Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I Know Why The Caged Bird Returns To The Cage

The United States justice and education system has failed the black man in America miserably. A recent article by Erik Eckholm in the New York Times titled “Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn” provided statistics that were both appalling and depressing. In 2004, 21 percent of “black men in their 20’s who did not attend college were in jail or prison.” Perhaps even more disturbing, the article points to statistics that indicate that in inner cities, “more than half of all black men do not finish high school.” These statistics spell a disappointing chapter in the as yet unfinished chronicles of the black man.

It would seem at first glance that the plight of the black man in America could be easily rectified through the concerted effort of inner city public schools and state-funded after school programs. But in order to rid our communities of the cancer that eats away at its vitals, a diagnosis alone fails to console us; we receive solace only through revisiting those circumstances that brought us to this puzzling predicament. And only then can we heal those once inflicted and at present malignant tumors that fester within.

I’m no propagandist nor am I a conspiracy theorist. The facts in and of themselves, however, suggest a certain institutional proclivity for the incarceration of black men. Consider the following evaluation from Dutch sociologist and criminologist Willem Bonger that I’ve transcribed here from a paper I wrote during my undergraduate years:

“[Crimes] committed by Negroes are more frequently prosecuted than those committed by whites…Negroes are less well able to defend themselves legally, they are less often in a position to secure a good lawyer, and they are more promptly sentenced to prison.”

And while you contemplate these words, consider furthermore that these evaluations were formulated and penned well before 1943. It provides one with a shocking revelation of just how far our justice system has come in remedying a disparity that has long been evident.

Some of you might believe that we cannot legitimately argue that the justice system is inherently discriminatory towards black men. Many of you might believe that, if anything, the justice system discriminates against the poor, a class of people who have no race. To those of you who make this argument, I say show me that moment in American history when the correlation between race and class ceased to exist. Somehow, many of us got caught up in that magnificent lie that lead us to believe that select individual achievements were indicative of some great emancipation from the shackles that bound us.

Perhaps the most conclusive evidence I can offer here are the statistics and an evaluation of the sentiment that runs rampant and unchecked. The statistics are out there but the sentiment is most likely not. If inaction is tantamount to action, and by this I mean that the failure to act is in and of itself an action, it follows that the negligence of our justice system when it comes to black men is tantamount to the systematic incarceration of black men.

Here is where the sentiment comes into play. There are people out there capable of making decisions that affect sentencing guidelines, rehabilitation procedures, prison management, and the discriminatory practices of employers rejecting potential employees who were once inmates. Yet, somehow, the statistics and policies remain the same and it follows that this unfaltering and unaggressive sentiment itself becomes an action.

Let’s entertain, for a moment, the purpose of incarceration; the reason we put people away is multifold. First, we believe that we can rehabilitate the individual. Second, we believe that they would pose a greater risk to society were they not confined. By putting them in prison, we protect them. These visions are never attained though. How can an individual be rehabilitated in a place whose every corner reeks of a putrid contradiction? Drugs are exchanged, protection is a commodity to be bought and sold, and violence is a threat that is as real as Afghanistan. And rehabilitation? It’s a hoop dream that “deflates like a true fiend’s weight.” And while these failures affect all inmates, black men seem to suffer the most.

I leave you with an image. Themis, the Goddess of Justice can be seen in every courthouse in America. She holds a scale in her left hand and sword in her right. Her final accessory is a blindfold, an addition made in the 16th century that has come to symbolize impartiality. It’s been almost five centuries since the blindfolds became the last of symbolic accessories that Themis carried. But blind justice has given us more injustice than we could have ever imagined. I think it’s about time those blindfolds get removed.


Brother Lightness said...

Steps to a solution:

Brother Spotless said...

This very topic is why I didn’t want to bring race into the “Baby Mama” thread.

The idea that black men are better off financially is inaccurate almost to the point of being laughable. Also, as black families are concerned (in most cases), black men are not the heads of households; that post has been manned (yes, pun intended) by black women since the days following slavery.

It is quite possible that most men don’t understand all that there is to understand about birth/abortions. I definitely concede that. In the same tone, black women may not fully understand the dire situation that we black men find ourselves in.

