness and, in truth, there’s no reason for that to have been.

Yet, to this day, when I look upon my own Black form and how it fails to conform to this image I have now grown to expect of myself, I feel an involuntary revulsion. I feel beautiful, but at the same time, I am forced to feel incomplete, because the brownness of my skin is supposedly meant to be accompanied by a hardiness, and not a softness. I’m incapable of seeing even the curves I’ve developed as anything as my own way of escaping the whiteness and weakness my bird-chest once implied.

The history of Black bodies as commodity isn’t unknown to our understanding of what America is and it is ahistorical to discuss Black male bodies and not mention this. Slavery was all about reducing a whole culture’s human spectrum — their emotions, memories, their habits, and happiness — into a disgusting price tag to be tossed out on a wooden chopping block.

Ken Norton as Mede posing for slaver inspection, formulating one of the earliest forms of the fetishization of Black male physique.

The mind held little worth, though it could be marketed as a profitable gift with purchase, and the idea of a greased up mass of muscle who could only react, and never act (and therefore exist) became the model of Black men. Thus, we can note the beginning of the fetishization of Black male bodies.

This legacy continues throughout American fiction. In 1975, the graphic adaptation of Kyle Onstot novel of the same name, Mandingo was released by Paramount Pictures. The film, starring boxer-turned-actor Ken Norton, depicted the sexual victimization of male and female Black slaves and the gross physical exploitation of the Black male form. In the film, Mede (Ken Norton) is a prizefighter forced to physical extremities such as bathing in cauldrons of hot salt water to toughen his skin. His worth is placed solely in the fact that as a Mandingo (of the Mandinka ethnic group) he is of superior physical virtue, and thus more suitable for breeding. The film ends with the murder of Mede after the Woman of the House extorts sex from Mede, culminating in his execution due solely to attracting the unrequited sexual desire due to his biology.

The stakes Black boys face today are nowhere as comparable as these moments of extreme brutality in reality, or fiction, but the line of succession passes itself forward. Today, only the conduct is different; Terry Crews has to defend his choices to not assault his sexual aggressors to other high-profile Black men who in some sense of a world are challenging his sense of Blackness for his decisions to not use his body — which is apparently his physically imposing — to fight.

Some might suggest that this is a case of Machismo, and while it is similar, as both concepts can be attributed to hypermasculinity, the extreme racial fetishization by both Black and White cultures makes the concept feel as unique as the other systematic structures imposed upon Black existence.
In any case, Black men are expected to resolve conflict violently or not at all, and this narrative has become a dangerous entity — a caustic cancer that has ended in the routine and systematic execution of Black youths. The narrative of the Black male form as monstrous have followed us further back than the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown or the prolific exposure of social media.

Public Domain Clip Art of Trayvon Martin, black minor executed in 2012

Yet, there is always the expectation to perform our strength and to fit into this idea of our bodies as a vehicle of aggression. It’s not an uncommon part of my day for a stranger to waste sixty whole seconds of my time guessing which sport I play — and it’s never soccer, tennis or track: football, or basketball, only.

And if I were to investigate the effects of this trauma inward onto myself, I find the ways that this trauma manifests itself routinely in my behavior: the sudden pauses and obsession with my image in the mirror, or the peculiar ways my self-image prioritizes the same arms, chest, and torso that alienated me culturally from a sense of Blackness that has no origin within Blackness.

In 2018, Javaugn “Javie’ Young-White (@jyoungwhite) penned a thread which poignantly explored the body dysmorphia suffered by African-American men due to this phenomena. “A lot of Black men struggle with body dysmorphia [because] of the emphasis that is placed on our athleticism [and] physical stature throughout childhood [and] adolescence,” he says. “It’s especially confusing because the body types we’re told to aim for also serve as justification for profiling and unarmed murders”

When our bodies are used to clock the mileage for our race and culture, it becomes the weapon by which others oppress us. How else could in the case of those less than athletic do our forms become synonymous to whiteness, or in cases of racial brutality, our physical intimidation become juxtaposes to the barbaric imagery?

The middle ground between these two ideas speaks only to the extreme ways race factors into our bodies, and the demands expected of these bodies in our youth. It speaks to the false realities we shove onto children to appeal to a standard that is as toxic as it is hypermasculine, and the traumas which haunt these youths — and have for generations


Steven Underwood is an award-winning writer and essayist from Columbus, Ohio. Multifaceted, He has expanded his range deep into the recesses of Black speculative fiction and poetry. In the past, Steven has published essays with MTV News, Essence, Le Reine Noire, Comicsverse and Banango Street on identity and culture. He cites his writing style as the intersection between Toni Morrison and Fredrick Douglass. Follow him on social media @Blaqueword.

