Category Archives: African-American Men

Steven Stephens: A 20th Century Bigger Thomas? (Black America’s Native Son)

Experience has taught me to expect the inquiry regardless of the venue or situation. Whether while being interviewed or in the aftermath of an exhilarating lecture regarding the dilemmas facing African-American males, someone will ask “What is the greatest issue confronting the black male today?” To the chagrin of interviewers and audience members, my answer to this poignant query is never singular as the foremost problems facing African-American males revolves around mutually reinforcing issues of mental illness and their adoption, due to both socialization and their environs, of what can only be termed a toxic manhood that possesses the ability destroy all that they contact.

The wicked cocktail of mental illness and toxic manhood is the only explanation for the actions of Steven Stephens, the African-American male who not only murdered Robert Goodwin Sr. (74), a defenseless elderly black male on a Cleveland, Ohio, street, but also uploaded his heinous crime onto Facebook. Although Black America reacted with horror to Stephens’ diabolical actions, the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of us know several black males whose existence mirrors that of Steven Stephens; a personable individual, who on the surface fails to exhibit the wear-and-tear of being black in America publicly, yet is privately straining under the weight of being a have not in the land of plenty. The alluded to frustrations feeds directly into the dawning of a daunting query of “Is life worth living?” Such internal strife has reverberating repercussions for all around them. Unfortunately, it appears that the appropriate motto for disassembled black communities in every inner-city may very well be “A place where life is not worth living.”

Considering the mantra that “you cannot change what you do not acknowledge,” it is past time Black America shed their thread-bare lie of being shocked by regarding the actions and activities of the Steven Stephens found within their environs. If we were serious about improving our community, we would stop feigning ignorance and acknowledge that we have normalized public indecency and uncivilized behavior toward within the black community. It is not accidental that Steven Stephens murdered another black man as a means of expressing his frustrations at the two black women to whom he was closest, his mother and a former fiancé.

It is imperative that we not miss this opportunity to at least examine, if not address the cause of the development of angry, brash, illogical, directionless, socially inappropriate African-American males whose moral compass is a toxic manhood possessing more power to destroy themselves and their community than Hurricane Katrina. We must face facts that figures such as Steven Stephens are a reflection of who we have become as a community; cold, distant, foreign to one another, combustible, and dangerous to ourselves. When considered in this light, it is clear that today’s troubled African-American male is a modern-day Bigger Thomas, meaning Black America’s Native Son. Such individuals reflect the frustrations, contradictions, and sadness that has been comfortably situated in our hearts for so long that we no longer notice its presence. For better or for worse, it is who we have become to each other.

And for that reason, we should all weep.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture 2017.

ARE THERE ELEMENTS OF TRUTH BEHIND WHITE BIGOTS NEGATIVE VIEW OF BLACK MALES?

As I am confident that you can imagine, in this internet age there is no better place to discover how people feel about an issue than message boards. The cloak of anonymity message boards provide, emboldens people to freely express thoughts that they would never share in the presence of others. Put simply; message boards allow users to let it all hang out literally.

Considering my affinity for the message board, I found the following post by an unidentified male whose frustrations regarding American racial matters could not be anymore exacerbated to be particularly riveting. The post, aimed at African-American males, reads as follows,

You are NOT victims anymore. You are the bad guys now. You have your hand out for more freebies. You won’t take responsibility for yourself. You have a 74% illegitimacy rate. You are 13% of the population but you commit 65% of the crime. You produce nothing. You contribute nothing. You take and just want more. You don’t think the laws should apply to you. You blame others for your own decisions. You don’t try in school. You don’t try at work. You have no concept of personal responsibility. You don’t see the direct connection between your own decisions and the impact on your quality of life. You can’t imagine how hard it is to make it in the world, because you never try. You think you can have quality of life without earning it. You don’t raise your children with any morality. You celebrate violence and misogyny. You defend the inexcusable. You beat your domestic partners. You think you are owed something, when you’re not. At this point you are not victims of the bad guys, You ARE the bad guys. I’m tired of my tax dollars being used as handouts to these THUGS.

As I am confident that you understand, I take significant issue with the broad strokes that this anonymous poster used in his racially-tinged commentary; however, there is little room to debate the reality that the comments are not only heartfelt but also reflective of a disturbing reality framing his worldview.

Although I do not embody any of the negative characteristics mentioned above, I will not deny my association with a host of individuals whose dereliction of duty is reflected in the angry post. Let’s be honest, we all know a few African-American males whose behavior lends credence to the pervasive present-day caricatures of African-American males.

