There is absolutely no doubt that the African-American experience on the North American continent is unlike any other. As a population who are the descendants of stolen Africans who were taken from their homeland for no other reason than to enrich immoral opportunistic whites, the path that African-Americans have traveled has been in a word, impassable. It is this experience that forced our ancestors to rely so heavily upon God as they realized that he could “make a way out of no way.” The African-American experience brings much validity to the Dottie Peoples’ song, He’s an On-Time God.
Often times the only thing that kept enslaved Africans and those living under the yoke of Jim Crow going was a hope that there would come a moment when those who came after them would be provided with some semblance of opportunity in what they recognized as a land of plenty. I remember my pastor Johnny R. Heckard once remarking from his pulpit that “here we were in the land of plenty without much to eat like the children of Israel. However, our faith in God provided the road for the Lord to make a way out of no way.”
Although evidence of racism and economic exploitation are found in the living conditions of any typical African-American neighborhood, one is hard-pressed to honestly state that there are no opportunities to be found for African-Americans. Barber Dudley Whitaker, the father of two sons, believes that there is plentiful opportunity for African-American males in today’s society. “Now I am not saying that racism is no longer a factor. However, it is not the primary determining factor today in regards to if you can make it or not. Truthfully, it all boils down to the choices that you make. In fact, the choices that you make are the most significant thing that determines if you will succeed or fail. Will you study or go to the party? Will you focus on school or play video games all day? It’s the choices that Black males make that will point them toward failure or success.”
Although many would like to believe that opportunity never appears for the typical African-American male, a belief that most disagree with; however, there is a segment of young Black America where opportunities are plentiful. The population that I allude to is those African-American males who have displayed uncommon athletic prowess; college coaches pursue them in a way that is in many ways downright embarrassing. For the highly pursued athlete, the world is truly their oyster as they have often-times fifty different colleges and universities begging for them to join their athletic program.
The most sought after athletes participate in basketball and football. These young men are wooed by college coaches and universities in uncommon ways. Not only will they be provided state-of-the-art training facilities to hone their craft to a point that they are able to become professional athletes, but also they are provided unprecedented academic assistance via learning centers and tutors whose sole purpose is to guarantee their classroom success. Unfortunately, so many of these unprecedented opportunities are squandered away for some inexplicable reason.
As a proud alum of THE Ohio State University, I must relate my disappointment with one of my own, starting quarterback J.T. Barrett who unwisely chose to not only break the law by drinking alcohol, but also operating a motor vehicle in that condition; a situation that reverted my mind back to when I worked for THE Ohio State University Student Athlete Support Services Office and our then Quarterback Steve Bellasari found himself in the exact same situation that Barrett does.
J.T. Barrett was cited for operating a motor vehicle while impaired by the Columbus Police Department on Saturday morning at a campus area checkpoint. Officers arrested Barrett after they noticed him attempting to avoid a OVI checkpoint. Barrett’s misstep will cost him a one game suspension.
Although it is difficult to state, there appears to be significant cultural dysfunction occurring within Black America, particularly in regards to the socialization of African-American males. It would not be outlandish to consider the repeated occurrences of African-American males consciously working against their own interests via a hyper-masculine, aggressive behavior that is often combined with guns, marijuana, and seemingly uncontrollable sexual promiscuity as a sign that the socialization of Black males has led them to a flawed understanding of manhood. According to Nicholas Malone of the Academic Grind center, “boys just be out here grinding, trying to get it any way that they possibly can. For many of them, there motto to others is ‘you better either get down or get laid down’. I see it on a daily basis, we prey upon each other and only the strong will survive.”
One is left with the loaded question of what has happened to African-American males. Although it is a simple solution to say that they were raised in a family that celebrated and encouraged criminality, violence, and personal irresponsibility; those of us raised up within the Black community realize that such a simplistic explanation is completely flawed. According to educator Damon Thomas, “I think that very few parents are raising their children to be thugs and hoodlums. Everything comes down to choice. It is the reason that two sons can be raised up in the same household and one goes off to earn a degree at Penn State, while the other languishes behind and ultimately in the state penitentiary. It basically boils down to, what do you want to do with your life.”
For many African-American males, it appears that external forces such as rap videos, reality television, and hip-hop culture have had a disproportionate affect upon their priorities, value systems, and goals. For those who have not seen an appropriate display of Black manhood, which is most certainly different than other expressions of manhood, it is very easy for them to be mis-informed regarding what manhood encompasses. Instead of believing that manhood is composed of positive traits such as:
- serving as both a physical and spiritual protector for those within his household
Many misguided African-American males have chosen to believe that manhood is actually marked by the anti-thesis of these traits:
- Producing droves of out of wedlock children
- Drug abuse (which often blocks their path to gainful employment)
- Incarceration (another factor that precludes their gainful employment)
- Anti-social behavior
- Inappropriate dress that guarantees they will not be taken seriously by any segment of society.
Now there is little doubt that there has always been a segment of African-American males that simply did not understand the critical role that manhood plays in the operation and maintenance of our community, however, there influence within the community was fairly limited. Today, it appears that those who have assumed the position of irresponsibility are not only numerically formidable, but also proliferating as this vocal minority of African-American males has capitalized upon social media and wield it as an Excalibur to display, celebrate, propagate, and encourage others to gravitate to their carefree lifestyle of sex, drugs, hip-hop, and crime. Most troubling is the reality that so many African-American males, across many generations I might add, have not only received the message, but also integrated it into their lives and thereby created a new norm within Black America. Unfortunately, for many African-American males, this allure of irresponsibility has seduced many into not only abandoning the Black community’s traditional measures of manhood such as:
- Family stability
- Providing for their children
- Serving as a positive pillar and upstanding member of the community
The vast majority of individuals that I am alluding to are apparently operating from the ages old mantra of “Out with the old and in with the new.” Unfortunately, new manhood constructs are guiding adherents to: criminal exploits, illicit affairs, producing out-of-wedlock children, incarceration, and the desperate pursuit to survive without gainful employment. According to Tony Quinn, it is this hustlers’ mentality that serves as the basis for much that is wrong with the Black community. “The most unfortunate thing is that when our people get into that hustlers’ mode, they become predators seeking to exploit, attack, and capitalize upon anyone who has resources that they desire. I have dealt with people such as this, even within my own family, and have learned to distance myself from them at all costs; including no longer associating with them.”
As with most socialization processes, the lessons that one learns come from a host of different sources. Unfortunately, it appears that so many of the cultural lessons that are informing the decisions of a segment of African-American males flows from a questionable place that ultimately leads to a place of either death or destruction.
This is why many mothers are being truthful when they express shock that their son has performed some dastardly deed. Put simply, this is not the person that they have poured an entire life of guidance and wisdom into. Unbeknownst to most parents, the home-training that they seemingly worked a lifetime to teach their child is somehow trumped by larger cultural forces that have carved out a disturbing definition of manhood that emphasizes guns, violence, sex, rap, and ends-justify-the-means belief systems. Unfortunately, this seductive path invariably leads those who travel on it not only to destruction, but also to a grotesque persona that will cause even their mother to not even recognize them.
James Thomas Jones III, Ph. D.
#African-American News & Issues
©Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2015