African American Men and Boys Week begins today; allow this post to be my introduction to all that follows.
Allow me to please apologize before hand because this post will certainly run long; any time an issue inspires me, infuriates me, puzzles me, I tend to be unable to control myself, and I go on much longer than I should.
But a few weeks ago I resumed my work with young African American men and women in the community, and though I see a number of reasons to be encouraged, abject foolishness is still for the most part the order of the day. And from what I read and what I see in the various media, my personal observation reflects the situation of our young men and women throughout the country.
And I do not mean to slight African American girls and women by concentrating on the issues faced by boys and men; many of the issues are one in the same. But I feel that I am better able to discuss issues of manhood and masculinity because this is my academic area of concentration, and even further, the condition of most social groups are measured by the status of the men representing those social groups.
I will not revisit and rehearse the baleful statistics here; we have all heard and read them over and over again. African American males lead in almost every conceivable negative indicator. But my first question is “Does this constitute an actual crisis?”.
I think it was Henry Louis Gates who wrote that crisis is sometimes desirable because crisis signals a turning point. Crisis signals a crossroads of sorts at which a decision must be made, an action must be taken.
But allow me to take the time to outline my position.
Though I know many people cringe when they hear someone bring up Africa to explain current African American problems and issues, but that is where we must go. With any potential pathology, you must go back to the original trauma to begin to find an effective, suitable remedy.
The institution of slavery is the single most traumatic event in our history. I think because of our distance in time and space from that event, we often underestimate its effects.
But within pre-slavery Africa, regardless of the societal structure, regardless if that structure was patriarchal or matriarchal, the African man had a place; he had a specific, clearly defined role in that community. And, perhaps most importantly, that manhood role was passed down inter-generationally by fathers, by male elders. In other words, there were always role models there to explain and define that role and model manhood and guide the African male child from childhood to manhood.
However, within the pernicious cauldron of that peculiar institution that memory was all but forgotten, all but lost. The African slaves, men and women, found themselves without a clearly defined role other than as menial servants, and in post slavery America they attempted to claim a role for themselves within American society, and in claiming that role, they drew upon the models most available to them—white men and white women. Keep in mind Frantz Fanon’s postulate, “For the black man there is only white destiny. And it is white.”
The European manhood model has almost always been expressed in terms of a rugged individualism, pulling oneself up by the bootstrap, in stark contrast to the interdependence of manhood models of most African cultures. Part and parcel of the European model, among others I will explore later this week, is the notion of economic independence; in other words, manhood is measured by the amount of wealth one might amass, the level of comfort he might be able to afford his family.
However, due to a documented history of racism and discrimination, African American men, for the most part, have never been able to realize this ideal. And neither have most white men for that matter. And it logically follows that in our inability to realize this ideal, African American men have been repeated and continually maligned as not being men, as somehow falling down in our duties to our communities and our society.
To sum up my argument, many of the problems facing African American men, many of the pathologies exhibited by African American men, arise as a result of an inability to realize the manhood model and ideal as posited by American society and have turned toward alternate avenues, most of which can be judged as inappropriate.
If that argument is true, then the most readily available remedy would be to redefine manhood in our own terms. Maybe I don’t make a lot of money and cannot afford my wife and family the luxuries that advertisers insist that we must have to be happy, but we are comfortable and my children are not hungry, therefore I AM A MAN. Certainly, I am soft spoken, and sometimes I would just prefer to just listen and not be heard, but nevertheless I AM A MAN. I don’t need to exhibit a proclivity toward violence, toward bellicosity, but I AM A MAN. I feel emotion and I am willing to express those emotions and not keep them bottled up within, but this makes me no less a man; I AM A MAN.
Whatever you say about me, whatever charges you level against me, I am self-assured of my being, of my place in the world. I AM A MAN.
Do you agree with my argument? Are African American males really in a state of crisis? What possible solutions can you offer to the problems and issues facing African American men and boys?
And do come back during the upcoming week. Tomorrow the question will be, "Can women effectively raise men?".