Category Archives: African-American Men

FLAWED CULTURAL PRIORITIES: THE FOREMOST PROBLEM AFFECTING SO MANY BLACK MALES

I have learned that it is crucial that I choose my battles wisely. Now I admit that this commitment to avoid unnecessary frivolous conflict signals either the arrival of wisdom or is an indicator of a subconscious desire to conserve my mental energies. The latter is the closest that you will ever get me to admit that I am aging.

It is this commitment to choose my battles that recently led me to avoid a relatively petty disagreement with a male student. The alluded to conflict flowed from his belief that the sole purpose of life was money and the more of it that he possessed, the happier he would be. Trust me when I say that this young brother was the personification of what many consider a stereotypical black male in dress, speech pattern, and social inappropriateness. I am confident that you understand what I mean when I say that although this was our initial encounter, I already knew him well.

Maybe I can chalk up my decision to not engage this fellow to wisdom. I can tell you that within thirty seconds of speaking with him, it became apparent that he would never understand that a successful life should never be evaluated by one’s bank account or accruement of cars, clothes, women, and homes. I have learned that flawed value systems such as his are birthed by both an absence of education and dearth of mentorship. I am certain that you agree that such ingredients result in absolute disaster for black males, regardless of their age.

Many of my students who have turned their back on the pursuit of a “life worth living” are surprised to learn that their decision to pursue money over everything else would have been applauded by Southern plantation owners who “owned” their ancestors centuries ago. In fact, there were principally two things that white slave owners feared the moment that chattel slavery ended: (a) financial ruin (b) the obliteration of a Southern culture that served as pillars for both their wealth and political interests. It is evident that Southern plantation owners understood that although monetary resources are crucial to their reign, it was their cultural priorities that dictated the path forward. These “southern gentlemen” were willing to destroy the nation before they even entertained compromising on their cultural beliefs and preferences. Of all of the lessons that one can glean from this period, it is white southerners’ obsession with a cultural formation that served their interests that offer the greatest lesson for African-Americans males at this present moment. Unfortunately, these precious lessons regarding the importance of culture are consistently ignored by those who need to learn from them the most.

Even a cursory examination of American history reveals that Southern plantation owners understood that although monetary resources were crucial to their tyrannical reign, money never superseded the value and importance of what can be best termed cultural priorities. White southerners understood very well that it was their cultural priorities that pointed the path forward. One must never forget that these “southern gentlemen” were willing to destroy the nation before they compromised their cultural framework.

White Southerners’ obsession with holding onto a cultural formation that served their interests offers the greatest lesson for African-Americans males seeking either individual or collective uplift. Unfortunately, these valuable lessons regarding the importance of culture are consistently ignored by a population of black males that need them the most. Failure to honor such realities reduces so many black males useless to their peoples’ historical struggle against white politico-economic oppression.

One of the most poignant social commentaries regarding what happens when there is an absence of black cultural priorities emanates from comedian Chris Rock. We must remember that Rock is the same person who informed the nation that there was “a civil war going on in Black America between black folk and Niggers. And Niggers have got to go.” Chris Rock’s piercing observation delves into one of Black America’s dirtiest pieces of laundry, that being the reality that there is a significant segment of Black America that has willfully embraced, even celebrated a backward set of cultural priorities that encourages what can only be considered a backward lifestyle. The alluded to lifestyle is particularly astounding when one considers that its foremost advocates have attempted to take others to task for not joining them in their wayward perspective. those who champion it have the audacity to issue significant criticism toward those who have pursued financial responsibility, professional success, and educational achievement. Unfortunately, those who pursue the positive goals mentioned above are rendered social pariah by a roguish element of black men.

The alluded to lifestyle is particularly astounding when one considers that its foremost advocates have attempted to take others to task for not joining them in their wayward perspective. Consider for a moment the fact that those discussed above have displayed the audacity to issue significant criticism toward a portion of Black America that has pursued financial responsibility, professional success, and educational achievement. In many ways, it is hilarious that this roguish element of black men has done their best to make the educated in our midst social pariah.

Make no mistake about it; there seems to be a social, intellectual, and cultural poverty that shadows wayward black males. Chris Rock addressed this matter when he charged that “Nothing makes a nigga happier than to not know the answer to your question.” I applaud Rock’s courage to publicly address such matters that are regularly discussed by blacks behind closed doors.

