Category Archives: Black Men

ONE BOOK AWAY: THE SALVATION OF MICHAEL CLEERE

I have learned myriad lessons from my perch as an African-American studies professor enjoying the privilege of working with American youth. Probably the most encouraging of all of these lessons has been that most young people are what could be termed “one book away” from transforming a directionless life into “a life worth living.” I, along with thousands of other educators, fervently believe that the path to “a life worth living” is strewn with substantive writings that are essential to both their present and future.

I honestly hold this belief of being “one book away” as a transformative, if not a sacred lesson that every educator should believe it. My faith in this intellectual principle flows from two spaces, the first being I am a product of this mantra and the second being I have successfully applied this principle to my students.

Although I do not remember the date, I do recall being nineteen-years-old when I traveled with my mother to the University of Akron to hear Jawanza Kunjufu speak about a host of topics. I am not ashamed to relate that at that moment in my life, I was a directionless African-American male who had yet to find his way in life. The credit for this day’s impact is not attributable to Kunjufu’s lengthy presentation. My transformation occurred after the presentation when my mother introduced me to this esteemed educator, and he offered me a piece of advice that reverberates with me to this very moment. Jawanza Kunjufu looked at me sincerely and stated: “Young man, when you go back to your collegiate campus, I want you to go to the library and pick up a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” I had no comprehension that this directive was my moment, my “one book away” moment that transformed my life forever.

It would be impossible to overstate the extraordinary influence that The Autobiography of Malcolm X had in my life. This book that I read from cover-to-cover five consecutive times in the course of a week instantaneously changed me. If African-American studies were a drug, I was most certainly hooked by this first hit.

As I am confident that you can imagine, this “one book away” transformation that has framed my life for the past thirty years is an educational tool that I have repeatedly applied to the young African-American males that enter my course as unanchored as I was that moment my path crossed that of Jawanza Kunjufu. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that of all the students I have instructed during the past twenty years, the individual whose transformation most closely mirrors my own, meaning as a result of their exposure to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, was a young brother from Dallas, Texas, named Michael Cleere.

Trust me when I say that the moment Michael Cleere entered my course, I instantaneously made several significant judgments regarding this brother on-site; few, if any of these observations extended beyond neutral. Mr. Cleere was a young black male covered with several tattoos, sitting in the back corner of the classroom, staring off out the window, and determined to not engage me in any shape, form, or fashion; except for the tattoos, he reminded me of myself twenty years prior.

Eventually, this young man lowered his defense mechanisms and engaged the robust conversations that we had in that course. However, things took a decided turn when Michael Cleere engaged The Autobiography of Malcolm X, he not only took to it like a fish to water but also differentiated himself from his contemporaries as one of the most astute and serious-minded students I have ever encountered. Through Malcolm X’s story, Mr. Cleere had crossed an all-important threshold and would enjoy the fruits of that momentous occasion for the rest of his life.

I am certain that any, including the subject of this posting, are wondering why I chose to write about this matter. Well, the answer is fairly straightforward. During the annual homage that all revolutionary-minded African-American men must pay to Malcolm X on his birthday, Michael Cleere posted about his reverence of Brother Malcolm. I took the occasion to ask him a simple query, “Who has been more influential in your life? Me or Malcolm?” Although the question was presented in jest, the answer was humbling. Mr. Cleere responded, “Ahhhhh Doc, that’s a tough one. You know that I love Malcolm, but I also realize that without you, I would have never met Malcolm.” I could do nothing other than laugh at the politically correct answer that was carefully crafted to offend neither Malcolm nor I.

One thing is for certain; I am proud to say that I have helped so many of our people who are “One book away” find that book. Trust me when I say that it is an experience that brings truth to the saying that “It is better to give than to receive.”

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, race and Culture, 2017.

A MODERN DAY EMMETT LOUIS TILL?: THE LYNCHING OF KINGSTON FRAZIER

Although I doubt it, however, it is fully within the realm of possibility that my fiery reaction to the lynching of 6-year-old Kingston Frazier in Jackson, Mississippi, is due to my knowledge of Emmett Louis Till’s lynching. These horrific crimes have several obvious corollaries.

  • Both lynchings occurred in the state of Mississippi.
  • Both of the victims were African-American children.
  • A mere 200 miles separate the dastardly crime scenes.
  • Kingston and Emmett were both snatched from the bosom of protection that family provides by a sinister element.
  • The lynchers of both of these African-American males should be considered domestic terrorists as their evil deeds are focused on exterminating a particular American population.

Relatively speaking, Emmett Louis Till’s offenses of touching the hand of Carolyn Bryant and offering a simple “goodbye” as he exited a convenience store are executable offenses when compared to 6-year-old Kingston Frazier’s offense of sleeping in the backseat of his mother’s vehicle as it was stolen. Surveillance tapes indicate that in the few moments that Kingston’s mother entered a grocery store, some thief stole the car that 6-year-old Kingston Frazier, one day away from his first-grade graduation, was slumbering in.

