Monday, April 18, 2011

Black Males - Hopelessness & Hope

It’s funny how some of the issues which stand in the way of [the] equality of happiness (or at least reasonable contentment) for all Americans pretty much chronicle themselves. Take for example the laundry list of socioeconomic pathologies which black males in America tend to lead amongst many demographic groups. In many cases African-American males tend to be far and away leading the rates—in the negative sense—in many categories, from high unemployment and school dropout rates to high rates of health-related issues such as hypertension, particular cancers, and diagnoses of various Attention Deficient (and related) Disorders. We’ve all either read the occasional news articles or have seen the special report news segments spotlighting the “plight of the black male.” Indeed, many of us can almost recite the sad statistics by heart. And given the various and, for the most part ineffective bandage-over-hemorrhage approaches toward addressing the plight of the black male in America, and the resulting expectation among many Americans of the black male’s connection with (or is that participation in?) all things pathological, its easy to conclude that this sad reality has become an accepted part of life in contemporary America. In fact, so much has this view become part of our perceptual realities that many, if not most of today’s crop of black musical “entertainers” (for want of a better word) themselves irresponsibly cater to the worst of sociological beliefs and racial stereotypes with their lyrics and their associated videos. If one was a foreign visitor to this country casually observing the culture, the likes of Trey Songz, R. Kelly, and 99% of Southern Rap-dominated music would indicate that African-American males are nothing more than a group of pants-sagging, sex-obsessed partying potheads with ingrained criminal tendencies, and have no aspirations beyond being “thugs,” “players,” and/or “G’s” (that’s “Gangstas” for the un-hip among you). As a further illustration of how much society has adapted to this particular socioeconomic pathology of being, I point to a recent article which was e-mailed to me. In a recent edition of the online liberal news magazine, the LA Progressive dated last from month, an article appeared with a most ominous declaration in its title; “More Black Men Now In Prison System Than Were Enslaved In 1850.” In the March 27th edition of the weekly, Ohio State University law professor and author of the best-seller, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age of Colorblindness Michelle Alexander made that numbers-backed pronouncement, which is actually a slight bit of mathematical common sense given the natural rate of population increase among the African-American population ( [Part 1] [Part 2]).
The somewhat convoluted explanation of a prison-industrial complex perpetuating this unprecedented black male incarceration rate notwithstanding, Alexander chronicles the story of her eventual “awakening” to this “phenomenal prison it relates to black” inmates to the time she spent as a civil rights attorney and as active legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, and how “she was blind to the magnitude of this problem.” In the article, the legal scholar implies that the 35.4% of black males being held in custody are there due to the farcical policy known as the War on Drugs “waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color,” despite studies showing that “whites use and sell illegal drugs at rates equal to or above blacks.” Alexander conluded that

As a consequence, a great many black men are disenfranchised…prevented because of their felony convictions from voting and from living in public housing, discriminated in hiring, excluded from juries, and denied education opportunities.

This is the current state being for many African-American males which America has come to perceive as an inevitable reality—the perception of a hopelessly burdensome group of individuals. The actual reality is that in many locales across the country, there are many unsung instances where black males are attempting to shatter this negative imagery of themselves. Two weeks ago in Harlem (yes, that Harlem), the Harlem Millennium Dance Company hosted a local dance at the Alhambra Ballroom. But this was not an ordinary dance of the garden variety fare. There was no bumping and grinding—no simulated sexual gyrations or pelvic thrusts—to profanity-laden rap music. There were no alcohol-spiked punchbowls filled with beverages usually associated with an over 21 crowd passing as simple libations. And absent was a rambunctious crowd of curfew-bending/breaking teenagers expressing their insecurities, trying to fit in, even at the expense of violating whatever household rules their parents set forth for them to follow. Instead, more than 40 black fathers and their daughters danced the night way, dressed in tuxedoes and evening gowns to classics like The Temptations’ “My Girl” and Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father.”
The event, which started as a simple fund-raiser with modest expectations, eventually grew into a newsworthy affair of some more than 40 black fathers and their daughters. Both organizers and participants had hopes that the event would deliver “a message that men, especially in the black community are playing a role in the lives of their daughters” and by extension, of their children. This was an observation which was bared-out in the varying ages of the participating daughters, ranging from 3-years to older teenagers. What was most inspiring about the dance was, as voiced by the organizers and participants, that it was an example of how little notice we take of things and events which could change our overall negative perceptions of the black male. Paradoxically, the fact that such an event was even newsworthy speaks volumes as to how entrenched our negative perceptions of African-American men have become. But it also showcases the hope that black men are willing to break—or at least weaken—the bonds of negative imagery, and change the way which society perceives them.