Unfortunately for the African-American community, it appears that such individuals are rarely addressed out of fear that the airing of our dirty laundry will accomplish little more than the unintentional validation of white bigots scurrilous belief system and viewpoint. Despite the fervent desires of African-American males enslaved by a moral compass, the ignoring of roguish socially irresponsible African-American men has done nothing to uplift the community; in fact, our collective delay has allowed for the alluded to populations irresponsibility to have a more significant impact on both the black family structure and the African-American community.

Despite the negative repercussions that any attempt to address and curb the multi-faceted dereliction of wayward black males will have upon the community in the short-term, it is past time to move past such concerns and forcefully address this matter in an efficient manner.

If we do not address this issue, it will grow increasingly worse, and we all know that our community cannot afford such an occurrence.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

 

AM I STILL MY BROTHER’S KEEPER? HOW SHOULD WE ANSWER THIS QUESTION IN 2017

There is probably no more hopeful phrase found in the lexicon of African-American men than “I am my Brother’s Keeper.” Within that short five words, declarative sentence lies an unyielding hope that has bolstered the hopes and aspirations of droves of African-American men at some low-point in their life.

Unfortunately for black men, in the 21st Century, this declaration of their commitment to being a solidified force against anything that threatens them or the millions of unknown African-American men that they have no tangible connection to has become little more than rhetorical phrase-mongering.

Let’s be honest about this matter, the vast majority of African-American males harbor some form of “beef” with one another for reasons that even they cannot articulate. The rage that so many black men express to their counterparts does not have its genesis in any particular offense, rather, it is the payoff of being raised within a society that maligns “blackness” at every turn. Put simply; black-on-black rage is a predictable by-product of being socialized to view “blackness” as an omnipotent negative and an omnipresent problem by an oppressive white media and non-representative educational school curriculum.

There is no room to debate that this socialization serves as the primary context for both the development of a toxic manhood and daunting view of all things black. It is this reality that makes the answering of the important question of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” a convoluted mess. I have found that those who answer this query with an unequivocal “YES!!!!” are completing what amounts to a socially appropriate ‘nicety’ that reveals their failure to analyze this matter correctly. Truthfully, a much better question is, “Do black men consider each other brothers?”

Despite our fervent desire to answer this question affirmatively, the truth of the matter is that it should only be answered on a case-by-case basis as our kind has been infiltrated by a host of individuals who maintain a single-minded priority to get ahead materially, even at the cost of compromising our collective well-being. Consider for a moment the sentiments of the late Tupac Amaru Shakur who cryptically foretold his demise at the hand of a “brother” in his classic track Only God Can Judge Me. Tupac asserted “And they say that it’s the white man that I should fear. But it’s my own kind doing all the killing here.” As you well know, Tupac is not the only “brother” who has looked down the barrel of a gun that his “brother” was holding for some unspecified reason.

In many ways, those, such as myself, who are holding on to an old collectivist racial construct are operating out of a make-believe black solidarity that has little grounding in either a mythical past or a frightening present. I am not ashamed to relate that my current interactions with African-American males are governed by an all too real caution and well-deserved skepticism; issues that an extremely vocal minority of black males has made necessary.

So although I would like to relate that “I am my brother’s keeper confidently,” I simply can’t. My resistance to fully embracing this rhetorical cliché is a result of my living long enough to realize that Chuck D’s admonishment that “Every brother ain’t a brother” carries significant weight. With the benefit of hindsight, I have begun to view tales of a universal brotherhood that glued black men together in past times as little more than a well-spun fable. In many ways, it does not matter if such times ever existed as the present is all that matters. And it is this present moment that leads me to the realization that I am not every black man’s keeper because very few of them have either behaved as or have the intention of ever being my brother. Unfortunately, the traditions that forged a collectivist racial identity is largely vanquished from Black America and within that ruin lays the reason that “every brother ain’t a brother.”

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

WHERE ARE THE REVOLUTIONARY BLACK LEADERS TODAY?

“Here – at this final hour, in this quiet place – Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes -extinguished now, and gone from us forever. For Harlem is where he worked and where he struggled and fought – his home of homes, where his heart was, and where his people are – and it is, therefore, most fitting that we meet once again – in Harlem – to share these last moments with him. For Harlem has ever been gracious to those who have loved her, have fought her, and have defended her honor even to the death.
It is not in the memory of man that this beleaguered, unfortunate, but nonetheless proud community has found a braver, more gallant young champion than this Afro-American who lies before us – unconquered still. I say the word again, as he would want me to : Afro-American – Afro-American Malcolm, who was a master, was most meticulous in his use of words. Nobody knew better than he the power words have over minds of men. Malcolm had stopped being a ‘Negro’ years ago. It had become too small, too puny, too weak a word for him. Malcolm was bigger than that. Malcolm had become an Afro-American and he wanted – so desperately – that we, that all his people, would become Afro-Americans too.

