by Dr Boyce Watkins
According to a recent study conducted at The University of Chicago, African American males haven’t advanced in American society one bit since 1971. The researchers used a variety of socio-economic indicators to arrive at their conclusions, and their work has credibility, since U. Chicago is among the world’s leaders in both Sociological and Economic research.
The year 1971 is meaningful to me, since that was the year I was born. When I think about the fact that it’s our job as men to carry the torch and improve upon the achievements of the previous generation, these results seem to imply that we might have failed. Men my age, like the rapper Jay-Z, would rather disrespect strong predecessors like Harry Belafonte and Jim Brown rather than learn from their courage. We are fragmented, distracted, materialistic, and ultimately weak. We are not men….we are just a bunch of “niggaz in Paris.”
Not all black men are struggling, as Janks Morton, creator of the film “Hoodwinked” might explain. There are millions of black men doing amazing things, taking care of their children, building wealth, educating themselves, standing up for their communities and becoming empowered members of society. But there is also a counter narrative in which black men are left behind and being beaten into the ground by a society that hates them. Even worse is that we’ve been taught to hate ourselves, thus making us complicit in our own oppression.
This list is not exhaustive, but here are a few reasons that black men, as a collective, have not advanced over the last 40 years, and why we may not advance over the next 40 if we don’t get ourselves together right now:
1) America has never acknowledged its demons: I spent many years hearing about how Hitler committed countless atrocities against the Jews. But what’s rarely shared is that the atrocities that American leaders have committed against black men and women have been equally devasting and lasted for a much longer period of time. Nearly every international governing body, when observing the extensive human rights violations continuously being committed against African Americans, plainly states that American officials are both lying and in serious denial of what they have done to the black man, woman and child over the last 400 years.
What is even more interesting is that millions of black people are in subtle agreement with this blatant disregard for our humanity. We shuck, jive and kiss the butt of any big white corporation or university willing to give us a few dollars, and then wonder why our needs are continuously tossed to the back of the bus. Many of us don’t support black businesses. We don’t trust one another and some of us don’t even believe our most powerful celebrities have any obligation to anyone other than themselves. The oppression won’t end unless we stop accepting it.
2) We’re still committed to economic servitude: Many black families either allow their children to ignore the value of education or commit themselves to debilitating miseducation. Those of us who come from educated families are often told that your job is to get a good education and make sure you are well-behaved so that a friendly white man will give you a job. Then, when the MBA, PhD, or MD finds himself in the unemployment line, he becomes so frustrated that he gives himself hypertension or ends up drinking his problems away after realizing the obvious: America doesn’t give a damn about you.
Those of us who get to keep our jobs become part of the angry black middle class: The people who work 10 times harder than the white guy down the hall, but keep getting passed over for promotions. We all seem to believe that if we “aren’t like those other negroes,” we’re going to be OK. Then, we find out that our fates are inextricably linked, whether we like it or not. That’s when a man like Henry Louis Gates gets arrested on his front porch and is astonished that a police officer would treat him that way. We are convinced that by separating ourselves from each other, we will be safe, when the opposite is actually true.
The only path to economic freedom is to consistently preach the idea of black business development and entrepreneurship. You can go work with anyone you want, but at the end of the day, your side hustle might be the difference between eating good and eating government cheese. Not everyone is cut out to run a business, I know that. However, no one should be content with getting all of their money from one source of revenue. We should stop teaching our children how to be corporate drones and help them learn how to live economically free. We should also stop giving our money right back to the corporations that are selling you a series of worthless products and doing nothing for your community.
3) We let the world convince us that we are uneducated athletic goons: I was in the grocery store overhearing two young, intelligent brothers doing a precise breakdown of Amare Stoudemire’s new contract with the New York Knicks. They were surely fans of the ESPN show, “First Take” and could have easily been commentators themselves. They talked about the Knicks’ prospects for next year, salary cap implications of a pending trade, and why Amare should probably consider playing for a team that might help him contend for a championship.
