Rarely does a day pass by that some inquisitive individual does not ask the following question in an indirect half-hesitant manner, “What is wrong with Black men?”
The question is so common that it no longer angers me; in fact, it amuses me and causes a slight smile. Seeing my reaction, the inquisitor usually backpedals, an obvious sign that they believe that their question offended me, and follow it up with a declaration of either, “I do know a good Black man at my job” or “do not these atrocities being committed by the police not make your blood boil?”
Regarding the actual question of “how does it feel to be a problem” I answer nary a word. My non-response is not due to a belief that an answer would be impolite or inappropriate, rather, out of the realization that the issue they are asking me to provide a solution for is much too dynamic to be answered off the cuff.
I always muse, if people only understood that the African-American male issue has been here for over four-centuries, in fact, it predates this nation, they would pause before posing such an issue. Put simply, African-American men were this nation’s original problem, meaning are they citizens, slaves, workers, marriageable, human, or some sub-species of humanity. Consequently, the answer to why African-American men have lagged behind all others in nearly every socioeconomic and health indicator from this nation’s founding to this very moment is not easily answered; in fact, both the catalyst to their suffering and the solution to their suffering has transformed since their arrival in the Jamestown colony in 1619.
Many seeking to provide a root cause for Black male suffering in America often rely upon an antiquated and simplified catalyst such as American chattel slavery. Unfortunately for such individuals, chattel slavery receded from this nation 150 years ago and the Black male problem is still in existence. Hence, the question facing the African-American community is a simple one. Is the contemporary catalyst to African-American males dastardly plight associated with American chattel slavery or have new challenges arrived since chattel slavery’s demise?
Many correctly trace the catalyst of Black Males suffering to the disintegration of the Black family. Data tells us that in the late 19th Century, Philadelphia had a thriving Black community where at least 75% of the homes were two-parent households; in 1925, nearly 80% of New York City’s Black households were similarly structured.
Data highlights that the prevalence of female headed-households is a relatively recent phenomena. Prior to the vaunted 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision only 18% of Black households were headed by a single-parent.
Many are shocked to discover that African-Americans married at a rate that exceeded their white counterparts for the one-hundred years following chattel slavery; a serious blow to those who theorize that chattel slavery destroyed Black familial ties.
According to noted scholar Walter Williams, in 1940, the birth of Black children to unwed mothers was approximately 14%. When compared with contemporary rates, such data reminds of a Biggie Smalls lyric, “Damn, things done changed.” Today, the rate of African-American children born to unwed mothers sits at an average of 75% (it is as high as 90% in many central city areas), nearly half of marriage-age African-Americans will never marry, and 70% of Black households are female-headed.
Closely associated with these matters is the reality that Black female-headed households experience poverty at a rate of 47% versus the 8% rate found among married Black households. A study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 25.8% of American children are raised by a single parent, a number high above the 14.9% average seen throughout the industrialized world. Among African-Americans the rate is nearly five times the global average, with 72% of black children relying on a single parent, usually the mother.
It appears that when integration occurred, African-American women and men slowly abandoned traditional principles of familial solidarity in favor of a Westernized orientation that evaluated their mate’s worth according to financial status. The alluded to position betrays the cooperative relationship and collectivism that has kept African-American couples afloat during difficult times. Put simply, the intrinsic worth of a father’s presence was dismissed by both Black women and a few segments of the scholarly community. A Johns Hopkins University sociology professor incorrectly argued that “It has yet to be shown that the absence of a father was directly responsible for any of the supposed deficiencies of broken homes… (The real issue) is not the lack of male presence but the lack of male income.” Such foolishness ignores the crucial role that Black fathers play in their children’s lives; roles that extend well beyond being an economic provider.
Despite their protestations, many men and women within our community have intentionally created a context that has led to the proliferation of female headed households through a host of questionable activities and poor decision making. Many women behave as if the male that they produced children with should not have a major role in the rearing of either male or female children. Apparently many of these women did not have father’s in their lives as they routinely fail to understand that it is the father who sets the ground rules and expectations for all of his daughters dealings with future suitors through his interactions with her. Just as importantly, the father models what it means to be a man for his son, how to treat a Lady, and why the qualities of diligence, sacrifice, and commitment are much more valid measures of manhood than the net pay on a paycheck! Similar things should most definitely be stated about male’s who fail to take their role with the utmost seriousness. The father’s absence from his children’s lives, not necessarily the home, leaves a vacuum that is never filled.
The absence of the father figure leads to a situation that Jawanza Kunjufu aptly describes in the following quote; “Women raise their daughters and love their sons.”
I agree with Kunjufu’s construct that Black girls will be socialized by their mother on how to be a woman, a socialization that has its own pitfalls if the mother were not properly socialized; unfortunately, similar manhood training is never taught to Black boys. Many women mistakenly believe that the assigning of chores and securing a part-time job is akin to ushering their son’s into manhood.
Despite their consistent pleadings and childish tantrums, it is obvious that Black women cannot teach Black boys how to be Black men. Unbeknownst to them, they tend to cripple their son’s via coddling or berating them into submission and then wonder why young Black males behave in the anti-social childish manner that we so often see. Ironically, it will be such foolish behavior that will lead to the failure of both their daughter and son’s marriages.
Many, most certainly not all, Black women fail to understand that a mother’s doting love is a lesser ingredient in building manhood. Put simply, when the male is not involved in the rearing of children, girls grow up witnessing their mother carrying the entire load devoid of any assistance from a male and not demanding much from the one male who is present, her brother. Considering such matters, it is only natural that when she seeks a mate devoid of any prior exposure to her father or a suitable male figure, there will be little that is familiar other than catering to a male who offers little of nothing to her life; I have often seen females select a suitor for no reason other than he brings a sense of familiarity to her life.
Black males raised without a father or suitable male role model in their lives often end up having to piece together an always revolving manhood that is haphazardly constructed via their interaction with other wayward males that they have met ‘in the streets’.
A cursory examination of the contemporary state of African-American males verifies the damage that such flawed constructs lead to. There is absolutely no doubt that Black males need appropriate guidance from some male figure, preferably the father; however, if he is unavailable, some male needs to be present for socialization purposes.
So I guess the next time that the question of “What is wrong with Black Men” is posed, I will answer it in the following manner. I believe that many factors led to the contemporary marginalized state of Black men; however, it is at least partially attributable to the disintegration of the family and the haphazard manner in which many, not all, Black women and men have foolishly destroyed their family and by extension lessened their children’s future opportunities by failing to value family. It is also partially attributable to Black men who have never received, or chose to not adhere to, the proper guidance to being a man. Unfortunately, the sins of the parents are being visited upon the children who appear destined to live lives that closely mimic those of their parents. My community has unfortunately created an efficient cycle of familial destruction that will invariably repeat itself until we learn to do better.
James Thomas Jones III
©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016.