Being a Black Man
As you may or may not know, the Washington Post is doing a series on being a black man in America today (you can listen to the report on it here at NPR.org) The series (and the accompanying survey) is mainly centered around black males, but I do believe some of the main points brought out in the NPR report are valid across the nation. One of the major things brought out in the report is the internalization of many stereotypes about black men in black men.
There is one account given about a black Brown University official who was in his car one evening and observed another black man approaching his position from down the street. He (being the guy in the car) instinctively put down the locks in his car, and was later very conflicted about his actions and his initial feelings toward the situation. Here he was, a black man himself, realizing for the first time his very own internalization of negative stereotypes about black males. The NPR report goes on to say that the Brown official recognizes that his response of locking his car doors wasn’t in response to that particular black male, but to the image of black men in general that he had internalized as a true fact.
One of the more interesting thing the radio report points out is that among the different segments of society – black males, black females, white males, and white females – black males are hardest on themselves. A majority of black males, both young and old, believe that black males as a whole focus too much on sex and sports, and not enough on job performance and education. We, according to the poll, are also more prone to believe that the “system”, as it were, is partly to blame for black males not getting ahead, along with us not doing much for ourselves to begin with. In other words, not only do we make things hard for ourselves, but we also have to deal with a biased system; and in a way, I believe that it is the current state of the system that lead many black men down the paths they ultimately lead:
1.) Over-crowded schools understaffed by unqualified teachers tends to leave a rather bad taste in the mouths of many black people in general, but specifically black men. Education is the foundation to a good life in this country, and it is systematically denied in large quantities to the poor and disenfranchised (blacks, Hispanics, poor Asians, etc).
2.) Gentrification of black neighborhoods lead to blacks pulling up their roots to move to inner city projects and dirt-poor ghettos where the only thing that pays well is the crime. Case in point. I have friends that live and go to school in Austin, TX. They’re currently renting a house in a specific neighborhood where they lived across the street from a black family. As such things go in college towns, there is generally an exodus of sorts of people moving off campus to live. Well, to support a school the size of UT, many neighborhoods have sprung up; but Austin, like many other urban cities, has limited space that has direct access to the campus; because of this fact, many black and poor white families are ousted by landlords who are selling properties to development and management companies who are looking to make a pretty penny by selling cheap, convenient housing to middle and upper class students able to afford to live off campus. This forcing out of families often-times causes families to move out of the better-performing school districts into the over-crowded, under-staffed schools of inner city communities.
3.) Due to spending many years in poorly performing schools, many frustrated black men and women opt not to go to college, or opt to attend the cheaper community college and a 2-year associates degree. This leaves many people with an inferior, or incomplete education, automatically disqualifying themselves from high-paying jobs that people with Bachelors and Masters can obtain. This, in turn, leads to families not having enough to move to better school districts, and the cycle continues.
My own personal experiences with being a black male, especially here in the south, have gone from the extremely mild, to the plain extreme. I’ve been pulled over, searched for drugs, and stopped for driving in my own, mostly white, neighborhood. I’ve even had a shotgun pulled on me by a young, white cop, simply for being “a big one”, as he put it. One of the things this poll conducted by the Washington Posts points out is that by-and-large, many Americans believe that life is getting better for black males, and that may be true, to some extent. There is, however, a very long way to go before myths and stereotypes are dispelled and the American populous is no longer afraid to look black males in the eyes as equals and as people.