Sunday, March 26, 2006

Plight Deepens for Black Men: A Review of the Infamous NY Times Article

I am sure most, if not all of you have read the NY Times article that spread like wildfire across the country last week. The article, titled "Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn," paints a dire and desperate picture of the state of the black man in America. The statistics referenced in the article are not only shocking, but are extremely disheartening and hurtful. Here are some examples:
  • More than half of all black men in the inner city do not finish high school.
  • In 2004, 72% of black male high school dropouts in their 20's were jobless -- which includes those unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated.
  • About half of all black men in their late 20's and early 30's who did not go to college are noncustodial fathers.
  • Among black dropouts in their late 20's, more are in prison on a given day -- 34% -- than are working -- 30% (based on a 2000 census study).

The article, along with scholars who studied the phenomenon, attribute these staggering statistics to "terrible schools, absent parents, racism, the decline in blue collar jobs and a subculture that glorifies swagger over work." There are a myriad of different conversations to be held on this topic, but I think the breakdown of the black family is at the forefront of these issues.

As the article states, the crack epidemic of the 80's led to a steep climb in the incarceration of black men. Consequently, the sons of those incarcerated (along with the sons of those who were addicted to crack) were left fatherless. Inevitably, those boys have grown into men, without the benefit of having had a father, or some other positive black male role model around, to SHOW them how to be men. And herein starts the cycle of desperation and despair that will continue to infect our families if we don't change something.

Additionally, the article cites stricter enforcement of child support laws as a "special factor" that contributes to this "deepening plight" of the black man. "Improved collection of money from absent fathers has been a pillar of welfare overhaul. But the system can leave young men feeling overwhelmed with debt and deter them from seeking legal work, since a large share of any earnings could be seized." The article goes on to say that child support obligations "amount to a tax on earnings" to these black fathers. This mindset evidences the problems that arise when fathers are absent in the lives of their sons. Boys who grow up without fathers will more than likely grow into men who shun their parental responsibilities.

So where does the cycle start, and where does it end? Ideally, of course, black men would take care of, and serve as role models to their sons -- positively impacting their sons' lives by teaching them what it takes to be a man. However, reality is where the old African proverb -- "It takes a village to raise a child" -- comes into play. It is incumbent upon the black men who have overcome the odds to serve as role models to the throngs of young black men growing up fatherless. It just takes one person to positively impact a young man's life, and to show him another way of life.

Too many times, black men "make it" and don't look back. They take care of their families and pursue their careers, but they don't reach back into their old neighborhoods to serve as role models. THIS HAS TO CHANGE before there will be any hope for our young black men to overcome the odds facing them, and before they can learn how to be men. The cycle must be broken. And sadly, because we cannot rely upon the absent fathers of these young black men to break the cycle, successful black men (successful in the sense of "overcoming," not just financial) must step in to serve as role models.

If you haven't read the article, click here to read it:


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Who's Your Daddy?

This post is fairly simple and straightforward in that it consists only of a story and a lesson. The title probably makes you think this entry is about father-less children, but it is not. Please read on...

I was in Chicago most of last week for a conference. My last night in town, which happened to be St. Patrick's Day, some friends and I went to the Funky Buddha to hang out. Directly across the street from the Funky Buddha is an Irish bar. (I'm sure you can tell where this is going by now.) As my girl Renee, one of her old co-workers Ben, and I made our way past the Irish bar as we walked to Ben's car, a group of white people walked out of the Irish bar. As we walked through this group of white people, one of the drunk white guys says to me, in a very nasty and condescending tone, "Are you a mulatto -- Who's your daddy?" As if to imply that he had just finished raping my black mother. Ben immediately turned around and asked, "What the hell did you just say?" I immediately turned around and asked, "What did you say to me?" One of the white women in their group (who clearly had issues with this guy already) points to him and literally screams "You're a disgrace!!" (Although it wasn't quite clear whether she was referring to his inappropriate comments or something that happened earlier.) The guy back peddles a little at that point and says we just walked into the middle of a bad situation. Ben then encouraged us to move on as that situation was not going to get any better.

Okay, seriously, who says that to someone? The three of us, still stunned by the comments, went to breakfast and had a good laugh about it. However, it's really not funny at all, and is in fact very sad. It's 2006. Yes, 2006, and white folks still think it is okay to make comments like that to black folks.

Quick history lesson courtesy of Ben. The origin of the word "mulatto" is from the Spanish and Portuguese word "mula," which means "mule." And as Ben pointed out, a mule is a cross between a donkey and a horse. The fact that white folks (not all, I know there are exceptions) think it is okay to refer to me as a mulatto, and then ask who's my daddy, is a problem.

So that's the story. The lesson is this: Don't sleep. Racism is alive and well. Many white folks may be able to mask their racism most of the time, but trust that it is embedded in the back of their heads, and only takes some liquor to bring it out.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Black Folks and the Oscars

During the week after Three 6 Mafia's history making Best Original Song Oscar win for "It's Hard Out There For A Pimp," I spoke to several people who took issue with Hollywood's acceptance and acknowledgment of that song -- which they felt glorified pimp life -- as Oscar-worthy. Those conversations led to conversations about how Hollywood has acknowledged (or failed to acknowledge) African-Americans in the movie industry in the past.

Many black folks nationwide, not just my friends, expressed embarrassment, anger, surprise, and a whole litany of other sentiments over Hollywood's "limited" acceptance of African-Americans. "Limited" in the sense that they believe that Hollywood only acknowledges the work of black folks when they play crooked cops (Denzel in Training Day), sex-craved widows who sleep with the white men who pulled the trigger on their husband's electric chair (Halle in Monster's Ball), and chauffeurs to old, cranky white ladies (Morgan in Driving Miss Daisy). However, I had to disagree with many of those comments, simply because black folks have won Oscars for good roles also (i.e., Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field; Louis Gossett, Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman; and Jamie Foxx in Ray).

Although I completely understand where these folks are coming from, I have to caution us from being SOOOOOO critical of the Oscars. We have to keep in mind that not all white folks who have won Oscars were playing the good guy-type roles. (Consider Sean Penn in Mystic River [where he played a thug], and Charlize Theron in Monster [where she played a serial killer]). So we can't expect that all black folks who win Oscars are going to be playing "desirable" roles. I think we have to take it for what it is, which is another honor for a black actor (or black songwriter), and another barrier broken. However, I will agree that black actors are not given opportunities to perform in Oscar winning-type roles; which of course contributes to the low numbers of African-American Oscar winners. (Let's be real, we know we're not winning any Oscars for Soul Plane or Booty Call!!!)

I included the list of African-American Oscar winners below for your reference. As for Three 6 Mafia, I agree, it probably is hard out there for a pimp. It's hard out there for all of us. I could write a song about how hard it is out there for a lawyer, but it probably wouldn't get much air play, let alone an Oscar nod. So I salute Three 6 Mafia for writing the first rap song to break the Oscar barrier.


African-American Oscar Winners:

  • Hattie McDaniel, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Gone With the Wind (1939).
  • James Baskett, Honorary Award "for his able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and story teller to the children of the world in Walt Disney's Song of the South" (1946). [awarded at the 1948 Academy Awards Ceremony]
  • Sidney Poitier, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Lilies of the Field (1963).
  • Isaac Hayes, Best Music, Original Song for "Theme from Shaft" from Shaft (1971).
  • Louis Gossett, Jr., Best Actor in a Supporting Role for An Officer and a Gentleman (1982).
  • Irene Cara, Best Music, Original Song for "Flashdance...What a Feeling" from Flashdance (1983).
  • Prince, Best Music, Original Song Score for Purple Rain (1984).
  • Stevie Wonder, Best Music, Original Song for "I Just Called to Say I Loved You" from The Woman in Red (1984).
  • Lionel Richie, Best Music, Original Song for "Say You, Say Me" from White Nights (1985).
  • Herbie Hancock, Best Music, Original Score for 'Round Midnight (1986).
  • Denzel Washington, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Glory (1989).
  • Whoopi Goldberg, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Ghost (1990).
  • Cuba Gooding, Jr., Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Jerry Maguire (1996).
  • Halle Berry, Best Actress in a Leading Role for Monster's Ball (2001).
  • Denzel Washington, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Training Day (2001).
  • Sidney Poitier, Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award "for his extraordinary performances and unique presence on the screen and for representing the industry with dignity, style and intelligence." [awarded at the 2001 Academy Awards Ceremony]
  • Jamie Foxx, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Ray (2004).
  • Morgan Freeman, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Religion and Politics -- Appropriate Bedfellows?

During presidential election season, how often do we see the white candidates, both Democrat and Republican, parading themselves at black churches, spouting off about how the issues that are important to African-Americans are important to them? After election season, do we see the candidates (victors or losers) at the black churches anymore? The answer to this question is two-fold. No, the candidates no longer have a physical presence in the churches. However, their presence is still alive and well in the churches, by way of the pastors.

Historically, the African-American church has been the central institution in the African-American community. In days past, they were the gathering places not only for worship, but also to address the economic, social, and political impact of a racist and segregated society on African-Americans. Yes, political. Black churches and their pastors have historically served as champions in the fight for equality for African-Americans, and against the oppression we have endured from the white community.

So why, you're probably thinking, does the title of this entry suggest that the marriage between politics and religion is inappropriate? I think this relationship becomes troublesome when pastors start using politics as a way of advancing their own beliefs, rather than advancing the needs of the black community at large. As leaders of the black church, black ministers have a massive amount of access and visibility among the black community. Politicians know this, and that is why they attempt to use the pastors to get the black vote.

This practice is so much more evident now because of the increasing support that black ministers are giving to Republicans. (Note -- I said "increasing" support -- which means I recognize that not all black pastors conduct themselves in this fashion.) For me, this really became evident during the 2004 presidential election, during which the Republicans used gay marriage as their platform (and only platform, I might add) to attract the black vote. They know that black folks are some of the most homophobic people in this country, and played on that by getting black pastors to support them solely for that reason.

So is it okay for Republicans to line the pockets of our black pastors with a little money, in exchange for their support (and indirectly, the support of their congregations)? As a sidebar -- I hope you don't think black pastors provide this support for free. I have personally seen some very high-profile and prominent Indiana elected officials (both on a state and local level) "give" money to a group of black pastors; in exchange for the group's support of Republican initiatives.

Personally, I think this sort of behavior is completely inappropriate. As leaders of our communities, I think black pastors have a duty to conduct themselves in a way that best serves the black community at large. This does not include using one issue -- gay marriage -- as their platform to support Republicans; while ignoring the issues that really affect the black community, such as unemployment, lack of healthcare, and a failing public education system.

I know this post will offend many religious black folks, so I am prepared to deal with it, and look forward to your comments. However, I think it is an atrocity for some black pastors to use their power in a way that ultimately defeats the individual struggles of members of their own congregations; and I think it is time that they are held accountable for that.