If you ask African-American parents about their children, you would most likely get a glowing report about how well their daughters are doing. However, if you are bold enough to ask about their sons, you will get the equivocating answer, “They are trying to get it together, buzz words for saying that they have dropped out of school, are unemployed, in treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.
This is a phenomenon that stretches across the entire country and reaches across all socio-economic classes. The young African-American male is in serious trouble and the more we ignore it, the more intractable the problem becomes.
What has happened? Several things come to mind immediately:
Firstly, there is little motivation to take school seriously beyond the second or third grade. Study after study shows that, during the first couple of years of schooling, the African-American male’s academic achievement is on par with that of his classmates. As he reaches puberty and begins to become “mannish,” teachers seem to give up on wanting to teach him and actually are afraid of him.
(In the old days, teachers were not afraid to tell little boys to sit down and shut up and even give them the “evil eye” to further emphasize their authority. However, that was when blacks taught blacks and there were no non-blacks to witness what could be an embarrassment instead of “tough love.”)
So, by the third grade, the man-child begins a rapid decline in academic achievement and his progress in reading, writing and arithmetic is thwarted. Studies indicate that children who fail third grade and/or seventh grade will become school dropouts. Even if the man-child remains in school, his academic achievement tends to be substandard. However, he is likely to excel in sports, dreaming of little else except being drafted into the NBA or the NFL, not realizing that much less than one percent will ever achieve that dream.
Secondly, even when the African-American male is tenacious enough to graduate from high school and enter university, he does less well than his sister and his dropout rate is more than double that of hers.
(The one year that I taught at a historically black university, I was shocked to find that male freshmen insisted upon living off campus so that they could have a live-in girlfriend. By Christmas, many of them had flunked out and their girlfriends returned to the dorms and graduated on time.)
Thirdly, the young black male is undoubtedly the most harassed person in America. Many policemen seem to make a sport of stopping and harassing the young black male – as if they are intentionally trying to provoke a reaction that would provide the opportunity to shoot to kill him. (The so-called internal investigation does not consider this provocation when rending a verdict of “justifiable shooting.”) Some officers, I am told, even plant “evidence” on black male suspects to justify their actions.
In the courts, the white judge, white prosecutor and white public defender make sure that the man-child does not exit the
criminal justice system without a life-usurping record. Typically, whether innocent or guilty, the man-child is advised to make a plea of guilt – with the incentive that he will be released with “time served.”
Because a single arrest can generate a proliferation of charges, it is surely likely that the man-child will be saddled with a felony conviction, an albatross that will follow him for the rest of his days and render him virtually unemployable.
There is no one helping the man-child and he is too limited to help himself. There is anger and hopelessness in drive-by shootings and having so many Baby Mamas. Sex and violence become his mantra of manhood as well as his cry for help — help that seems not forthcoming. So, he wears his pants nearly to his knees and shows his butt, as much as is legally possible, and invites America to kiss it.
Gilbert L. Raiford is semi-retired after a career in teaching and working for the U.S. Department of State. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.