REFLECTIONS ON AFRICAN-AMERICAN MALES NEW MILLENNIUM EDUCATIONAL PRIORITIES
One of the more peculiar inside jokes shared among those raised in “the hood”, meaning lower middle-class, working-class, and poor neighborhoods, occurs when someone has been arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison. It is at this moment that others affectionately relate that he/she is on his way to ‘college’; albeit, not to pursue a traditional Liberal Arts degree, rather, a B.A. in criminality or possibly a M.S. in robbery. All agree that the convicted will return from “college” a slicker confidence man or bolder burglar. Many of my peers chose such an educational path.
Fortunately, innumerable career paths and opportunities, including initiatives to save African-American males offer realistic alternatives to incarceration. The alluded to initiatives serve as a constant reminder of the national crisis facing African-American males. Personally, such initiatives facilitated a host of “firsts” for me: my first collegiate visit, my first academic conference, and a similar program — the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) — paved the way for graduate school. Such outreach programs made the mentorship I received from Dr. James N. Upton during my undergraduate tenure and Dr. Paulette Pierce as I pursued my initial Master’s degree at THE Ohio State University all the more important. The aforementioned mentorship was critical to my academic success as I learned how to “be” inside of: collegiate classrooms, academic conferences, workshops, and symposiums.
Consequently, my current station as a tenured professor is a bit surreal. I am now on the other side of the desk and charged with mentoring the next generation of African-Americans. Unfortunately, I am finding this process, particularly in regards to African-American males, increasingly difficult. Put simply, this latest generation of Black males does not appear to be particularly interested in academics, politics, or intellectual thought. In fact, I have watched as many of my current students have done their best to transform institutions of higher learning into an entity best termed ‘Thug University’.
The stages I lecture upon on a daily basis have provided a clear view of the drastically altered demeanor, preparation, goal structure and behavior of many African-American males. From my perspective, the driving force behind this transformation is a flawed understanding of Black manhood.
As previously mentioned, I participated in several initiatives aimed at saving ‘the endangered black male’. Such programs operated out of the belief that there was a desperate need to provide “historically marginalized minority populations” access to higher education. According to those fighting on our behalf, the most significant obstacle preventing our inclusion into said higher education institutions was institutional racism; meaning, that institutions of higher learning operated in a manner that individuals such as me, a first-generation collegian, would never gain access.
I am certain that those battling for our inclusion during the eighties considered their foe, institutional racism, unconquerable. They never imagined that a decade later a more menacing enemy would arrive; an enemy that makes institutional racism appear juvenile. The latest opponent in the battle to save African-American males is a ‘siren’ that has mesmerized Black males. This enemy is best termed Thug Culture, a lifestyle propagated and delivered to our young men by contemporary rap stars.
For a significant population of Black male collegians, rap icons such as Rick Ross, YG, and Young Jeezy hold more sway over their values, aspirations, and worldview than Du Bois, Baldwin, Hughes, King, X, Newton, or Obama could ever hope to. Mentors of today’s African-American males are in for a rude awakening if they believe that mere exposure to collegiate campuses is enough to repel the omnipresent, seemingly omnipotent, influence of today’s rap artists on the values and goal structures of African-American males.
Such an assertion pains me as Rap Music is dear to my heart. In fact, I was politicized by eighties Rap Music; my mind was significantly impacted by Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Boogie Down Productions Edutainment, Brand Nubian’s One for All, X-Clan’s To The East Blackwards, and Paris’ The Devil Made Me Do It. However, the youth culture I was steeped in was not only politically progressive, but also created by African-Americans to serve Black interests. Unfortunately, the days of yesteryear are long gone.
Things have turned so sour within some urban enclaves that African-Americans have begun to fear their own. The Notorious B.I.G. stated as much in his tour de force, Things Done Changed “Back in the days, our parents used to take care of us. Look at ‘em now, they even fucking scared of us.”
Why should previous generations of African-Americans not be concerned about this latest expression of manhood considering its proclivity for drug abuse, alcoholism, misogyny, profanity, immorality, and anti-social behavior? All characteristics, I might add, that are foreign to the way that persons of African descent have historically lived.
African-American male collegians who are in the throes of a nihilistic homo-erotic thug culture fail to realize that they are an aberration to historic manifestations of Black manhood. Their entire existence contradicts esteemed traditions of honorable, smooth, articulate, educated, well dressed brothers who occupied leadership positions in their public and private lives. Today, the smooth suave and debonair African-American man has been replaced by young men whose lack of style, and trust me style is not achieved by one foolishly purchasing overpriced gaudy European clothing, is rivaled only by their inability to articulate a coherent thought.
Surrounding African-American collegians desperation to be included in ‘thug culture’ is an often ignored query of ‘what is the payoff for relinquishing long-standing African-American cultural traditions in favor of niggardly behavior?’ Apparently the payoff for African-American male collegians is the opportunity to earn ‘street credibility’ among Common Street hoodlums whom they desperately seek to emulate.
If nothing else, I wish that the young men I view from the stage realize that they are the best that our Race has to offer and their allowing the “streets” to significantly influence their cultural values and goal structures makes as much sense as a tail wagging a dog. Young collegiate brothers you are supposed to be the head and not the tail in regards to setting the values, priorities, goals, and future direction of our community. Hence, you are now center stage, the spotlight is shining on you and we are eagerly awaiting to see if you will assume your rightful position as the next generation of educated “Race men” or will you prove cowardly and continue down a path of aberrant behavior that none of those who came before you would either recognize or celebrate.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III