In many ways, the curse of cultural alteration is that change is gradual and indiscernible to the untrained eye. Once the alluded to changes are noticeable, it is often too late to stop them. Although it is impossible to identify a single villain in many African-American males development of non-sensical cultural priorities, however, there is no doubt that this matter exists.

An excellent starting point for explaining this unfortunate development of “ends-justify-the-means” cultural priorities is the impoverished intellectual diet so many black males have become addicted to. It is evident that for many black males, television, movies, rap music, and the foolishness found in American streets have a disproportionate influence on their behavior and worldview. In many ways, such dubious entities have convinced those being discussed of what is and what is not ‘Blackness.’

It is the foolish adoption of a value system that makes the pursuit of material goods the lone goal of life as the most active agent in the “dumbing down” of Black America. There is no room to debate the reality that the individuals who engage in this process eventually find themselves mired in an unceasing world of ignorance that begets a lack of politicization, that begets economic ignorance, that begets poverty, which reinforces their pervasive ignorance.

At the present moment, it appears that this process has manufactured individuals, such as the student mentioned above, whose sole priorities are the pursuit of and consumption of material goods by any means necessary. It is this population that Chris Rock terms “Niggas.” Ironically, such individuals have been so busy pursuing trinkets that they failed to notice that the rest of Black America has taken a vote that agrees with the famed comedian’s point that it is most certainly time for them to go.

James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017

Thug University: How the Posturing of some Black Males on Collegiate Campuses Must be Challenged

One of the more peculiar inside jokes shared among those raised in “the hood” is that when someone is sentenced to prison, this individual is on his way to ‘college’; meaning he is away from the community receiving an education in criminality and bound to return with an advanced criminal skill set. President Barack Hussein Obama’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ is an initiative aimed at preventing such college visits.

The African-American community has known long before President Barack Hussein Obama arrived on the national political scene that obama2there was a crisis concerning Black boys. I know that these initiatives have been around for at least thirty-years as I was previously a participant in such programs. Considering that Malcolm X’s admonishment that a person is merely the sum of their life experiences, I attribute a portion of my current success to such initiatives.

My participation with outreach programs specifically aimed at uplifting African-American males provided me with my first opportunity to visit a collegiate campus, attend/participate in an academic conference, and receive mentorship at both the undergraduate and graduate levels by unbelievable faculty members at THE Ohio State University, my alma mater.

With hindsight I can attest with extreme clarity that it was the latter occurrence, the opportunity to be mentored that has proven most beneficial in regards to my future endeavors. It was during mentorship sessions that I learned how to “be” inside of a collegiate classroom, an academic conference, a workshop, and a symposium; just as importantly, I had lessons my parents had taught me reiterated behind closed doors that I had done absolutely nothing to earn the opportunities being placed in front of me, it was an extended line of my elders who had facilitated this moment, and since I had not created these opportunities, I had absolutely no right to behave in a manner that would cause these opportunities to cease. Put simply, we, meaning a larger community, have worked tirelessly for you to even be allowed to compete in the collegiate arena, don’t you dare get out there and embarrass us at any moment, at any time, or for any reason.

Such experiences and mentorship makes my current status as a tenured professor of African-American studies surreal. I am on the other side of the desk and charged with the responsibility to keep the tradition from whence I emerged alive and well.

Although I, and many of my colleagues, concentrate upon keeping the traditions going; the truth is that the process of mentoring today’s African-American male collegian is markedly different from anything I could have imagined. Ironically, I have had an up-close view of the dynamic decade long process that facilitated collegiate campuses transformation from institutions of higher learning to what can be best termed “Thug University” for a significant portion of African-American males.

From the stage that I lecture on, I can attest that the past decade has been a period of dynamic change in regards to the African-American male persona on collegiate campuses, a shift that has been greatly prodded by Hip-Hop Culture. Put simply, much of the ignorance infecting so many African-American male collegians is an outgrowth of Hip-Hop Culture, Rap Music and Videos in particular.

As previously discussed, I participated in several initiatives aimed at saving ‘the endangered black male’. The logic behind such initiatives Collegewas that there needed to be some mechanism that provided “historically marginalized minority populations” access to higher education institutions. The most significant obstacle preventing our inclusion was an entity referred to as institutional racism; meaning, that the entire system operated in a manner that individuals such as myself, regardless of our best efforts, would never gain access. To their credit, policy makers and government officials took decisive action by allocating funds for African-American male initiative programs that worked to combat occurrences of institutional racism.

