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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 the despised and disrespectful young “gangstas.” And middle class Blacks, especially, skirt the self-defeating implications of abandoning their less fortunate brethren—a big mistake, because racism is unencumbered by class distinctions, and they know it.
The statistics are scary. Even the most cynical pundits are alarmed by the worsening plight of Black men in America. An overall improved economy in recent years and a few significant new public policies have helped other groups, including Black women, but African American men are largely untouched by these developments.
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. The scariest thing, however, is the apparent indifference of Blacks themselves to this phenomenon. As mentioned previously, the middle class, for example, looks askance at the plight of poorer Blacks and are therefore, increasingly scarce in Blacks’ 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 percent of Black male high school dropouts in their twenties were jobless; by 2004 the share had grown to 72 percent, compared with 34 percent of Whites. Overall, most Black men in their twenties were jobless in 2004. Incarceration rates climbed in the 1990s and reached historic highs in the past few years. By 2004, 21 percent of Black men in their twenties were incarcerated an in 2007 the rate increased precipitously. Terrible schools, absent parents, racism, the decline in blue-collar jobs, and a subculture that glorifies swagger over work, all affect the deepening plight of Black youth. These negative trends are related to poor schooling and progress has been slight and none in recent years.
By their mid-thirties, 30 percent of Black men with no more than a high school education have served time in prison, as have 60 percent 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 unemployment insurance. This country spends billions of dollars in efforts that produced the start of a turnaround for poor women, but according to current research, has not even begun thinking about Black males with comparable priority.
The pressing question remains. What is actually being done to reverse the downward spiral of Black males? Public policy changes that benefit Blacks are sorely needed. But African American leaders, and concerned communities working together to create sustained pressure on public officials and other high-level decision makers in areas that significantly affect Black life, is even more important. The rhetoric of accountability rings hollow as young Black males sink ignominiously into oblivion with the rest of us muttering distant eulogies.
When will Blacks become sufficiently dissatisfied to actually do something other than complain about the “problem” of the Black male, and Black youth in particular. The steady growing stockpile of studies on the plight of Black males is not really their problem, we are.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail