Second of two parts
The Black Youth Project addresses core conditions, norms and values that shape the lives of African American youth. The purpose of the research is to act as a corrective to both popular and academic emphasis on Black youths’ “deviant” behaviors. While filling significant voids in data-gathering, it highlights and demands that attention be focused on the day-to-day lives of Black youth that poses critical questions for the future functioning of this nation.
The Black Youth Project emphasizes the need to understand and take into full account how youth from communities that have been marginalized based on race, ethnicity, and class think about the world and their status in it.
“What concerns me is having a job and living. Will I be alive….It’s a very tough struggle because the United States isn’t a fair country.”-21-year-old Black male.
Nearly 16,000 phone interviews conducted for this study provide a comprehensive picture of what young people are thinking and feeling and acting.
The continuing and disproportionate social, political and economic marginalization of Black youth cannot be refuted. Data from the U.S. Department of Justice shows that in 2003, 3 of 1,000 white male Americans ages 18-19 were in a U.S. prison compared to 21 of 1,000 Black males and 7 of 1,000 Latino males. The racial disparity grows in the 20-24-year range where 9 of 1,000 white males are imprisoned compared to 70 of 1,000 Black males and 23 of 1,000 Latino males.
These numbers suggest the marginal existence of many Black youth who comprise only 16% of the adolescent population in 2004 but accounted for 50% of adolescents arrested for murder, 46% arrested for violent crimes and approximately 40% in public and private custody. Moreover, in 2004 they comprised 55% of those ages 13-24 with HIV and 53% of HIV infections among young people ages 20-24. It is the reality of poverty, imprisonment, disease and other life-threatening conditions that makes exploring the attitudes, norms, resources and behaviors of this population so important. Only 14% believed they grew up in a very good neighborhood. More than 40% agree with the statement that “people judge me by what I can buy and what I own.”
The Black Youth Project took a different approach to research on Black Americans and young people. It believes that even in their teen years, young people are political actors worthy of study. At the center of many national political struggles, they are politicized at a much earlier age than other youth. The findings in this research provide insights into how young Black Americans think about their political status and the political, economic and social concerns they confront daily. Nearly half of Black youth agree with the statement “the government treats most immigrants better than it treats most Black people in this country.” The overwhelming majority believe that the government would do more to find a cure for AIDS if more white people had the disease.
Numerous articles have declared hip-hop the defining cultural form in the lives of young people. By all reports, hip-hop culture-rap music, graffiti, break-dancing- comprises much of what young Black Americans listen to, watch, talk about and often emulate. The Black Youth Project provides empirical information needed to answer questions about the impact of rap music and rap music videos on the decision-making and behavior of young people, Black youth in particular.
“I don’t think racism will be eliminated…because it is taught from parent to child. That’s something that’s carried down. So, it could be eliminated. I can hope that it would be. But I don’t think that it will be.”-18-year-old Black male.
More than 60% of Black youth agree with the statement that “It is hard for young Black people to get ahead because they face so much discrimination.” They also perceive race as influencing the healthcare that they and their communities receive.
The data gathered through the Project provide an important and empirically grounded glimpse into the complicated and, at times, conflicted thinking of young Black Americans. At the same time data details the discriminatory context that influences their lives; they are also willing to discuss and highlight the personal responsibility that individuals have in terms of bettering their lives and their communities. Black youth are searching for answers.
W.E.B. DuBois noted such a dichotomy over a century ago. He said, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels (a) two-ness,–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” ……Souls of Black Folks 1903.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.