Once these thieves realized that a child was asleep in the back of the vehicle, they hastily ditched the vehicle on a dead end road and prepared for a hasty exit. Unfortunately for all of America, these criminals made the damning decision that their best chance of making a ‘clean get away’ was to pump a bullet into the head of young Kingston Frazier who was hopefully still slumbering in the backseat.

As previously mentioned, this barbaric crime reverted my mind to the lynching of Emmett Louis Till; however, there is one significant difference between Emmett Louis Till’s lynching in Money, Mississippi, and Kingston Frazier’s lynching; those responsible for the latter’s death were not member of some white supremacist group, in fact, they were not white at all, Kingston Frazier’s executioners were young African-American males.

When I heard about this abominable crime, there was a part of me that needed to see those responsible for it. A brief search presented a short video of the three culprits: Dwan Diondro Wakefield (17), DeAllen Washington (17) and Byron McBride Jr. As I viewed the video clip, I was shocked that I did not recognize any of these men; meaning that I did not recognize their demeanor, their posture or movements as none of them reflected the dignity, class, and refinement of the generations of black men that socialized me regarding what it meant to be a black man in America.

Kingston Frazier’s lynching by three young African-American males validates W.E.B. Du Bois’ piercing insight of what those who adopt their oppressors perspective become. I am certain that many are questioning my repeated use of the word lynching regarding this crime and may feel that the characterization is unwarranted. I feel that such contestation is wrong-headed for several reasons. When one considers that the definition of lynching is the killing of a person by a group due to some alleged offense or crime, the murder of Kingston Frazier reaches that threshold as he was killed by several individuals for the most daunting and unavoidable crime of all, being young, black, and male in a land whose inhabitants, regardless of their race/ethnicity, have decided that such descriptors add up to worthlessness and irrelevancy. Put simply, a vast swath of the American citizenry, many of whom are black, have been socialized to believe that persons of African descent do not have the right to live. In his timeless classic The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois describes this infectious affliction when he observes that “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

There is no other reasonable explanation for the actions of Dwan Diondro Wakefield (17), DeAllen Washington (17) and Byron McBride Jr. than to accept the unavoidable reality that their mindset and perspective regarding fellow African-Americans closely mirrors that of white bigots raised inside a nation where both academic lessons and social customs contribute to a denigration of African-American males. Such reasoning is a sensible explanation that explains why African-American males commonly view, treat, and consider one another as mortal enemies worthy of an excruciating death.

If African-Americans were not afflicted with a psychosis that causes them to hate one another with a vile and insanely jealous hatred, the lynching of Kingston Frazier would lead to a mobilization resembling that which occurred in the wake of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant’s lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till. The fact that as a collective we will do nothing more than take a momentary pause and issue a cowardly non-specific prayer regarding this matter speaks volumes about how serious we are about protecting the many Kingston Frazier’s in our midst that must find someway to navigate around the myriad dangerous people and obstacles that threaten their future on a moment-by-moment basis.

We must relentlessly demand that Kingston Frazier’s lynchers face the sternest punishment possible. Failure to issue such a demand continues our worst tradition of providing a place of refugee for individuals whose destruction of both our community and black lives rivals that of white supremacist groups.

There should come a point where we love one another enough to decide that we have enough of this foolishness. It is time for black America to set standards and hold every segment of their society to those criteria. A major step in this endeavor, particularly in regards to preventing future black-on-black lynchings is to expel those who do not warrant the privilege of living in our midst from the bosom of protection that they have misused for far too long.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017

“Be Careful Out There”: Why this Daily Advice to My African-American Male Students is So Much More than a Mere Pleasantry

My most consistent refrain for the droves of black and brown students at the end of every class is for them to “Be careful out there.” The response that I invariably receive from my students is either a mundane “O.K.” or a more meaningful directive of “You be careful out there as well.”

Although I would love to think that my students believe that my admonishment to “Be careful out there” is merely a nicety that emanates from similar statements such as “Hello” or “Goodbye.” However, I am confident that they realize my words are emanating from a space of significant concern, if not sizable fear.

I am sure that you are wondering, “Concern and fear of what?” Concern and fear that this may be our last time together. The fleeting nature of my association with any African-American male was once again driven home for me while I was inputting my final grades for our expired semester and noticed the words “deceased” written next to one of my most charming African-American male students. A brilliant brother who I am certain would continue his trajectory of success and make the world a better place for those around him.

Anyone with even a scant association with African-American males will tell you that the ‘grim reaper’ often arrives way too early for them. In many ways, the sorrow that reverberates from the premature death of African-American males is the most common tie that binds our community together. Put simply; early death is the chief hazard of being young, black, and male in America. In fact, the great Pan-Africanist leader Marcus Garvey consistently highlighted in his speeches and writings that wherever you go on planet Earth, you will find that persons of African descent are positioned at the bottom of every measurable from economics to death.

