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:



r. parrish said...

This week's blog hit me especially hard for two reasons. First, the statistics in that NYT article are absolutely staggering and depressing. I remember reading the article last week and feeling helpless and numb afterwards. I knew the situation for black men was difficult, but I had no idea it was quite that bad.

My second reaction is conflicted. I feel conflicted because while I want to volunteer (and I have volunteered, but more on that later), I sometimes feel resentful of the "obligation" to give back. I love my people and have not forgot how fortunate I was to make it out of my neighborhood, but I've got my own kids to raise and my own responsibilities to attend to. That's a heavy enough burden without the added expectation that I help raise another man's children. Do we expect the same from white, latino, or asian men? That is a lot of weight to carry and I am not sure that my shoulders can bear it.

Secondly, I don't think everyone realizes how difficult it is to reach some of these kids. One month and two days ago my 20 yr. old God-Brother accidentally shot himself with a gun he had purchased only days before for protection. I had known him since he was about 17 yrs. old and he was generally a good kid (good student working on an engineering degree) from a single parent household. His mom is an amazing woman who raised him and his 4 sisters well, but David had gotten himself caught up with a dangerous crowd anyway. I would see him every so often at family events and I always offered him my cell phone # and encouraged him to call me to hang out. I saw him for the last time this Christmas and insisted that he call me and that we go to lunch since I work close to where he attends school. He never called and I've been asking myself for the last month what else I could have done to reach him.

Now...I'm not trying to say that my having lunch with David would have prevented his death, but I certainly would have tried to dissuade him from ever purchasing a gun had I known his plans. His death has been difficult because I've been left feeling as helpless as I did upon reading that NYT article. This isn't the first time either.

I have volunteered on a number of occassions as a teacher (I've taught oral history, photography, and "street law") amongst inner-city kids and I am nearly always left feeling drained and like the situation is hopeless. I have no trouble getting along with and relating to the kids, but getting them to believe they can achieve beyond what society, their parents and teachers expect from them is daunting. Only a tiny minority have it within them to challenge those expectations and succeed in spite of them. I've worked mostly with teenagers and it seems the battle is already lost by that age. They no longer expect anything of themselves. To many of these kids my example is only an exception to the general rule. Even sader to me is that when I tell kids that they can achieve their goals through hard work, many immdiately become disinterested or think it isn't worth the trouble. So...I feel pretty helpless and I would ask all the folks in the blogosphere what else am I to do in the face of this apathy and the fact that I have nothing flashier to offer these kids than what they see on BET and MTV in their favorite music videos. "Hard work" just ain't holding up to that.

Anonymous said...

The article left my feeling depressed, embrassed and frankly, pissed off. As an Asst. Dist. Atty., I see the countless number of incarcerated black men who should be in college or working as productive citizens on a daily basis. When I began this job 5 years ago, I accepted in order to get trial experience, never to make a life for myself. After all, growing up in the South, we are taught at a young age not to trust the police or court system.

As the years have passed, a few things have become apparent to me. First, some people just don't care. They don't care about themselves, their actions, their families, the community, their race. It's this attitude that causes many to sell drugs, join gangs, abandon their children and abuse the women in their lives. When people are this heartless and thoughtless, jail is the best place for them. I say this with a heavy heart but it's true. Many times it's not the fault of the village.

Second, the women in the lives of the above mentioned men need to understand their role in creating these monsters. Their have been several days in court where I've been verbally assaulted by mamas, baby mamas and ole' ladies for simply doing my job. I'm all for stand by your man, but when your man refuses to pay child support for his children,yet takes you to the mall every week, enough is enough. When your man rapes and impregnates your child, enough is enough. When your man is selling crack and heroin out of the house where you and your children sleep, enough is enough. When that man uses your car in a drive-by and hides the murder weapon in your closet, enough is enough. WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET IT? being an enabler is not helping. It only perpetuates the vicious cycle. It's better to be alone sometimes. I understand that it may hurt to be alone, but think of all the pain and suffering that you won't endure.

Lastly, the brothers who have made it need to be role models. This is never an easy task. It is, however, a necessary one. There are some souls out there worth saving and it's incumbent on all of us to step up. It's easy to give money but, it means more to give time.

tryin2learn said...