It’s OK for brothers to love sports, but why can’t we also love science in the same way? Why not break down your OWN investment portfolio and entrepreneurial possibilities instead of living vicariously through someone you’ll never meet? Why are we so obsessed with sports that we love athletics to the exclusion of nearly everything else? Why do we allow people in our communities to suck up our kids into football and basketball programs at an early age, but aren’t equally diligent in getting these young men into programs that will lead to economic prosperity?
Let’s be real: That little man is probably NEVER going to make it to the NFL or NBA, and even if he does make it without a good education, he is probably going to end up broke. Why in the world would we let our future husbands and fathers be led to slaughter?
One of the reasons that young black men are not able to keep up with the rapid educational progress of young black women is because too many of us get so caught up in a ridiculous, irrational hoop dream that we never get the chance to become something else. As prominent attorney and former Oklahoma Sooner Damario Solomon Simmons once said, “Education should NOT be your plan B. It should be your plan A.” Sports are destroying millions of young black men.
4) White-owned, corporate hip-hop presents an image of us that is inaccurate, but we eat it up like crackheads: The imagery of toxic corporate hip-hop has taken us to the point that otherwise intelligent and productive black men are reduced to nothing more than cartoon characters. There are many amazing artists in the world doing great things, but these are not the ones being sprinkled onto your child’s brain by Clear Channel and other national media outlets. Instead, they are given a daily dose of weaponized brainwashing to convince your son that his job is to “smoke weed, f*ck b*tches, get money and shoot n*ggaz.”
The same way that Attorney Willie Gary just won a $23.6 billion dollar lawsuit against the tobacco industry for promoting destructive and unhealthy tobacco consumption, a class action lawsuit should be filed against the recording industry for convincing young black boys that it’s glamorous to be a violent, self-destructive, sexually-promiscuous super-thug. Marketing works magic when it comes to convincing people to believe things that simply are not true.
5) America wants your black butt in prison: The criminal justice system and the War on Drugs have done more harm to the black male in America than any American institution since slavery. When black men are more likely to be stopped by police, more likely to be arrested, less able to fight the charges, more likely to be falsely accused and more likely to be incarcerated, our families suffer as a result. Even worse, we are given longer prison sentences, even when we commit the same crimes and are not given an opportunity to effectively reintegrate into society once we’ve paid our debts.
American prisons are our version of concentration camps. Most of us have family members who’ve suffered irreversible trauma, physical harm or even death at the hands of either the police or the prison system. This system has turned black male children into a commodity no less profitable than pigs to a sausage factory.
Even worse is the army of cowardly black scholars, celebrities and attorneys, many of them male, who spend more time pandering to the dollar bill than speaking up about the death and destruction all around them. When a black man, Eric Garner, was recently killed by the NYPD in an illegal chokehold, I can’t think of a single prominent scholar or attorney who publicly spoke on his behalf. This is, quite honestly, pathetic.
I was the keynote speaker at the National Black Law Students Association a few years ago and found myself astonished by how many brilliant and highly capable attorneys had been fooled into believing that they had no obligation whatsoever to do anything other than relegate themselves to becoming highly-paid robots for the law firm paying them the most money. I quietly wonder when we decided that it’s OK to accept a cash payment in exchange for the chance to have a truly meaningful life. A job isn’t worthwhile just because someone is paying you to do it. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up on your death bed with a pile of money and an even bigger pile of regrets.
Like the valuable oil being sucked out of the continent of Africa, many of our most valuable resources are yanked out of the black community, all so we can support and sustain the very same institutions that have been designed to oppress us.
Until we change our mindset, we’ll be doing a study just like this one in another 40 years. People in the year 2054 will wonder why black males haven’t moved forward since their grandparents were young. This outcome is a real possibility as long as people are afraid to act outside the box to embrace a new paradigm of thought as it pertains to moving our community forward. To get a different result, we must embrace different actions. It’s time to become radical and realize that progress won’t be made until we DEMAND it.