As mentioned above, the issues and matters surrounding the premature death of African-American males is the tie that binds so many disassociated elements of our community together, so it is not at all surprising that this matter has created a point of convergence for Conservative pundit Juan Williams and famed rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur. The alluded to point of consensus is the early deaths of African-American men. According to Juan Williams, the “Number one cause of death of young black men (between the ages of) 15 to 34 is murder. Who’s committing the murder? Not the police, other black men.” Tupac Amaru Shakur offered similar commentary in his classic song, Only God Can Judge Me, by commenting “And they say that it’s the white man that I should fear, but it’s my own kind doing all the killing here.”

Tupac’s lyrical exegesis is validated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data that highlights that 93% of murder victims were killed by someone of like race. Additional data relates that for African-American males between the ages of 15 and 34, the three leading causes of death are:

  • Homicide
  • Accidents
  • Suicide

For slightly older African-American men (ages 35 – 44), the causes of death are slightly different, yet daunting nevertheless.

  • Diseases of the Heart
  • Accidents
  • Homicide

In 2011, homicide accounted for 40% of the African-American males between the ages of 15 – 34 who met an untimely death. The fact that less than 4% of their white male counterparts within the same demographic met a similar fate magnifies these matters. According to CDC data, homicide was not even in the top 15 causes of death for whites between the ages of 15 – 34.

Many experts such as Eli Silverman, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, consider the exorbitant homicide rates within Black America to be a perfect storm where a history of injustice due to an inconsistent justice system meets social adaptations aimed at securing some semblance of justice. According to Silverman, “The (homicide) numbers highlight the condition in minority areas, where a lot of violence occurs and the whole way of life is further intensified because police surveillance is always trying to track down people. People have heightened survival instincts, will do anything to survive, and they’ll seek retribution for anything…because they don’t trust law enforcement.”

Although difficult to accept, the African-American male existence is analogous to being a soldier involved in a war with an undefined enemy. For African-American males, death could come in a host of ways, the majority of them from a familiar face. In time, black men learn that even a basic disagreement could crescendo into the extinguishing of their life. Particularly troubling is the reality that there is little that anyone within our community can do to eradicate the stated dangers.

From my perch as a professor, I remind my students on a daily basis to “be careful out there” because I realize that there is little that I can do to disrupt the impromptu dangers that will arise. So it is with a bit of sadness that I tell them to “Be careful out there” because I realize that once they exit my classroom, there is little that I can do for them beyond hoping and praying for their safety. Each day that I walk to my class, I say a short prayer that communicates my fervent hope that they survived their interactions with what is invariably a hostile world that cares little for black ingenuity and promise.

Although they rarely notice it, I do exhale when we come together for more reasons than the sharing of knowledge.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017

INSIDE OF A BOOK: THE PERFECT PLACE TO HIDE IMPORTANT THINGS FROM AFRICAN-AMERICAN MALES

While discussing the difficulty that I was experiencing regarding my students non-desire to read anything of substance, an acquaintance shared a remarkably sad story that verified my complaints in an unusual manner. The story went as follows, “I know a brother who recently had his house broken into. And I am telling you that these thieves ransacked the place trying to find a hidden stash of money. It would be an understatement to say that they destroyed everything in the place. Unfortunately for the thieves, they never found the stash because the brother hid his money in the least likely of places, the books on his bookshelf. Incredibly, the only thing left untouched were the bookshelves and the books that they held.” At this revelation, I mused, “I guess what they say is true, ‘If you want to hide something from black folk, put it in a book.’”

Although these events led me to shake my head, however, as an educator and writer I must tell you that this event holds far more meaning and significance than one could imagine. Experience has taught me that we should not be so quick to dismiss the age-old statement of “If you want to hide something from black folk, all you need to do is put it in a book.” I have come to understand that it is increasingly rare to meet African-Americans, particularly males, who read classic black literature; black females are not above criticism in this regard as the vast majority of them have never engaged writers such as Alice Walker or J. California Cooper, however, they are extremely familiar with Zane and the filth they call “urban fiction.”

The decline in literacy within the African-American community is a crisis that has gone largely unnoticed. The decrease in literacy, particularly among African-American males, is only the calm before the storm. The alluded to “dumbing down” of African-American male students is as pernicious a danger to their existence as AIDS, police brutality or even the Trump Presidency.

Consider for a moment the following indicators that highlight the dire straits of African-American male literacy.

  • The average African-American (male and female) 12th-grader reads at the same level as white 8th-graders.
  • The 12th-grade reading scores for African-American males were significantly lower than all other racial/ethnic groups.
  • Only 14% of African-American 8th-graders are proficient in reading.

For black males, the absence of literacy promises a future devoid of any understanding of African-Americans past struggles and extreme difficulty securing employment sufficient to take care of themselves and any offspring they may produce. There is absolutely no doubt that each of the above variables is crucial to African-American males’ maturation into adulthood. Obviously, there is no other path to satisfying the demands of African-American females possessing the desire to marry a black man than to grow them within our community via proactive socialization and the development of what can be best termed a black economy that rivals those of other groups.

A crucial aspect of every uplift effort within Black America rests upon literacy, the process of engaging information, synthesizing it, and then making logical decisions regarding how it can be best used to benefit our group. Until we get this simple process down, we will continue to experience the same frustrations that have seemingly dogged us like an ominous cloud.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

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