Deborah Mathis is an African American female and an authoress of blackamericaweb.com
Commentary: New Revelations on Black Men Aren’t a Wake-Up Call – They’re a Get-Up Call
Date: Sunday, March 26, 2006
By: Deborah Mathis, BlackAmericaWeb.com
Heartbreak always seems to hit harder in writing.
You may sense that something is wrong with a relationship or a situation that means the world to you. But, as long as it’s confined to your mind, the problem is fungible. At times, you can even pretend it doesn’t exist at all.
But when that “Dear John” letter arrives, your last hope is shredded, and your soul is torn asunder. Denying and suppressing what you know in your heart of hearts no longer work.
Hence, last week, when word broke of a new set of academic studies concluding that black men in the U.S. are worse off than conventional wisdom allowed, it confirmed what casual observance, personal experience and instinct had been telling us all along -- a truth we didn’t want to believe.
In short, for more and more black American males, the future looks like this: unemployment, poor health and prison. And this death spiral begins with a lack of education.
A Harvard researcher found that, in urban America, more than half of all black men don’t even finish high school. A Princeton scholar reports that 60 percent of black male high school dropouts have served prison time by their mid-30s. Others discovered that 72 percent of black male high school dropouts are unemployed.
The bad news goes on, but one can figure it out for him or herself. Unemployment does not negate need. Housing, clothing and food are just as necessary for the penniless as for the bountiful. Show me a horde of the chronically unemployed (and unemployable), and I’ll show you the most vulnerable demographic for crime. For the most part, it’s desperation that drives them to it, not recreation.
Criminals -- locked up or not -- usually make lousy family members, especially as husbands and fathers. They have to spend too much time ducking and dodging, scheming and sneaking, hiding and smuggling, breaking and entering and bailing out to give any attention to Junior’s T-ball tournament or Juniorette’s recital. Life on the run makes them undependable mates, too short on time to try a little tenderness. So, they don’t bother to marry or try to settle down, which countless studies have shown would be good for their health and longevity. And there goes the black family.
Quantifying what so many of us have been writing, agitating and shouting about for years, these new studies should be more than a wake-up call for America; they are a get-up call. For once, the country needs to do more than merely acknowledge a festering problem. It has to get moving to fix it.
As one of the scholars, a professor at Columbia University, told the New York Times, “There’s something very different happening with young black men, and it’s something we can no longer ignore.”
But, watch us try. If there’s one thing the U.S. culture has gotten down pat, it’s an ability to look the other way when black America is in crisis. After all, much of the country thinks it already has contingency plan for the despised many. It’s caused prison building. Funny how pouring millions into iron and concrete structures is never characterized as “throwing money at the problem,” while appeals for more money for public education are derided as just that.
Oh, Father in heaven, let me be wrong. Let the people recognize, just this once, that even if they aren’t moved by compassion and basic human decency, they will at least be motivated by self-interest. For, it is bad news for everyone if large chunks of any demographic group are doomed to failure and ruin. They will need a reason to get to prison, after all. That reason could be your life or property.
It is mandatory now. As with global warming, time is working against us. Schools have to be reformed to keep young black men engaged and to treat them justly. Boys have to be put on an upward track that is true to future demands, not steered toward low-paying and increasingly non-existent jobs.
Parents have to take control of their young fellas, not leave them to their own devices just because they’re as tall, deep-voiced or hairy as grown men.
Young women have to make their young suitors earn their time and attentions. Churches and communities have to make a place for young men to bond, express themselves and discharge their energies.
Government has to pay up or shut up and be made to recognize that the “general welfare” it is charged to protect includes the 15 million Americans who are black and male.
This may be the last chance we have to mend our hearts before the damage renders them inoperable.