There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain – and we will smile. Many will say turn away – away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man – and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate – a fanatic, a racist – who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them : Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him.

Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves. Last year, from Africa, he wrote these words to a friend: ‘My journey’, he says, ‘is almost ended, and I have a much broader scope than when I started out, which I believe will add new life and dimension to our struggle for freedom and honor and dignity in the States. I am writing these things so that you will know for a fact the tremendous sympathy and support we have among the African States for our Human Rights struggle. The main thing is that we keep a United Front wherein our most valuable time and energy will not be wasted fighting each other.’ However we may have differed with him – or with each other about him and his value as a man – let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now.

(Ossie Davis, 1965)

There is little doubt that Malcolm X remains the ‘gold-standard’ of black male leadership. For the vast majority of those involved in any facet of the current black freedom struggle, Malcolm X serves as the North Star of Black Manhood.

I am quite certain that it was Malcolm’s display of a courageous manhood that inspired SNCC worker Cleveland Sellers to posit that ‘the problems facing Black America will be solved by black men and black men alone.’ The historical record indicates that Sellers’ strand of thinking remains the most popular view of the black man’s role inside and outside of the African-American freedom struggle.

Consider for a moment the “traditional” roles that black men are expected to fill within their community.

  • Head of household
  • Priest of the home
  • Primary Material Provider
  • Protector of the home
  • Revolutionary Leader

Make no mistake about it the duties assigned to African-American men are critical to the continuing existence of black folk in America.

The fact that African-American existence is consistently perilous makes it critical that we take a closer look at how contemporary black leaders conceive manhood. Put simply, within black America what does a revolutionary black leader look like at this moment?

Before I begin, let me issue the following qualifier regarding the primary pre-requisite to black leadership in today’s Black liberation struggle, that being an individual who has someway or somehow been able to generate a substantial following within the African-American activist community. Such a qualifier is necessary to make this topic somewhat manageable in this space.

When considering the type of male leadership that has curried favor with a sizable population of the African-American community, there are several qualities that contemporary black male leaders possess.

  • Charisma
  • Substantial Social Media Presence
  • Tendency to become involved in Public Spats with other Black Male Leaders
  • Willingness to implement a ‘scorched Earth’ policy when challenged by anyone at any place or at any time.

In many ways, contemporary black leaders’ actions and articulations put one in the mind of a mundane reality television star.

Probably the most disappointing aspect of contemporary black male leaders flows from the many qualities that they neither possess nor need to remain atop their perch. The qualities include, but are in no way limited to the following items.

  • Historical Illiteracy
  • A gross absence of political astuteness
  • Lacking the courage to either speak truth to power or develop reasonable plans to attack white power structures
  • Failure to engage and comprehend an essential literature base
  • Psychologically unbalanced
  • Inability to be governed by a reliable moral compass
  • Socially inappropriate in their interactions with (black men and women)
  • Incapable of developing and then implementing a logical plan aimed at addressing the politico-economic, social, and cultural problems negatively impacting their people.

Put simply; it is safe to term contemporary black leaders “anti-Malcolm’s” as they are devoid of all of the qualities that endeared Brother Malcolm X to the Black community.

The great historian John Henrik Clarke once noted that today we have Hollywood revolutions that do not begin until someone says “lights, camera, action.” Unfortunately, I believe that Dr. Clarke was correct in his summation of contemporary black leadership, as it is undeniable that they are more interested in own self-promotion than in liberation of the masses. The alluded to figures appear to be primarily concerned with speaking engagements that produce nothing more than an increase in their bank accounts and increased television exposure that increases their fame. If nothing else, this pursuit of fame via social media and television guarantees that they are most definitely not leading their people down a revolutionary path, because even the Last Poets told us that “the revolution will not be televised.”

