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Black Males Endangered But Do We Really Care?
Young Black males are principal players in the unholy drama of wanton violence in our inner cities. The recent surge in such violence was propelled into sharp focus by the senseless killing of 16-year-old Derrion Albert in Chicago, but similar atrocities abound nationally. The underlying causes are known but systematically minimized or overlooked. While assessments and remedies seem as varied as the causes, some are hugely misleading, well-intentioned or not.
Dr. Bill Cosby regularly castigates "disgraceful'' young Black males from his elitist perch. Sadly, many Black adults share Cosby's predilection and maintain a safe distance (literally and figuratively) from despised and "disrespectful" young "gangsters. Middle class Blacks, especially, skirt the self-defeating implications of abandoning their less fortunate brethren- a huge mistake since racism trumps class (especially Black classism), and they know it.
Yes, the statistics are scary and even the most cynical pundits are alarmed by the worsening plight of Black males in America. The economic meltdown, notwithstanding, an overall improved economy and some new public policy in recent years helped other groups, including Black women, but not African American men.
Studies ad nauseam, show that a large pool of poorly educated Black men are becoming much more disconnected and disenfranchised from the mainstream than comparable whites or Latinos. Most troubling, however, is the apparent indifference of Blacks themselves to this phenomenon. As alluded to earlier, the middle class tends to look askance at the plight of poorer Blacks and are increasingly absent in the continuing struggle for success and survival.
Confirming what most Blacks know all too well, recent studies show that for Black males, finishing high school is becoming the exception, especially in the inner cities. There, decent jobs are harder to find than ever and incarceration rates for Blacks often surpass high school graduation rates- even though overall crime rates in urban areas have declined. Harry J. Holzer, Georgetown University: "If you look at the numbers, the 1990s was a bad decade for young Black men, even though it had the best labor market in 30 years."
In response to the worsening situation for young Black men, a growing number of programs are placing as much importance on teaching life skills-like parenting, conflict resolution and character building-as job skills. The share of young Black men without jobs has climbed relentlessly: In 2000, 65% of 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 climbed to historic highs in the past few years. By 2004, 21% of Black men in their twenties were incarcerated an in 2007 the rate increased precipitously. Poverty, failing schools, uninvolved parents, a decline in blue-collar jobs, a subculture that glorifies swagger over work, and the on-going effect of racism, 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 poor women, but according to current reports, is only beginning to think about Black males with comparable priority.
A seminal question remains: What is actually being done to reverse the downward spiral of Black males? Clearly, public policy changes that benefit Blacks are sorely needed. African American leaders together with concerned others must work together to create sustained pressure on public officials and other high- level decision makers to improve conditions that significantly affect Black life. The rhetoric of accountability rings hollow as young Black males sink ignominiously into oblivion while the rest of us mutter distant eulogies.
Blacks must become sufficiently dissatisfied to actually do something other than complain about the problem of Black males-Black youth especially. There are no revelations in the stockpile of studies on their plight and collectively, we all contribute to the problem and must be accountable for sustainable solutions.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail