Despite added focus on Black males in recent years, fundamentally, their plight is unchanged and they remain largely a rhetorical priority. Seemingly endless research and publicly proclaimed concern, few, if any, sustainable programs specifically intended and/or designed to benefit Black males exist. They remain a minor public policy consideration and are best described as a rhetorical priority. Poor young Black males, in particular, are talked about and researched ad nauseam, but little sustainable has been done to help them. The reasons for this are embedded in the pre-eminence of America’s racism.
Arguably, more than any other sub-group of Americans, Blacks and Black youth, in particular, reflect the challenges of inclusion and empowerment since the civil rights era. However, in contrast to the centrality of Blacks to the fabric of this country, their voices and concerns are generally absent, not only from public policy conversations, but even more important, from actual sustainable solutions to their “intractable” problems.
Nationally, an abundance of research on Black youth, in particular, gathers dust. (Hopefully, president Obama’s Boys and Men of Color Initiative will prove sustainable-but in the Trump era, don’t hold your breath.) In Los Angeles, follow-up on Black male projects has been lacking. This includes the 21st Century Foundation’s Black Men and Boys Initiative and the California Endowment Foundation’s Boys and Men of Color project. (When, in addition to Blacks, others “of color” are included in a policy, or program, Blacks tend to be accorded lesser priority than the others, especially Latinos, these days. Unapologetic focus on Blacks, and their specific needs, is indispensable for gaining policy support and resources commensurate with their needs. (In some cases, even this isn’t sufficient, e.g., the 21st Century Foundation’s Initiative in Los Angeles: Following an auspicious kick-off there was very little follow-up with initial invitees who were told they would be kept informed about the project on an ongoing basis.)
From his elitist perch, Bill Cosby castigated “disgraceful” young Black males whose “egregious behavior” included sagging pants. Sadly, many Blacks shared Cosby’s predilection and maintain a safe distance, literally and figuratively, from the despised and disrespectful “gangsters.” (Middle-class Blacks skirt the self-condemning implications of abandoning their “undeserving” poorer Black brethren.)
The statistics are scary; even cynical pundits occasionally express concern over the worsening condition of young Black males in America. The economic meltdown, notwithstanding, the federal government continued to help other groups, but rarely Black men. Virtually every study shows that poorly educated Black men are increasingly more disconnected from mainstream America than comparable whites or Latinos. As troubling, however, is the indifference among Blacks themselves to the crippling phenomenon of Black male disenfranchisement that affects the Black community first and foremost.
Confirming what most Blacks know all too well, studies show that Black males not finishing high school has become the norm, not the exception, especially in the nation’s inner cities. There, decent jobs are harder than ever to find and incarceration rates for Blacks often surpass high school graduation rates. (Ironically, even in the best labor market years, Black males statistics are unchanged.)
Some programs designed to better equip Black youth for gainful employment are placing as much importance on teaching skills such as parenting, conflict resolution and character-building, as job skills. This is laudable, although the share of young Black men without jobs continues to climb. (In 2000, 65% of young Black male high-school dropouts in their 20’s were jobless; by 2004, the share had grown to 72% compared with 34% of whites. Overall, most Black men in their 20’s were jobless with incarceration rates at historic highs. Also in 2004, 21% of Black men in their 20’s were incarcerated, and since that time, the rate has increased precipitously. Poverty, failing schools, non-participating parents, a decline in blue-collar jobs and a sub-culture that puts swagger over work, 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. Almost half of all Black men in their late 20’s and early 30’s 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 has spent billions of dollars in start-up efforts that even included the start of a turnaround for Black women, but has yet to accord Black males comparable priority.
What is actually being done to reverse the downward spiral of Black males? Very little, Black leadership, elected officials, in particular, must come together and rally the community to create sustained pressure necessary for change. The mindset of Black people themselves also must change so that they no longer remain silent while Black youth is regularly annihilated by systemic negligence. The rhetoric of accountability rings very hollow as young Black males sink ignominiously into oblivion while many of us mutter eulogies from a distance.
Black people must become sufficiently dissatisfied to do something other than complain about conditions and the behavior of our youth. There are no revelations in the massive stockpile of research on the plight of these young men. Therefore, we must no longer remain silent and insist that Black leaders head the fight to address the specific needs of Black men and boys.