Tag Archives: African-American Men

“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

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

The Unspoken Divide: A Crisis among African-American Men

Make no mistake about it; there is a significant issue dividing African-American men today. The alluded to divide that has for many black men gone beyond a breaking point cuts across an educational level, socioeconomic status, political leanings, and religiosity/spirituality. To be honest, it is somewhat amazing that this widening cavernous divide has not destroyed what should be natural relations between African-American men.

On second thought, maybe the fact that the few remaining connections found between African-American remain is not as surprising as one would think. Ironically, it appears that black men are tenuously bound together by the inability of whites to differentiate between them. Make no mistake about it; there is an element within white America that eagerly pursues opportunities to make the wide-ranging diversity found among African-American men moot. This part of white America, motivated by an insatiable malice that has seemingly infected every portion of their being could care less if an African-American male has a Ph.D. or no degree, they illogically hate their darker-skinned brethren for no discernible reason other than the fact that they exist.

It is predictable that within a nation where black men were enslaved, beaten, incarcerated, and hunted throughout their complete existence that they would adapt to their dire circumstances and develop unique survival mechanisms. One of the most prominent adaptations has been an agreement not to air our dirty laundry in public spaces as it provides avowed enemies with ammunition to discredit them in some form or fashion.

Unfortunately for enlightened African-American men, their silence regarding matters such as the pervasive cultural dysfunction that undergirds the activities of so many of their brethren has come at a steep price. The silence of intelligent black men who should be defining “what a black man ought to be and ought to do” has provided a cavernous opening for others less suitable for this role to enter. It is this last population that has led a public campaign full of lies and conjectures that have negatively impacted and cheapened African-American men, women, and children’s understanding of “what a black man ought to be and ought to do.”

Make no mistake about it, Black America’s contemporary cultural formulations and understanding of Manhood have been heavily influenced by those who are least qualified to address them. It is this shocking irony regarding “what a black man ought to be and ought to do” that has contributed significantly to the present state of African-American men in particular and the Black community in general. At this moment, African-American males are facing a bevy of maladies such as:

  • Escalating Incarceration Rates
  • Declining Graduation Rates
  • Unparalleled Unemployment Rates
  • Unprecedented Divorce Rates
  • An Epidemic of Black Children without Fathers
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline
  • Prison Industrial Complex
  • Black-on-Black Lethal Violence
  • And the list could continue into infinity

Despite these many pitfalls that have ensnared so many black males, there has always been a segment of African-American men who have flourished in the same environment. Successful African-American men have implemented basic strategies such as diligence and planning to lessen the impact that racism would have upon their lives.

Ironically, the success of some and the failings of others serve as one of the primary catalysts behind an ever-widening divide between black males. New York City educator Damon Thomas addresses this matter by publicly questioning the inability of so many African-American males to achieve in the face of racism. “Don’t get me wrong; I am well aware that racism still exists. However, I trace the ineptitude of Black Males to personal failings, poor decision-making, and a woeful absence of planning for their future.

Thomas is most certainly not alone in his contentions, Columbus, Ohio businessman Eric Morris cites “laziness, foolishness, and silliness” as primary factors in African-American males educational and socioeconomic failures. According to Morris, “There is no other explanation for why some of us have achieved a few things in our lives, and others seem to be stuck in the same place. I just refuse to wallow in pity and let life happen to me, I am the primary determinant in my success and also in my shortcomings and failures. I orchestrate my destiny.

Individuals such as Morris and Thomas have no problem addressing the shortcomings of African-American males for one simple reason; they believe that all African-American males are inextricably linked.

According to Thomas, “Although I hate to admit it, when these brothers go out into the world and act a fool, it affects each and every one of us. Make no mistake about it; they have severely and permanently damaged what it means to be a Black man. Instead of blackness standing for intelligence, professionalism, and responsibility, these fools have made it stand for the exact opposite.

Film-maker John Calhoun offered the following commentary regarding this matter. “I no longer view all ‘brothers’ as ‘brothers’, if you know what I mean. I can’t afford to. I don’t think that anyone who wishes to accomplish anything has that luxury. I have been burned far too many times trying to help my ‘brothers’ out. After a while, you decide that it is not worth it; I am certain that a little part of me died at that moment, however, I knew that I had to do what was best for me.

Laying at the center of this rapidly expanding divide between African-American men and black males is the realization that the former, the population that W.E.B. Du Bois termed the ‘talented-tenth,’ have tired of dragging along brethren who behave as if they are oblivious to their marginal lives and dysfunctional lifestyles. Making matters worse is the illogical manner that the most marginalized sectors of our community display copious amounts of anger at their brethren who have historically provided a helping hand. Such individuals are either unaware or do not care that their more successful brethren have tired of their dysfunctional lifestyles and their refusal to accept constructive criticism regarding what has become a life not worth living.

One of my greatest fears is that the ties that bind black men together are broken, leaving them more disconnected than they are at this present moment. It is frightening to consider the impact that an abandonment of collectivism for individualistic pursuits would have upon the entire community. Such a move would be disastrous to not only today’s African-American community, but also succeeding generations. However, there appears to be little that is going to deter it from occurring. Unfortunately for Black America, it seems that only the politically astute realize that the process of in-fighting and general disagreement that has become an increasing hallmark among African-American men threatens all of our existence as we remain inextricably linked with one another.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture 2016