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Black males are a not a major public policy consideration and are more accurately described as rhetorical and statistical priorities Poor young Black males, in particular, are discussed and researched ad nauseam, but concretely, little has been done to help them on a sustainable basis. The reasons for this are embedded in the pre-eminence of America's race-based institutions.
Arguably, more than any other sub-group of Americans, Black youth reflect the challenges of inclusion and empowerment in the post-civil rights period. However, in contrast to the centrality of Black youth to the politics and practices of this country, their perspectives generally have been absent, not only from public policy debates, but more important, from actual sustainable solutions.
Nationally, an abundance of research on Black youth either gathers dust or is timidly implemented. In Los Angeles, for example, follow-up on several projects is sorely lacking. (These include the 21st Century Foundation's Black Men and Boys initiative and the California Endowment Foundation's BMOC (Boys and Men of Color) Conference.)
From their elitist perch, the likes of Bill Cosby castigate "disgraceful" young Black males among whose egregious behavior is sagging pants. Sadly, many Blacks share Cosby's predilection and maintain a safe distance-literally and figuratively-from these despised and disrespectful "gangsters." (Middle-class Blacks tend to skirt the self-defeating implications of abandoning their poorer brethren.)
The statistics are scary but even cynical pundits claim to be concerned by the worsening plight of young Black males in America. The economic meltdown notwithstanding, the federal government has helped other groups, including Black women but not African American men. Virtually every study shows that increasingly, poorly educated Black men are becoming much more disconnected and disenfranchised from the mainstream than comparable whites or Latinos. Most troubling, however, is the broad indifference among Blacks themselves to this crippling phenomenon that affects us all.
Confirming what most Blacks know all too well, recent studies show that Black males not finishing high school is as much the rule as the exception, especially in the inner-cities. There, decent jobs are harder than ever to find and incarceration rates for Blacks often surpass high school graduation rates-even though overall crime rates in urban areas have reportedly declined. The numbers indicate that the 1990s was a bad decade for young Black m en, even though it had the best labor market in 30 years.
Some programs designed to better equip Black youth for gainful employment are placing as much importance on teaching life skills such as parenting, conflict resolution and character-building as job skills. But the share of young Black men without jobs continues to climb: In 2000, 65% of young Black male high-school dropouts in their twenties were jobless; by 2004, the share had grown to 72% compared with 34% of whites. Overall, most Black men in their twenties were jobless and incarceration rates have climbed to historic highs in the past few years. That same year, 21% of Black men in their twenties were incarcerated, and since that time, the rate has increased precipitously. Poverty, failing schools, uninvolved parents, a decline in blue-collar jobs, and a subculture that puts swagger over work, all contribute to the deepening plight of Black youth.
By their mid-thirties, 30% of Black men with no more than a high-school education have served time in prison, as have 60% of dropouts. About half of all Black men in their late twenties and early thirties who did not go to college are non-custodial fathers; the kind of work most of them find does not lead to advancement or provide adequate insurance or security for them or their families. This country spent billions of dollars in efforts that produced the start of a turnaround for Black women. However, according to current reports, the nation has yet to accord Black males comparable priority.
The question remains: What is actually being done to reverse the downward spiral of Black males? Clearly, public policy changes benefiting young Black males are sorely needed. But African American leadership in general and Black elected officials especially, must come together to create sustained pressure essential for needed change. The rhetoric of accountability is stale and rings hollow as young Black males sink ignominiously into oblivion while too many of us mutter distant eulogies.
Blacks must become sufficiently dissatisfied to do something other than complain about the behavior of its youth. Everyone knows, or should, that there are no revelations in the stockpiles of research on the plight of young Black Male and that collective indifference contributes to a problem for which we all share responsibility.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail