With Father’s Day approaching, this is the ideal time to put the focus and spotlight on Black men. Unfortunately, too many times these days the only attention paid to Black men is negative. Everyone sees the stories about the disproportionate number of Black men incarcerated, or killed in crime incidents, or shot by police during questionable encounters. Then there’s also the stats that show more than 72% of all Black children recently born were the products of single mothers (according to 2010 statistics).
Now it is very easy for these stats to be distorted, or our message to be misinterpreted. No one should take what the Tribune is about to say as an attack on Black women. Nor should they assume that editorially we do not support gender equity when it comes to pay in the workforce, or think women should not be in management, or take any job they choose. There’s no excuse or justification in 2017 for discrimination on the basis of sex, and we fully acknowledge that the justice system has done a horrible job protecting women from abuses, particularly the horror of rape, and the ongoing problem of sexual harassment in the marketplace.
But somewhere along the way, it seems folks forgot about the plight of Black men. Going back to slavery, the Black family was systematically destroyed through the emasculation of Black males. While Black women were certainly not treated well, Black men were lynched and murdered if they showed signs of being anything except servile and docile. White slave masters had no respect for Black men, labeling them “boys,” and not even giving them the respect and equitable treatment they gave mules and field animals.
After emancipation and reconstruction, Black men saw job opportunities increasingly eliminated. Jim Crow in the South was hideous, but de facto segregation, redlining and many other forms of oppression that were practiced on the East and West Coast, in the Midwest, indeed everywhere made life tough for Black families. and even tougher for Black men. Some Black men were helped after World War II. They took advantage of the GI Bill to get somewhat of a fresh start. But it still was always rougher for Black men, because they were seen as more dangerous and prone to criminality and rage than their white counterparts due to the stereotypes that were (and still are) prominent in this society.
There were some advances in the ’60s and ’70s, with the advent of Civil Rights legislation and the institution of Affirmative Action programs. But then came the so-called “War on Drugs,” the crack epidemic, and a couple of different recessionary periods. These were accompanied by a renewed focus on correcting gender discrimination that saw a wave of fresh opportunities for women, as well as other people of color. But once more, there was no emphasis placed on Black men.
So we are now at a point in the 21st century where Black men are way behind Black women in terms of top management positions in many cities, Nashville included. The percentage of Black women being incarcerated is too high, but not nearly as staggering as the rate of Black men behind bars. That’s reflected in those same 2010 stats that show there are record low numbers of Black women being married, and even lower numbers of those women having children. That’s gets us back to the large numbers of Black children being born to single mothers, especially boys.
Whatever one thinks about changing gender roles, there should be little denial it’s hard for a woman to teach a boy how to be a man. It’s amazing no one thinks twice about publicly stating the difficulty of a man trying to teach a girl to be a woman, yet consider it sexist if someone says it is not a good trend for a boy to grow up in a home without a father. While the Tribune commends many Black women who’ve done a great job raising boys alone, we are very concerned how many boys grow up in a home where they don’t see any positive male role models.
We’re equally concerned that most of the positive Black male role models this country celebrates are athletes and entertainers. There certainly are successful Black male doctors, attorneys, businessmen, etc., but a lot of them aren’t in the limelight. More importantly, in too many cities, the people in charge aren’t Black males. They’re either white males or females, or Black women.
It is rare in many cities to see more than one or two Black men in any roles of administrative power or management. There are many reasons for that: the folks making personnel choices don’t feel comfortable with Black men in power, don’t know qualified Black men are out there, or just prefer either white men or women, or Black women.
It is time America recognize there must be special importance placed on and consideration given to improving the lot of Black men. City and state administrations must expand their search committees to include Black men among candidates. Affirmative action programs have too often become the province of white women, and in far too many instances aren’t even targeting Black men during their processes.
More organizations like 100 Black men and the Boys Clubs of America that are dedicated to helping give Black boys mentors and role models must come forward. Gangs and drug dealers are too often deemed havens of support for Black boys. For every story about the crimes and misdeeds committed by gangs, and the tales of how they force young men to become members, you can also hear stories about how neglected kids flocked to gangs because they felt they provided them with a measure of respect and companionship that they weren’t getting or finding at home. They were also bonding with other young men, and in many cases escaping a family background they felt too dominated by women and girls.
Many want to think that the notion of gender roles and sexual identity has changed so much it is no longer necessary for men to be the primary influence in the lives of boys. But anyone who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s and observed the behavior of young Black men in those eras vs. what you see today will quickly attest to the absence of male influence as a key figure in why things are so different (and not for the better) now.
So in our Father’s Day message we urge that this society immediately begin not just paying more attention to Black men, but doing more for them. America must recognize more Black men belong in positions of authority and power, and start correcting that oversight. It will be a long process, but it must start somewhere. This country’s already paid the price by ignoring the problem for decades. If they continue along that path, things will get worse, not only for Black men, but Black families and the nation as a whole.