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

“Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?”: How Desegregation Played a Pivotal Role in Removing Black Male Teachers from the American Classroom

I have come to understand that when I teach the Civil Rights Movement, there are several things that I can expect. One of the most prominent is that the vast majority of my students believe that the desegregation of America’s schools was an undeniable positive occurrence in black education. From their myopic perspective, school desegregation provided a highly sought after route to black liberation with its infusion of better materials, facilities, and teachers. Trust me when I say that the vast majority of my students believe that the U.S. Supreme Court mandate to desegregate the schools “with all deliberate speed” was an unequivocal positive for Black America. As I am confident that you can imagine, my viewpoint conflicts with such a perspective.

The manner in which my students battle against my nuanced criticism of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision reveals a shocking emotional investment that shows a strident belief in meritocracy; the idea that if you work hard in America, success will eventually occur. Experience has taught me that the most certain way to undress school desegregation is via the following query; “How many of you had an African-American male teacher during your K-12 experience? Please do not count any teacher who was involved in school athletics in that number.” There may be a few students who indicate that they have had such an indicator by raising their hand. However, a brief survey reveals that very few students have had more than two African-American male teachers who were not attached to some athletic sport during their K – 12 educational endeavors. This unfortunate reality provides a perfect opportunity for me to query, “To what do you attribute that fact?”

As I am confident that you can imagine, there is a litany of excuses/explanations for the absence of African-American males from the teaching profession.

  • “Teaching doesn’t pay, so they refuse the work.”
  • “Being a teacher is woman’s work.”
  • “Too many of them end up in prison and not college.”

I am confident that the flawed explanations would continue into infinity if I did not stop them.

None of my students possess enough knowledge to trace the absence of African-American male teachers to the cause of this matter, the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

When discussing this issue, I frequently take Malcolm X’s position and ask my charges if they are confident that it was a wise decision to abandon black schools to integrate with a hostile white community? I remind my students that they are integrating with a community that has publicly articulated a non-desire to have African-Americans anywhere near them unless it was in a subservient role that bolstered their monopoly upon limited politico-economic resources. My students are not alone in their myopic view of school desegregation. Integrationist oriented Civil Rights leaders also failed to understand that the integration of American schools would have an unconscionable impact upon not only the minds of African-American children but also ensure the disappearance of black male teachers. Malcolm X considered the decision to integrate so unwisely that he admonished his moderate Negro leaders that “Only a fool would let his enemy educate his children.”

Over sixty years after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered school desegregation, it is evident that African-American male teachers are the primary victims of desegregation. Consider for a moment that before the Brown v. Board of Education decision, educators made up over fifty percent of the black professional class; male teachers were approximately half of that population. Things have certainly changed since Brown in regards to the presence of African-American male educators. At this present moment,

  • 75% of American teachers are female
  • 83% of American teachers are white
  • Less than 2% of American teachers are black men

In hindsight, it is evident that Brown blocked a robust pipeline that consistently delivered black male educators to black schools.

After Brown, white school administrators efficiently replaced black male teachers with white women. The alluded to occupational displacement was motivated by an extreme desire by white managers to avoid an agreed upon racial taboo that forbid the placement of African-American men in positions of authority over any white, most notably a white female. An irrational paranoia that reduced African-American males to a monolithic population whose greatest desire was sexual contact with any white woman motivated this decision. Put simply, the pipeline that routinely produced black male educators before Brown was not only halted but also deconstructed by the Supreme Court order.

It is this historical reality that has forced a consortium of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (Southern University, Tuskegee University, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Alcorn State University and Claflin University) to join in an endeavor that is ironically being called Project Pipeline Repair: Restoring Minority Male Participation and Persistence in Educator Preparation Programs (Project PR).

Project PR, supported by a $1.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is seeking to “eliminate social and economic barriers” that preclude the presence of African-American male teachers in today’s classrooms.

I hope that Project PR is a resounding success as we are in dire need for African-American male teachers who could serve as educators and mentors to the next generation of American youth, regardless of their race, gender, or ethnicity. However, as an individual who has studied Race in America for the better portion of his life, I am slightly perturbed that this movement to restock this nation’s schools with African-American male educators is occurring without any discussion regarding why there are so few of them at this present moment. The historical record shows that their absence is not due to social dysfunction or personal flaws, rather it results from white school administrators discriminatory hiring practices in the wake of Brown. It was their dastardly decision that facilitated the disappearance of black male educators from American schools and the subsequent decline of a quality education for African-American students.

The historical record definitively proves this matter. Until this nation places this conversation within its proper historical context, it is not only doing itself a severe disservice but also extending one of its greatest traditions of conveniently excluding significant aspects of its storied tradition of discrimination and racism. Until we tell the truth about American racial matters, this nation will continue to be haunted by this demonic spirit.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III