Social Science Literature concerning African American Men

By Gordon, Edmund T; Gordon, Edmund W et al. | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

Social Science Literature concerning African American Men

Gordon, Edmund T, Gordon, Edmund W, Jessica G G Nembhard, The Journal of Negro Education

Research literature focusing specifically on the plight of African American males is a phenomenon of the latter half of the 20th century. From mid-century until the mid-1970s, this literature tended to focus on dysfunctional males and their contributions to what were considered to be the problems of Black families, the legacies of slavery and their impact on Black males (e.g., the killing off of the most assertive and smartest males, the disruption of family relations, the distortion of cultural traditions), and the continuing deprivation of opportunities for Black males to exercise responsibility for themselves and their families. Toward the end of that period, attention turned to studies of urbanization, poverty, and single-parent families. Since the early 1980s, the emphasis has shifted to political, economic, social, and psychological issues. Much of this work focuses on unemployment and the lack of opportunities for meaningful participation in the nation's political economy, institutionalized racism and discrimination, and the impacts of these structural phenomena on the attitudes and behavior of African American males. Many of these studies examine how African American men cope with aspects of urban life such as drugs, crime, violence, substandard housing, and inferior schooling. An increasing number address issues related to the cultural role of African American men (especially in the context of Lewis's [1965] concept of a culture of poverty among urban Blacks and Moynihan's [1965,1986,1989,1992] assertions of pathology-laden Black family cultures). Other contemporary foci include Black men's movement between cultures and examinations of the stereotypical images of Black males perpetrated by the media.

The extant research literature on African American males can be grouped into four major categories of issues: (1) demographic and statistical issues, (2) psychosocial issues, (3) political/economic issues, and (4) educational issues. Discussion of these categories follows in the sections below.


Research studies in this category highlight the plight of the African American male in terms of statistical findings that have led many to suggest that Black men are an "endangered species" (Gibbs, 1988b). Among these findings are data noting the high rates among African Americans, particularly males, of the following:

(1) homicide;

(2) crime and incarceration;

(3) unemployment, underemployment, and number of discouraged workers;

(4) school dropout;

(5) unequal earnings of college graduates;

(6) drug use and involvement in underground economies;

(7) military enlistment;

(8) adolescent pregnancy;

(9) single parenting;

(10) enrollment in and dependence on welfare; and

(11) poverty and other forms of economic insufficiency (California State Commission on the Status of African American Males, 1992; Gibbs, 1988b; Staples, 1991).

While much of the contemporary literature emphasizes these dire statistics, investigations of the accuracy and, more importantly, the interpretation of these data receive far less attention. Little research has been done to determine what these statistical findings mean or how to make or understand the fine distinctions between absolute and relative numbers. Moreover, different schools of thought emphasize different kinds of statistics and approach the issues from quite diverse perspectives. For example, subtle and not-so-subtle racists use the data to paint the worst possible picture of Black males and attribute Black males' behavior to pathological adaptations to concededly poor life conditions (Moynihan, 1965). Proponents of genetic differences cite these data as justification for locking Black men into inferior status. Others see the problems as mainly caused by racism (Boston, 1990).


The emphasis of studies focusing on the psychosocial issues affecting African American males is on how these males behave and react to conditions in U. …

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