How the ‘Talented-Tenth’ Could Help Save African-American Males

There are certain mantras that one never forgets; for me it is the belief that ‘perfect practice prevents piss-poor performance.’ Put simply, that thing that you spend the bulk of your time preparing for you will excel at. A superficial examination of the contemporary state of African-American males verifies the mantra.

Unfortunately, there has been a competing mantra that has been drilled into the heads of the vast majority of African-American males. That mantra conveys a belief that their only path to financial CARDALE 3success lay in their athletic prowess. This thinking has prodded droves of African-American males toward athletic careers, a focus that has recently meant the abandonment of more reliable avenues of professional success. For verification one has to look no further than the current racial composition of the National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA). African-American males make up approximately 6% of this nation’s population; however, they currently are 76.3% of the NBA players and 68% of all NFL players. Clearly these individuals have displayed extreme dedication in honing their athletic abilities and prodigious skills. At the same time that we are dominating sports leagues that offer careers that last on average 3 years, the percentage of Black professionals has steadily decreased. Currently African-Americans make up only 3.2% of lawyers, 3% of doctors, and 1% of architects; keep in mind that these paltry numbers included all African-Americans, male and female.

It has not always been this way as the Black community of yesteryear was a bastion of occupational diversity. African-American leaders knew that if their communities were to survive, let alone efficiently meet the needs of its residents, it dubois1needed to grow its own doctors, attorneys, educators, business persons, etc. W.E.B. Du Bois would refer this population as the ‘talented-tenth’.  According to Du Bois, “The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst.”

The ‘talented-tenth’ were under a mandate to handle the often difficult, yet rewarding, task of setting a standard of excellence within the community and serving as courageous representatives that defended the poor during the frequent attacks that emanated from hostile whites. Members of the ‘talented-tenth’ were revered within the community; particularly among Black youth who aspired for a similar status once they reached adulthood.

Unfortunately for the Black community, it appears that African-American males, the population that disproportionately populated the ‘Talented-tenth’, have lost their way. Quite possibly the most significant sign of contemporary African-American males undeniable lack of clarity regarding the purpose of life is found in their failure to prepare for adulthood, meaning the responsibilities of taking on a wife and producing offspring, by mapping out a plan that calls for them to focus upon anything other than athletics or a rap career. Unfortunately for many African-American males living in this nation’s urban centers, an athletic career is their plan A, B, and C. Considering that less than one-percent of these aspiring professional athletes will ever realize their dreams, that leaves droves of them, as well as those they are responsible for, in a tenuous socioeconomic position.

We often fail to view the horrific fallout that follows unrealized athletic dreams. However, they do go a long way towards explaining the following facts:

  • Black America represents over 30% of this nation’s poor; we are only 14% of the general population.
  • Approximately 50% of Black children live below the poverty line; only 16% of white children are in a similar predicament.
  • The net worth of a Black family is $6,700; white net worth is $67,000.

Now there is a tendency to blame ‘racism’ for all of the woes affecting Black America, however, a close look college 4proves that a few of these maladies flows from an individual’s inability to map out a path to success. It is this path to success that African-American males are in desperate need of today; a path that the largely vanquished ‘Talented-tenth’ used to guide them toward via mentoring relationships.

Hence, it is imperative for the Black intellectual and professional classes to return to the Black community, a request that does not necessarily cause them to return to Black neighborhoods, and mentor African-American males toward a future that does not include bouncing or running with a ball. I would hope that you agree that African-American males have so much more to give; unfortunately, their potential contributions are too frequently being de-railed because they have chosen to believe that a ball, and not their brains, is their only path to financial success and a productive adult life.

James Thomas Jones III, Ph.D.


©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2015.

4 thoughts on “How the ‘Talented-Tenth’ Could Help Save African-American Males”

  1. My first thought / question while reading this was, why are most African American so quick to give excuses as to why they are lazy. While our net worth is a very small percent of whites. we still sit around making excuses while watching whites dictate. After reading information such as this, we should be more driven and determined to change the stereotypical thoughts that comes with being black

    1. This is one of the biggest issues that I personally battle against on a daily basis; black laziness and disorganization in the midst of being politically and economically disenfranchised. I am unsure if we will ever understand the mantra, “We all We got.” And apply it to our situation. I hope that we will one day reach such a conclusion and behave accordingly.

  2. My concern is, of this Talented Tenth, how many will provide the truth associated with the ills and traps of capitalism and the propaganda of the ‘American Dream’. How many will define success other than monetary wealth and the acquisition of stuff? Majority of today’s Talented Tenth are perpetrators of an oppressive system. I applaud the concept but how can we assure that the mentors are truth-seekers and will boldly share that truth to prevent mis-education of the black youth.

    1. I understand your concern and would actually consider it valid if those who on first-glance appear to be our ‘talented-tenth’ were actually authentic. I think that we both agree that they are inauthentic and have patterned themselves behind white capitalists and use their rusting trinkets to validate their worth for the uneducated masses. Du Bois dealt with this population when he penned the following: Now the training of men is a difficult and intricate task. Its technique is a matter for educational experts, but its object is for the vision of seers. If we make money the object of man-training, we shall develop money-makers but not necessarily men; if we make technical skill the object of education, we may possess artisans but not, in nature, men. Men we shall have only as we make manhood the object of the work of the schools—intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it—this is the curriculum of that Higher Education which must underlie true life. These individuals have made the pursuit of money the goal of knowledge, Du Bois, and our ancestors, point us toward a much grander utility of knowledge.

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