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:
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
Although the exact date that Pastor Johnny R. Heckard shared the message eludes my mind, that does not matter because it is much more important that the sermon’s content remains prominent in my mind.
As was his tendency, Dr. Heckard used an unconscionable, yet scripturally grounded, verbal assault to admonish the Mount Calvary Baptist Church congregation, particularly the males, that one of the most troubling aspects of Black America is the manner in which the roles of African-American men and women have reversed.
The entire church shook as Rev. Heckard’s baritone voice boomed “We now have men asking women, ‘Do you make enough to take care of a man like me?’” As one would expect, this piercing question elicited a symphony of ‘Hallelujah’s,’ ‘Preach,’ and ‘Walk with it’ from the overwhelmingly female audience. Ironically, the overwhelmingly female congregation filled with women who never realize that they are partially responsible for the production of son’s who will become worthless African-American males, as well as hurriedly “laying down their religion” to allow a financially and emotionally parasitic grown man into their lives.
For me, Pastor Heckard’s sermon was surreal as it was a powerful rebuke of a cast of characters I recently encountered in a local barbershop, a place that could also be called the black man’s country club.
Anyone who has been to a real black barber will tell you that you are destined to engage a cast of characters with incredible stories regarding life. Without fail, there is always a few ‘brothers’ present who will share stories regarding their refusal to support the women in their lives and the inventive methods they use to escape responsibility for the women in their lives.
Although hilarious at the moment, upon reflection these tales sadden me because I realized that there are a silent woman and children in the background of each story. African-American males dereliction of duty routinely compromises the present and future opportunities for the women and children that rely on them for things that extend further than financial contributions. There is no possible way that any attentive introspective person could listen to these fantastic barbershop tales and not realize that as Dr. Heckard’s sermon pointed out, the dynamics between black men and women have dramatically changed.
Unfortunately, I am uncertain if even Dr. Heckard’s criticism would have caused even a moment of self-reflection upon the most dynamic performers one finds in any local barbershop as they appeared to be devoid of either a sense of pride or an inkling of morality. If nothing else, the alluded to individuals were a public testimony that so many African-American males had voluntarily retreated from the traditional role of provider and protector that Black men have traditionally occupied. The increasing numbers of such individuals highlight the depths of trouble that our community is experiencing at this present moment.
It appears that the days of the average black man being able to simultaneously occupy many roles that vacillated between displaying the ‘cool pose’ while among their peers, being the primary breadwinner in their homes, spending precious time with offspring, and being unconscionably chivalrous toward their wife are no more.
This abandonment of our traditional position within our community begs a simple question of, ‘Why has this occurred?’
A thorough answer to the above question is multi-faceted, complex, and involves shifts in the American economy, the African-American community, and the educational system that has simply not served as much utility to African-American men in particular. I am certain that you agree that this space is much too small to address each of these areas. So I will turn my focus toward the addressing of one of the essential parts of this problem; that being, the lack of socialization regarding manhood within the African-American community.
Although many have created complex formulas and equations relating to the extension of manhood from one generation to the next, in actuality the process is incredibly simple. Boys learn the duties, role, and expectations of Manhood and therefore how to ‘be a man’ by engaging and learning from Men. There is nothing racially specific about this as it is the same socialization process that occurs generation-after-generation around the entire globe.
Unfortunately for the African-American community, there has been a disruption in this tried-and-true socialization process that taught ‘What a man is and Ought to do’ for African-American boys and girls.
Although it is often not a formal process, any examination of the transference of manhood ideology reveals some form of a ‘rites of passage’ program that teaches agreed upon understandings of what it means to be a man in a particular society. The referenced ‘rites of passage’ training not only shows the expected duties but also constructs rigid parameters regarding activities that are impermissible. Generally speaking, any actions that result in hurt, harm, or damage to others are located in the realm of the impermissible and logically lead to the shunning of those who have even flirted with such things.
Indicative of the African-American community’s failure to instruct succeeding generations of black boys on what they should and should not do has been them making the realm of the impermissible and inappropriate their official residence. Making their dastardly lifestyle more damaging is the black community failing to banish those who have compromised it from its midst. Far too frequently, it appears as if their negative behavior earns them kudos from females who are also devoid of an understanding of what either a man or woman ‘ought to be and ought to do.’ Make no mistake about it, the selfish life that far too many African-American males have adopted damages the entire community.
Considering the blockage that has led to a significant segment of African-American males not receiving appropriate Manhood training, it is not surprising that we have devolved to an unprecedented moment in our history that sees immoral and misguided Black men viewing Black women, in the words of Dr. Heckard as a survival mechanism. And trust me when I say that such maneuvers are certainly not a positive manhood quality.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2016