I am certain that those battling for our inclusion during the eighties considered their battle with institutional racism a Herculean effort, little did they know, a few decades later there would be a far more enchanting enemy that would make earlier battles with institutional racism look like taking candy from a baby.

The latest frontier in the battle to save African-American males must be fought against a much slicker enemy, one that the vast majority of African-American males admire, embrace, and seek intimate knowledge, that enemy is Hip-Hop Culture.

Despite the plethora of outreach programs being created to influence/guide African-American males down a productive path, the truth is that for a significant population of our males, rap icons such as Rick Ross, YG, and Young Jeezy hold more sway over their values and worldview than any initiative could ever hope to. Now this is by no means suggesting that such initiatives need to be ceased, as many participants, such as myself, will maximize the opportunity, however, the administrators of such initiatives are in for a rude awakening if they believe that exposure to collegiate campuses or professional mentors is sufficient to stem the omnipresent, seemingly omnipotent, influence of today’s rap artists on this latest generation of African-American males.

The above assertion is particularly disconcerting for someone who to this day holds Rap Music near and dear to my heart. I was literally incubated by Hip-Hop culture and its musical wing, Rap Music; entities that paved the way for first my politicization and my pursuit of a career of the mind.

Outside of my parents voluminous influence, my mind was molded 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. As I reconstruct my past, it is clear that the youth culture I was steeped in was not only politically progressive, but also created by young African-Americans to serve the interests of young African-Americans. Unfortunately, the days of yesteryear are long gone.

If the saying that a tree is best known by the fruit it bears is true, one needs to look no further than the current state of young African-American males to discern that Hip-Hop culture is doing untold damage by curtailing their worldview and opportunities.

As stated 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.” The antics/attitude/actions of African-American males have made many of their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles scared of them. Why should previous generations not be afraid of these recent manifestations of African-American manhood with its proclivity for drug abuse, alcoholism, misogyny, profanity, sagging pants and anti-social behavior? All foreign characteristics to how the majority of our people have lived throughout the annals of time.

Unbeknownst to the young men who are attempting to serve two masters, one being the altar of collegiate studies and the other the altar of ‘keepin it real’ Hip-Hop Culture, they have signed up for an sagging pantsimpossible task; in fact, it will the latter of the two that will always win out as it invariably taps into the carnal nature of mankind. The young men currently in the throes of a nihilistic homo-erotic thug culture fail to realize that they are an aberration to the way that educated African-American men have lived for centuries. The alluded to individuals entire existence contradicts storied traditions of honorable, smooth, articulate, educated, well dressed brothers who were in leadership positions in both their public and private lives. The smooth suave and debonair African-American man has been replaced with young men whose lack of style, and trust me a measure of style is not conveyed by adorning one’s body with overpriced gaudy European clothing that was not created with you in mind, is rivaled only by their inability to verbally express themselves.

The proverbial elephant in the room regarding African-American collegians desperation to be included in this type of lifestyle is an often ignored query of ‘what is the payoff for relinquishing long-standing African-American cultural traditions in favor of adopting behavior that would shame a nation of uncultured savages?’ Apparently the impetus behind the actions and mindset of so many African-American male collegians is a pursuit of ‘street credibility’ among those that they consider, or desperately desire to be like, uneducated criminal-minded thugs and hoodlums.

It is my fervent hope and prayer that African-American collegians quickly conclude that there is no salvation for them to be found in the streets of America, let alone any feelings of admiration to be hewn from a segment of society, criminal-minded African-American males, Gangster Disciples1that loathes their existence. If nothing else, I wish that the young men sitting in my classes realized that they are the best and brightest that our race has to offer and their allowing those who have less education than they do to direct their cultural values and goals 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 for our community. So take your rightful places as the trend-setters and leaders within our community. Only you can reverse this tide of cultural dysfunction and flawed political priorities.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017

#ManhoodRaceCulture

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Developing and Cultivating a Young ‘Criminal Class’ in Memphis

There are those who say that if the Ku Klux Klan tried to destroy an entire generation of Black boys, they could not have done a better job than Black people have apparently done to themselves.

Many of these same people actually believe that a generation or two of young Black men in Memphis (and other cities as well) have been so completely corrupted and defiled, that they have become a ‘species’ unto themselves.

