Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Responding to the Crisis Confronting California's Black Male Youth: Providing Support without Furthering Marginalization

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Responding to the Crisis Confronting California's Black Male Youth: Providing Support without Furthering Marginalization

Article excerpt

Pointing to a range of social and economic indicators, activists, educators, and policymakers have called for decisive measures to address the crises confronting Black males. In education, this has included calls for all-Black-male schools. This article critiques some of the ways problems confronting Black males are framed and acted upon, focusing on the role of race and gender in the formulation of intervention strategies. Drawing on research conducted at a California high school, it presents recommendations for programs aimed at addressing the needs of Black males that avoid the tendency to stigmatize and marginalize those targeted for help.


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 young Black males (Anderson, 1990; Kunjufu, 1985; Madhubuti, 1990; Taylor-Gibbs, 1988). The reason for using such stark and ominous terms with reference to this group is quite clear. A broad array of social and economic indicators point with alarming consistency to the fact that large numbers of individuals falling into two social categories-Black and maleare in deep trouble. Whether the indicators relate to employment or education, health or crime, Black males are consistently clustered toward the end of the spectrum generally regarded as least desirable and most vulnerable.

The Life Chances of African American Males

Little disagreement remains that large numbers of individuals who happen to be Black and male face an inordinate number of problems and hardships, challenges that set them apart from the rest of the U.S. population. The preponderance of evidence supporting such a conclusion is almost mind-numbing. In the labor market, Black males earn on average only 73% of the income earned by White males (Carnoy, 1994). In professional and managerial positions, Black males are vastly underrepresented, and in some fields (e.g., many high-technology and science-related jobs), they are almost entirely absent (National Research Council [NRC], 1989). Numerous studies indicate that despite the existence of laws prohibiting discrimination in employment, Black males are widely regarded as less desirable employees and therefore are substantially less likely to be hired in most jobs (Feagin & Sikes, 1994; Hacker, 1992; Massey & Denton, 1993; Moss & Tilly, 1993). In urban areas, unemployment rates for young Black males are often above 50% (Wilson,1987), and many policy analysts now regard this group as a permanent underclass, deeming them "unemployable" by virtue of their lack of skills and education (Auletta, 1983; Glassgow, 1980; Tabb, 1970). At the aggregate level, disparities in income persist, so much so that it continues to be the case that the average Black male with a four-year college degree earns less than the average White male possessing only a high school diploma (Hacker, 1992).

Health indicators for Black males reveal similar hardships. For the last 10 years, Black males have been the only group within the U.S. population to record a declining life expectancy (Spivak, Prothrow-Stith, & Houseman, 1988). The homicide rate for Black males ages 15 to 24 is the highest for any segment of the U.S. population and seven to eight times higher than that of White males in the same age group (Roper,1991). Moreover, since 1980 the suicide rate for this age group has surpassed the White male rate, and all indicators point to a sharp and continuous increase (NRC, 1989; West, 1992). Black males are also at greater risk of substance abuse, of dying during infancy, or dying prematurely due to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and AIDS (Centers for Disease Control, 1988; Sandler, Wilcox, & Everson, 1985).

Finally, whereas Blacks generally, and males in particular, once saw education as the most viable path to social mobility (Anderson, 1988), it now increasingly serves as a primary agent for reproducing their marginality. …

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