Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Combating Fatalism in the Black Community

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Combating Fatalism in the Black Community

Article excerpt

As I watched a game on TV during a recent trip home in a suburb just west of Chicago, my friend's 18-year-old nephew raised his pant leg to show me his strange jewelry: A house arrest monitoring unit wrapped tightly around his dark ankle.

Back home in Maywood, Ill., the prison anklet is a sign of the times. Last year, my friend's younger brother was released from a juvenile detention center. My own 15-year-old cousin has had his brush with crime. He has just finished physical rehabilitation after being shot six times.

In some ways, these cycles of violence that cloud so many of our communities have become ordinary details of daily life. But that hasn't stopped it from affecting our collective mental health, the black male psyche especially. Suicides are on the rise among young black men.

Ending their own lives seems to have become a common solution for young black men wandering through the maze of thug life, alcoholism, and drug addiction. According to a report from the US Surgeon General's office, suicide is the third leading cause of death for African-American males between the ages of 15 and 24. These and other pathologies seem to be consuming the friends and relatives with whom I grew up.

While I don't personally know anyone who has committed suicide by putting a gun to his head, I bear witness to a slower form of it each time that I am home.

When I travel the 150-mile trip across a stretch of Interstate 57 surrounded by cornfields in central Illinois, I hope to be refreshed by my visit home. I rarely am.

Instead I am greeted by the sight of greasy spoons, liquor stores, and old elementary-school peers standing post on street corners along Madison Street or farther north on St. Charles Road, which has become a thoroughfare for drugs and prostitution. Discarded liquor bottles and empty "sandwich bags" - used by drug dealers to package their product - pepper residential streets.

The longer I am away from my lower-class roots, the more it seems to me that young black males are committing a kind of cultural suicide.

The answers to this problem are not immediately clear. Carl Bell, a Chicago psychiatrist, is among researchers advocating increased research on black men and the issue of suicide.

Exhibiting a sense of frustration, rage, despair, alienation, and fatalism are among the risk factors or warning signs of suicidal behavior, Dr. Bell says. Other red flags include a history of alcohol and substance abuse and impulsive or aggressive tendencies, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

The public health community should do more to prevent this behavior, says Sean Joe, a University of Michigan professor who has researched the issue of self-destructive behaviors among young black males. …

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