Academic journal article Social Justice

Reconsidering the 'Crisis' of the Black Male in America

Academic journal article Social Justice

Reconsidering the 'Crisis' of the Black Male in America

Article excerpt

In recent years, terms such as crisis, at-risk, marginal, and endangered have been used with increasing regularity to describe the plight and condition of black males. Though the origins of this terminology are distinctly North American (U.S.) (Taylor-Gibbs, 1988; Kunjufu, 1985; Anderson, E., 1990), in Britain, Canada, and increasingly, throughout the Anglophone Caribbean, expressions of this kind have begun to find their way into the popular culture and, increasingly, into the vernacular of social science (Miller, 1986; Small, 1994).

The rationale for using such stark and ominous descriptions of conditions facing black males is provided by a broad array of social and economic indicators, all of which point to the undeniable fact that large numbers of individuals who fall within these two social categories, black and male, are in deep trouble. While acknowledging the extreme nature of the many problems disproportionately confronting black males, this article seeks to interrogate the validity of this particular formulation and to posit an alternative strategy for understanding the set of phenomena in question.

Three questions will be employed to guide this analysis and to generate an alternative interpretation of the social phenomenon under study. First, why are race and gender treated as salient to the understanding of the various complex issues and problems confronting individuals who happen to be black and male? That is, to what extent does a racialized and genderized conception of the problem exaggerate the importance of these factors and negate the significance of others?

Second, if we accept the argument that many black males are experiencing severe economic and social hardships and have become increasingly marginal to their families, communities, the labor market, and social institutions, how do we explain the relative prominence and high visibility of black males in public life? In the United States several major politicians, a number of highly visible entertainers and celebrities, and individuals with wealth and status are black and male. Does the notoriety of such individuals suggest that some black males may be immune from the crisis? If so, which ones, and what might this tell us about the nature of the problem?

Finally, if the black male is in a state of crisis, what does this mean for black women? Have black women also been affected by this crisis or have the hardships facing black males resulted in improved social and economic status for black women? Does the crisis afflicting certain black males imply that patriarchy as a cultural system and the norms and values associated with it are in decline among black Americans? Or is it that the troubles facing black males are of a different order and perhaps even more severe than those facing black women? Or, could it be that the problems confronting black males are merely symptoms of broader problems confronting black people or poor people generally? If so, why does it appear as though the troubles confronting black males are overshadowing those facing black females?

I will attempt to answer these questions in the pages ahead and, in so doing, suggest another way of interpreting this and related phenomena.

Evidence of the "Crisis"

The most obvious problem with the notion of a crisis confronting black males has to do with the term "crisis." First, the term implies a deviation from a more stable norm. It suggests a period of temporary urgency, or even a short-term emergency, and not a prolonged and persistent degenerative condition. Second, the term also suggests that a better and more secure period preceded the present condition, and that once the crisis is over, conditions will return to the former state, which, even if not ideal, was clearly superior to the way things are at the moment.

For males of African descent in the U.S., there is no evidence to indicate that present conditions are temporary, or that by some means presently unknown, they will eventually improve. …

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