Middle passage or midlife crisis, ages 39 – 59, is an extremely challenging time for Black men in America, a time of collapse – 'when things fall apart'. As a Black man I've learned to view the middle passage from a psychohistory perspective.
Black male midlife is a time of physical and psychological exhaustion of being overburdened by racism and overwhelmed by its effects over the passage of time; it is a time of failing health from years of substance abuse, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and stress of racial oppression; it is a time of failing mental health; a ‘melt down’ of depression, disillusionment, and addictions; a dark period of fear, worry, despair, doubt, guilt, and regret ('if I woulda-coulda syndrome').
This darkness is a psychological middle passage dilemma, not being able to go back (youthfulness) and not wanting to move forward (old age, death). As a historical term middle passage described the horrible 90-day voyage of African prisoners of war from the slave forts of West Africa to the various slave ports in America. Enslaved, packed in the unventilated hulls of slave-ships, Africans were torn away from the fabric of their lives by European colonialism; were forced to leave their lands, their cultures, and their families.
On the bottom of these death-ships, many captured Africans died from dehydration and diarrhea; many became suicidal and depressed from hopelessness and 'home sickness'. Africans faced a dilemma; they had to accept that they would probably never return to the first half of their lives living as free people in their native lands, yet they were in fear of reaching their destination in America, not knowing their fate but having a sense it would be horrible. Just as Africans in the middle passage were caught in the eye of the storm of the white supremacy hurricane, midlife Black men in America feel the full marginalizing force of this racist storm.
Black psychologist Thomas Parham stated: "The concept of the hurricane storm is an appropriate allegory for two reasons. First, the components of the storm provide a precise characterization of the psychic struggle many African Americans must confront on a daily basis. Second, the devastation of the storms is analogous to what happens when the struggle for identity congruence becomes overwhelming. We can, however, in our struggle for congruence stop seeking validation and approval from the racist oppressor. The eye of the hurricane that we seek is only an illusion, and it is not the safest place to be psychologically. Being out of the storm altogether seeking maximum congruence with ones cultural essence is ideal."
Just as our African forefathers who refused to submit to misery during the dreaded middle passage had to use this terrible experience as a second rites of passage, a time for reorienting, redefining, and rebirthing. Black men today trapped in the hulls of midlife crisis must also use this period for soul searching and digging deep to find new meaning through healing, mentoring, and living purposefully.