We are called lazy and listless, incapable of being responsible. College courses have been devoted to discussing the origins of our plight, dating back to slavery when slave masters took away male slaves’ “manhood” by putting the female slaves at the head of the fractured slave family. Out of this came the “Mammy” and “Sambo” stereotypes. In no way am I saying that slavery was easier for one or the other. I am saying that the black male stereotypes are directly linked to these actions.

Today, black women attend college at a higher rate than black males, especially on the graduate level. Black women obtain employment more often than black men. Do you think this an accident? I don’t. Maybe no one is actively making it harder for black men these days, maybe someone is. However, The system has been in place for over 350 years.

I joke about The Brothers being the cream of the crop. The serious truth is that we are all LUCKY to be where we are. This just serves as another reminder to do something to help young black men. Brothers, cousins, nephews, neighborhood kids; do what you can. I am not saying dismiss young black women. The Baby Mama thread pointed out some deep issues that black women deal with. However, the system (whatever the system specifically is) has hit black men harder and for a longer period of time than any other segment of our population.

Brother Lightness said...

I'm all for analysis and examination, but on this issue we (the Brothers) can't simply craft an articulate response and pass off the issue as a societal ill.

The time for pussyfooting is over. What are we going to do about this?

By virtue of our moderate level of success, we have an innate responsibility to aggressively work towards a social remedy. If not, we're wasting the opportunity we've been given and we're only adding to the problem. If you'd like to take real steps to address these issues then please sound off.

My suggestion is the composition of a mentoring program led by the Brothers, targeted towards our younger, at risk peers.

If you're down to make a significant commitment to change the current course of black male history let me know. I'm tired of my watching brothers, cousins and friends fall into this abyss.

Brother Spotless said...

If possible, I would like to hear from some of the women bloggers on this issue. A lot has been said by women over the years about the lack of "Good Black Men."

I hear that educated black men forget their roots and marry white women. I also hear that the rest of the black men in our communities are too lazy, irresponsible, etc.

If those are the prevailing thoughts in the minds of black women (assuming they want to marry a black man), it seems like the pickings are slim for you. What say you?

Brother Lightness said...

More steps to a solution:

qwerty said...

Brother Spotless wrote:
I also hear that the rest of the black men in our communities are too lazy, irresponsible, etc.

Anyone who believes any of this mess will undoubtebly have experiences that will only serve to reinforce those silly statements.

Brother Spotless wrote:
It is quite possible that most men don’t understand all that there is to understand about birth/abortions. I definitely concede that. In the same tone, black women may not fully understand the dire situation that we black men find ourselves in.

Kevin Powell (second link Brother Lightness provided) wrote:
In June 2007 a group of us will be producing, in New York City, a gathering entitled Black Men in America…A National Conference. We will bring together Black male social workers, anti-violence facilitators, spiritual and religious leaders, artists, athletes, psychologists, media insiders, elected officials, policymakers, educators and scholars, grassroots activists, hiphop heads, the young and the old, for four critical days. The idea was conceived because it is evident to Black men like me that there is a national movement happening to redefine Black manhood.

Alright, black women don't know what it's really like to be black men in this country. Fine. But to have a conference where it's only men? Trying to find solutions to problems that plague the black community? It's like having a two part remedy and only taking one part and disregarding the other.

I'm going to have to e-mail that man. There is a WEALTH of information that us women could provide so for us to be shut out? Let's duke it out for four days! Throw some insults back and forth. Get the anger out. Let's get some sort of reconciliation going here! How in the world can you define manhood without womanhood? The reverse also hold.

*Let's let the menfolk gather in the game room to drink bourbon, smoke cigars, and discuss politics while the ladies retire to the sitting room to talk about Miss Commonworth's new beau!* C'mon! Can we please be amazingly awesome people who value both male and female perspectives to solve problems?

Plus, another gathering? Black folks need to call for a moratorium on those things. What's next? A Black Women in America gathering?

Brother Smartness said...

While I understand our desire to act is strong, I would hesitate to say that writing to enlighten ourselves is pusillanimous. There are ways that I would encourage everyone to make a difference. Lead by example; talk to someone who you consider to be "your people." Before we can act on a large scale, however, I think we have to be unified under one vision and then one method. We can be role models everyday, but large scale change will come through the application of a large scale vision. The question then is, what is that vision and how do we succeed in attaining it?