I just read the full article twice and I must admit this article has provoked a deep thought with me and were I stand as a black man raising my sons. This has reinforced my beliefs in the way I am raising them, to instill in them the value of education, the sense of self worth and to be independent. I believe that majority of the responsibility does fall on me, their father, a black man. Who else better to teach them on how to be a black man!

I am not saying that mothers cannot do this for I was raised by my mom until my pre-teenage years. Then help raised by my step-father, a man that came into my life knowing that I am not his child but took on the responsibility of raising me. For this has stayed with me till this day. Thanks Dad for teaching me how to be a father.
Side note: I take off my hat to any man that takes on the responsibility of another man’s child…much love!

“It takes a village to raise a child” holds an enormous amount of weight…I’ve said that majority of the responsibilities falls on black men for raising younger men (and it does) but we need assistance from other black men, from the mothers and the community. Stop allowing TV, music videos, and video games to raise our children. It’s not cute for them to start cursing (using the “N” word) at small age, it’s not cute seeing them walk around having to holding their pants up every 2 or 3 steps, it’s not cute seeing them with gold out grills in their mouth, it’s not cute not knowing how to read or write, It’s not cute to have expensive car with rims and no education, it’s not cute living at home without a job, it’s not cute not having an high school diploma, it’s not cute selling drugs, it’s not cute walking around holding yourself, it’s not cute at all! Parents quit condoning your child’s negative behavior. Don’t get mad when your neighbors tell you what your child done or correct your child for his behavior. It is better than the police calling you stating he is locked up or worst…dead! I remember growing up when I did something wrong I received a beating from all the neighbors (majority cousin) and by the time I got home to get it from my mom (I still remember the name of the belt…”Black Bertha”). We all need to be on the same page and work together in raising our sons and quite blaming everybody else for your child’s behavior and yes everything is not the white man’s fault!

Black men standup and be held accountable for your child. Be in your child’s life, stop letting your mama, your grandparents, the child’s mother raise them. It is not all about paying child support (to a certain degree); it is about that child and you. The relationship y’all have, the things you can teach him to guide him down a better path than what we had.
Don’t be a Shaquille O’Neal Dad wanting to be part of his life after he becomes successful!
No one said being a father is easy let alone being a black father…don’t give up…Pray on it and then pray some more.

Ladies for years you have raise boys to be men and I commend you on that….but some of you need to stop babying your son, let them fall and cry. This teaches them how to handle things themselves and not ALWAYS rely on you to constantly help them. Push them out the door and let them grow up. Some of the best love is tuff love. Don’t keep your child from seeing his dad if he is not paying child support or if you’re mad at him…this only hurts the child.


Curry said...

Wow ... It took me a minute to really chop up & digest the combination of the article & the posts. There’s so much to say about it all ..

I don't mean this to be a sexist statement, but men have far more power over the destiny of themselves & their children & their families than we take advantage of. We were designed to lead, not follow. When men have children (especially out of wedlock), there is a common assumption that the child is now the sole physical & emotional responsibility of the mother and they wash their hands. Maybe we’ve gotten so intimidated by the hoopla of single, successful women that we don’t feel like we’re needed anymore? “She got it! What she need me for?” As far as I’m concerned, this is where the breakdown begins. Maybe men feel that “well, she carried the child, nurses the child, the child must belong to her.” Again, I hesitated because I can’t figure what the exact cause of this is. What are the real roots are behind such a blatant act of abandonment. Because that’s what the NY Times article is really saying!! It’s saying “OUR YOUNG BLACK MEN HAVE BEEN ABANDONED & ARE ABANDONING !” That’s reeaallly what the title of the article should be.

To be honest, I’m not sure just what it would take to instill in young men that sense of ownership of their children. Those of us that hold ourselves accountable for how our children are raised take ownership in our parental responsibilities. Perhaps it’s that ownership that is lacking in young men? Perhaps that’s why there’s no accountability or sense of self-worth in there lives? So maybe that’s our assignment if we’re to be role models or mentors to young adults. Maybe we should be teaching them ownership; owning up to themselves, answering for their mistakes, owning their accomplishments, owning their children, owning their direction.