Still further, that we have to ‘write-off’ this current generation of tattooed, sagging pants-wearing, shower shoe-wearing, bad-languaged young thugs, and concentrate on the next group of urban boys.

The fact is that when the current generation of urban boys looks around for answers, and perhaps a little more dignity than the urban males they see on a daily basis, most often they come up empty and get nothing tangible from parents, preachers, politicians, principals, or their peers. The threat is existential, and very real.

The ‘Black Community’ has devolved over the past two decades into an incessantly chaotic mix of great wealth for a few, utter confusion among the masses, bitter frustration inside neighborhoods, mistrust among the divergent groups, and no singular plan to dig ourselves out of this situation.

It is, therefore, no great surprise that we are witnessing the rise of a young ‘criminal class’ in Memphis and in cities across America.

Exactly what is it that we would expect from a once-proud group of African-American citizens, who would never curse in front of the elderly, or disrespect a teacher, and would frown upon being arrested for a ninth time? We can’t exclusively blame violent TV or video games, or violent lyrics in rap music, or even the violence that many young boys see inside their own homes as the ‘primary’ cause for the undeniable rise in shootings, stabbings, armed robberies, and domestic assaults.

But just like the arguments around Global Warming, these human elements must be considered as a possible (and quite plausible) contributing factor. “It’s the criminal’s own fault”, and “He should just go out and get a job”, are two of society’s main refrains, and these sentiments are both rooted in truth.

“Lock ‘em up for forty years”, and “three strikes, you’re out”, and “Let’s bring back law and order”, are also very popular things for politicians to say, and even frustrated everyday Black people agree.

But we’re still just pruning dead leaves from a tree, without getting into the roots or the lack of nourishment that caused the visible blemishes. The violence among young men in Memphis is rooted primarily in deviance, harsh economics, and limited opportunity.

Ours is a ‘cultural deficiency’ that starts in poverty-stricken, single-parent homes across Memphis, and extends to the greater community. Who would argue with such a premise?

Without early training and engagement of Middle School students, we are left with young boys who have been thrown to the wolves, the vultures and the predators of society, that lay-in-wait for them as new recruits for nefarious goals of easy money, street-respect, and ‘ghetto prestige.’

Allen Iverson can be credited as being the forerunner and icon of a belief that lots of money can mask pure thuggery, and that you can wear a basketball jersey anytime, anywhere. As long as you look tough and talk tough, you don’t have to have any legitimate knowledge about anything at all.

Violence is clearly a part of the game, and young boys better develop a strong stomach for it, or go back on the porch. The game is hard, and Hollywood hype has defined exactly how a young boy should look and act as he tries to carve out his early life and his destiny… shower shoes, neck tattoos, sagging pants, inarticulate speech, and probably, access to a gun. Meanwhile, most of them have never been to Sunday School, and never learned to pray.

Scarce summer (and year-round) employment, no family-centered recreational options, and a shortage of non-sports training has led thousands of young men to find other outlets for their ‘manhood quests,’ as they enter the larger economic mainstream.

The majority of these boys are not going to sit idly by, as their peers have girlfriends and cars, and occasionally money. They are going to engage the society based on what they know… and what they know how to do.

The names ‘Rayful Edmonds’ and ‘Brian Tribble’ may not be familiar to most Memphians, but theirs are two stories that speak volumes about the violent situations that now face Memphis and its teens. We are more familiar with the name ‘Craig Petties,’ but it’s the same game, just a different city. ‘Shop Class’ and early exposure to Vocational skills could at least give children an idea – and a hope – of what they might pursue as a legitimate career.

What do we expect the outcome to be, when 8,000 urban boys are left to their own devices in such a chaotic urban setting as Memphis has become? City and county officials only give lip service to the early development of Middle School and High School students, both boys and girls. These young people could find economic options in the un-used commercial kitchens of our 25 closed schools, and no one has ever talked to them about learning to install Fire Suppression Systems, or residential sprinkler systems, or pressure washing windows and driveways, or merchandising grocery stores as a small business… we only give them basketball. “Those who can, will… those who can’t, take.”

So you tell me, why do you think our boys are so violent? I’ll wait, as you ponder your role…

Tony Nichelson is a Memphis community activist who runs Man of the House, a youth mentoring program.

Taken from the Commerical Appeal