I can't get my younger brother to read this blog even though I myself find the content to be extremely interesting. A time will come when he will begin to care much more about these things that we are writing. I do believe, however, that there are others out there who benefit from seeing the type of discourse that we have on these issues. And while I don't believe that everyone will heed the call to action, I do believe that upon reading some of this information people will have to make a decision as to whether they care enough to make such an issue "their" issue.

While I agree with what you've brought up about the necessity to have both genders involved in this conversation, I believe that in light of the NY Times article, it's important for black men to meet with one another beforehand.

There are issues of virility that must really be fleshed out and I find that that might be difficult to do in the presence of black women. I would love to hear if anyone else feels the same way solgenique does about this.

Brother Spotless said...


You say that anyone who believes black men are too lazy, listless, etc is bound to have experiences that will reinforce those silly statements. Whom are you talking about? Black men? Black women? The rest of society?? These silly statements are believed by many, and are a large part of the problem: no one expects much from us, including ourselves. To dismiss this is to dismiss the fact that there is a problem.

What exactly is wrong with men coming together and actually dealing with the issues? Our issues are unique in that no other group has the prison rate that we do, or the dropout rate that we do (I could go on). And yes, women do have an opinion that could help to provide an answer. However, since the black male population is effected negatively and most directly, is it not right for back men to come together and at least discuss this first before opening it up to the rest of the population? What Mr. Powell proposes may be controversial, but I didn’t see a flood of opinions on this issue before his suggestion (in fact, I don’t see one now). Why fear a group of black men meeting to discuss REAL issues and create REAL solutions (not smoking cigars and talking about politics)? If I am missing something, please correct me.

qwerty said...

The fact is black women are raising the little black boys who will go on to become black men. Why not have the people who play such an important part in shaping manhood be a part of it? I feel it would make the implementation of a solution much easier.

I do not fear black men coming together. I just fail to see the purpose of it. No, the plight of black men is not unique. They mirror those of black women.

"In fifteen states, black women are incarcerated at rates between ten and thirty-five times greater than those of white women."

Part of the reason why are there more black women in college than black men? Because there are more black women than black men, period.

Also, across the country there are more women than men in college and getting a degree

No group has the number of teenage pregnancy that we do.

No group has more children while unmarried.

And then there are articles like this one that minimizes the importance of black men in shaping the black family.

Alright. Redefine manhood. But if women don't see the need for men, what good is it?

A family headed by a single mother is more likely to live below poverty than a two family home or one headed by a single father.

Our problems are the same.

I read somewhere that 5.5% of black men are married to white women. I'll over estimate and put the number of black men married to other non-black women as being around 5%. So, if around 90% of black men are marrying and dating black women, where's the fire?

Brother Spotless said...

I do not dispute any of the stats you produced, Solgenique. However, none of that was the point of my statement.

I agree, black women face issues that black men do not (i.e. abortion). But some of the stats you brought only compare black women to other women. How does the black woman incarceration rate compare to that of black men?

It is also true that black women are raising most of the black men here in America, and doing the very best they can. That said, something is terribly missing in the equation, because black men continue to statistically possess the lowest rates of graduation (high school and college), while having the highest incarceration rates. Counting the number of men and women doesn't paint a true picture...looking at the rates of success and failure does.

Like I said, black woman are doing their very best to be the heads of the household, and I don't blame them for anything. However, it is black men that are below every other demographic, and therefore black men that have to figure this out.

Similar to women and abortion, this is an issue that only black men can fully understand, and it is so important that we have to figure out the fundamental problems and (hopefully) solutions.

rawjewel said...

I just read my first blog and it was quite interesting. Black men were discussing relevant issues facing them within the contraints of American society. As a black woman responding, I think discussions among yourselves (as well as with us at a later point in time) and positive actions are crucial to the survival of "African-American Men"; a sound resolution and harmonious direction among black men must occur to counteract the injustices of the American system. It is always uplifting to witness the communication process in motion when black men converse - it's a very good thing that you all (intelligent, articulate, progressive, black men) are coming together via various media forms to relate to one another. A conference in 2007 would be "bold and proactive" - I hope your endeavors are prosperous!