My dad use to tell me “In order to be a man, you’ve got to see a man.” This is why it’s important for grown men to try to steer young men in the right direction. BUT, understand that every young man does not want to be “helped” or steered. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s no use wasting your time on kids that don’t want help, don’t care about what direction they’re going, and could care less whether or not you’re in their life. I’d rather devote that time to making sure my own child isn’t improperly influenced.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the article, Notta; I'd missed it previously, and I'm glad that you brought it to my attention. That said, it's heartbreaking to read the ways in which black men are failing to integrate themselves into our society, and it hurts my heart. I am married to a wonderful black man who is a role model to our two small sons, and I thank God every day he chose not to follow in the footsteps of his absent father.

But I think the indictment needs to rest partially on the cultural realities of the black community in general. Somehow in the aftermath of the civil rights movement, we have chosen to accept and promote a culture that glorifies money and promiscuity over all, reduces the importance of interpersonal relationships and mutual respect, and creates the misperception that one has no social or cultural responsibility as long as one is getting paid.

We can complain all we want about rappers and BET videos and ghetto culture, but we perpetuate the continuation of that culture by allowing our money to reward those who abscond their responsibilities in favor of making money. LISTEN to the message we're sending to young men -- you find as many girls with big butts as possible and have sex with as many of them as you can (sometimes all at once), you sell drugs or play ball or make a rap album or whatever you need to do to make money, and then you KEEP that money and use it to get "grilled up" or "blinged out" or whatever . . . There appears to be no social conscience in much of our popular black culture today, and it damages us in two ways:
- First, it damages us as a community when our members are unwilling to commit themselves to making a positive impact on the world and instead choose to objectify women, get money and stuff, and ignore any semblance of a community-oriented approach to success;
- Second, it damages us as a community with respect to our relationships with other communities. Those in power who do not regularly encounter black people learn to associate the BET-inspired image with all black people -- because that's all they see. And while that's a result of their ignorance, it's REAL. And it impacts us. How many of you have encountered an older white male who attempts to give you "daps" instead of a regular handshake? Or who calls you "brother" or "sister" or "girlfriend"? Or started off a conversation with you by mentioning that they LOVE Ludacris or some other rap star (or basketball player)? Or commend "your people" on their sports ability? Like it or not, the images we put out in the media impact how people see us, and I would like to see a cohesive, concerted movement to oppose the continually negative portrayal of black men in the media.

I think the black community wields the economic and political power to send a message to those who glorify the worst of the black community. But we don't want to give up our hip-hop music or our urban flava long enough to understand that buried beneath that music and flava is a mysoginistic, damaging, negative culture that is tearing our community apart.

Let me be clear -- I have no desire to limit the creativity, artistic brilliance, and athletic prowess that so many of our brothers possess. What I ask is that those brothers accept, along with the money that comes with fame, a sense of social and cultural responsibility to become a real role model rather than a stereotypical clown.

shanabean said...

A sad article indeed! These are not new statistics for me. As a social, this is a part of my daily reality. At times I have felt hopeless, then I have to think…. I am raising a little Black man and I have to stay positive about what may happen to him. If I allow myself to give up and believe it is hopeless then I am giving up on him.

I make it a point to not allow this or any other negative stats make me feel helpless or as if there is nothing we can do to change things. First it is important to know that change comes in many forms, at different levels and within different time frames. From whatever way you chose to be involved in the community at large, you have to keep in mind you may not see immediate change or change in the way that you think it should be. Rather you may affect someone you never intended to help. In addition, sometime you gotta stop looking at how bad things are and focus on that population of young boys/men that are doing WELL! What a concept huh? Honor them. Write an article on them. See what is working in their lives.

The stats here are merely the result of much bigger issues. They include all the ones that are listed and some others. One big issue in particular is the individualist attitude we use to justify not being more involved. My suggestion, we have to look at ourselves and see how we personally contribute to the breakdown in society. Cause we all do in some way. Then we have to make a serious effort to address and change what we find.

In addition, we have to stay involved no matter how hopeless it seems or how ungrateful our children seem. When people start to give up and say there is nothing I can do, or its too hard, or too draining I have enough on my plate already etc…..we loose our sense of community. If our ancestors would have done that in the days of slavery or even in the civil rights era, where would we be? I’m not saying its easy…. Perhaps I sound like some optimistic hippie, but we have a responsibility to our community and our children. THEY ARE WORTH IT! And whether you believe it or not, they ALL are… especially the ones that don’t seem to care about anything because they are often the ones that are hurting the most!