NYC: Where Rich White Kids Play Poverty

Photo by Hugh Han on Unsplash

A friend of mine from Columbus, OH can’t afford tape for his cleats, let alone new cleats. At home, there is a surplus of duct tape. The shiny material winds immortally down the concrete pavements. It’s trafficked and cherished with more reverence than the familiars of the homeless. It is the holy grail of livelihood.
This friend was always wealthy by our standards. His household had two cars, two parents, and shiny smiles that turned out liberal thinkers who never had to worry what drugs would do to them. And he doesn’t. He does cocaine off-handedly, but he doesn’t “do-do” cocaine. Just when he’s at Bars. Just when he’s about to do something athletic. Just anytime he needs a thrill.
In the same vein, he is thrilled to be in New York, on the Lower East Side. He can’t afford to tape his cleats, but he is thrilled, because he is poor now too. This inescapable phantom lurking in the Blues — the tearstained muse of every artist, revered for her savagery and the pain and the panic she summons — is now his greatest prize.
New York, the grand equalizer of fantasies. Where the rich and white come to play at Poverty.
My friend isn’t the first I’ve come across with the bizarre observation of economic struggle as a gilded treasure.
In fact, it’s too common. The Nosferatu by the name of Gentrification assures us that it will be here eternally, feeding on the blood of the poor, sustaining itself on a bleeding wheel of oppression. It’ll cast out the weak and broken-backed many and then it’ll dance in our homes. 
I walk these same streets with people who hold more wealth in their phones than my entire family has sustained for generations. My shoes are well catered and cleaned.
I ensure that they are. I scuff them during the day, I polish them during the night. I shine my sneakers bleach white and raw with my washcloth.
I’ve been trained by my hood to watch the ground. At first, it was always an attempt at invisibility. And now, it’s to measure Power in strides.
New York is filled with such ugly feet.
So much money.
Such poor feet.
I’m surprised that I just walked past a very affluent painter in the Lower East Side. Their shoes are clunky and ugly. In my hood, Sketchers are disgusting. As condemnable as Shaq’s. Balenciaga sold the same designs to wealthy whites, and now they’re everywhere. I can’t tell if they’re well kept or horribly attended.
The fact there is now unobtainable price-tag on something I once ran from in my past thanks to a brand is infuriating to me.
In Columbus, the Poor are leveraged to companies. We’re the Amazon factory workers that lug boxes so big they set our lifespans back a decade with one lug. How else can we clean our shoes? How else can we shine our own status?
Drugs are remedies for mental instability because we can’t afford the actual medication. I’ve met anxious people on Molly and the oddest strands of natural kush mixed with something extra perky. They’re not for fun. They’re for necessity.
We’re poor for real. We’re so poor, that the concept of brushing shoulder to shoulder on Public Transport with a millionaire is inconceivable.
And yet, in New York City, they make memes about it. The advertisements here market goods and services no one traveling among common-folk should be able to dream of!
Luxury is flaunted in front of the un-luxurious. 
These shoes aren’t the only thing reminded me of this contempt.

Hip Hop Concerts are too expensive for the demographic they once embodied. I’m told Nas’ Illmatic is the best album of all time on Television by a white boy. On Twitter, a YT gatekeeps Caribbean culture. Basquiat hangs in the den of Trump Tower businesses men. A white man in a Café asks me if I’ve ever even heard of Toni Morrison. A white woman rejects me from their Marginalized writer initiatives because my Black work just isn’t literary enough, It’s not speculative enough, I mean, a Black man writing about the magic inherent in Blackness? What? I should be more like Octavia Spencer, that’s a Black who did it!
And the Vampires lurk just outside of Harlem, sniffing at my Schomburg Center. They want to raid that temple, trample on Langston’s revered grave.
Post-post Modernism is white people loathing their whiteness. They shed it like the cicada sheds its carcass. It flicks its wet wings, soaked in the blood of so many ancestors and dries them with purpose. But, what escapes is only the illusion of a post-racial entity, a chimera. A creature of parts and pieces stolen from so many other worlds that it shouldn’t be its own thing.
It is an Anathema, disgusting and unnatural.
I wish I could be hopeful.
As I write, German barista eyes the Black boy and Dominican teen — discussing nudes and sexual conquest they’ve probably have had but understand very little about — as they walk in. He threatens to throw them out, despite this being an open Café. They’re loud, arrogant and vicious. I like them, they remind me of me and my friends, when we were loud, arrogant and vicious. They’re not Lower East Side, maybe, but certainly New Yorkers. A “Proud to serve the Community” sign hangs just beside a sign discussing the effects of gentrification in New York as he speaks to them.
I want to be hopeful.
But in New York, the Whites will suck that dry, too.

I’m too Black to not conduct myself better.