Days Black People Not Re-Enslaved By Trump

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The American Crisis of and for Young Black Males

Minister Faust of the Bro-Log has posted a piece from the NY Times entitled A Poverty of the Mind which is another attempt at dispelling the notion that black students are mocked and therefore perform poorly in academics if they are seen as acting white. I've dealt with this particular issue before you can take a gander at my writing here:

One of the questions brought up in the article was:

Nor have studies explained why, if someone cannot get a job, he turns to crime and drug abuse. One does not imply the other. Joblessness is rampant in Latin America and India, but the mass of the populations does not turn to crime.

And why do so many young unemployed black men have children — several of them — which they have no resources or intention to support? And why, finally, do they murder each other at nine times the rate of white youths?

Off the cuff I will point out a couple of things that are different in Latin America and India. First off, the opportunities to make a living in either place are not as hindered as they are here. In the States, if you do not have a permit to sell things you can be harassed and arrested. Secondly, in Latin America, if not India, one can get shelter and food without a job. both of which are nigh impossible to do in the US.

Secondly it is patently false that there is no crime in Latin America (as is intimated by the author) a quick search on the web reveals:

Recent studies have shown a dramatic increase in crime and violence in Latin America, particularly in the 1980s. There are significant variations across countries in homicide rates: from 60.8 homicides per 100,000 population in Colombia to 2.9/100,000 in Chile in 1994/95.1 However, average rates in Latin America are higher than in any other region of the world and have increased from 8 homicides per 100,000 population in the 1970s to 13/100,000 in the 1990s.2 In addition to the general problem of violent crime, there has been growing concern in the region with the problem of violence against women and violence against children and adolescents.3

There is significant inequality in the distribution of violence among different social groups and geographical areas in the region. The highest homicide rates are registered among the male population and the age group 20-24 years old. In Colombia, for example, homicide rates for this group reach 249.4/1000,000, compared to 60.8/100,000 for the entire population.4 However, there have been significant increases in the homicide rates among the female population and the age groups 15-19 and 10-14 years old in the 1980s and 1990s.5

The rise in crime and violence has been particularly acute in the largest cities and metropolitan areas, where homicide rates tend to be significantly higher than in the rest of the country. Homicide rates in the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro reach 55/100,000 and 52/100,000, compared to 23/100,000 in Brazil. They reached 95/100,000 in San Salvador, 101/100,000 in Guatemala City, 112/100,000 in Cali and 248/100,000 in Medellin. 6

Furthermore, in the largest cities and metropolitan areas, there are significant differences in the level of crime and violence in the richest and the poorest neighborhoods. Maps of violence in Brazilian cities show significant differences in homicide rates across neighborhoods. Homicide rates varied from 2.65 to 111.52/100,000 in São Paulo (1995), 0.0 to 74.13/100,000 in Curitiba (1993-95), 0.0 to 101.8 in Salvador (1994) and 0.0 to 245.1 in Rio de Janeiro (1996).7

A series of factors have contributed to the increase in violent crime in Latin America since the transitions from authoritarianism to democracy.8 Conjectural factors and national characteristics aggravated the problem in particular countries. However, some factors have increased the risk of crime and violence in many or most countries in the region in the 1980s and 1990s.

* History of civil wars and armed conflicts
* Persistence of high levels of social inequality
* Low and/or negative rates of economic growth
* High level of unemployment
* Rapid growth of large cities and metropolitan areas
* Absence/weakness of basic urban infrastructure, basic social services and community organizations in the poorest neighborhoods, in the periphery of large cities and metropolitan areas
* Growing availability of arms and drugs
* Growing presence, strengthening of organized crime
* Culture of violence, reinforced by organized crime as well as the media, the police and the private security services
* Low level of effectiveness of the police and other institutions in the criminal justice system

Secondly on the issue of drug use we find This:

"I think we're all waking up to the reality that drug use is no longer just something that's happening in the United States," said Eduardo Amadeo, president of the Argentine Planning Secretariat for Counternarcotics and Drug Prevention. "Drugs are now being sold on the corner near the schools my children attend, near our [social] clubs and [soccer] fields. It's a problem right here, and one that we are now going to have to deal with."

So let's not act as if Black American men are somehow acting differently than any marginalized group in the world. It is simply false.

Now moving on to the meat of the issue we find the following, which is pretty relevant in the current discussion of illegal immigration though I won't go into that with this post:

Yet the jobless black youths simply did not turn up to take them. Instead, the opportunity was seized in large part by immigrants — including many blacks — mainly from Latin America and the Caribbean.

One oft-repeated excuse for the failure of black Americans to take these jobs — that they did not offer a living wage — turned out to be irrelevant. The sociologist Roger Waldinger of the University of California at Los Angeles, for example, has shown that in New York such jobs offered an opportunity to the chronically unemployed to join the market and to acquire basic work skills that they later transferred to better jobs, but that the takers were predominantly immigrants.

This is interesting. I think that the analysis is flawed in regard to the living wage issue. In the States a 19 year old takes a minimum wage job to get job experience. Grown people who have rent to pay and cannot get assistance if they make "too much" cannot do so. Immigrants, on the other hand, having less to lose, can take on these jobs. One must remember that many immigrants initially do not have any immediate family to support when they get here. Secondly, many immigrants live in conditions such as those recently reported in the news where 20 or so people are packed into houses that have rooms divided multiple times and are huge fire traps. Are we saying that we want to threaten families and make people live in hazardous situations? Lastly, some immigrants that come here are not uneducated. Some have more and better education than African-Americans but lack the opportunities in their home countries. My uncle, who worked for the MTA has told me about many people he worked with from all over the world, would have degrees from those countries but would be doing "light maintenance" for the MTA. He has also said that he has seen that oft times the immigrants take the tests and do the advance work to get the promotions while the black workers would complain about how the immigrants are getting ahead. Overall I think that the issue is not as simple as "immigrants go for the opportunities." But back to the crux of the article's point:

So what are some of the cultural factors that explain the sorry state of young black men? They aren't always obvious. Sociological investigation has found, in fact, that one popular explanation — that black children who do well are derided by fellow blacks for "acting white" — turns out to be largely false, except for those attending a minority of mixed-race schools.

An anecdote helps explain why: Several years ago, one of my students went back to her high school to find out why it was that almost all the black girls graduated and went to college whereas nearly all the black boys either failed to graduate or did not go on to college. Distressingly, she found that all the black boys knew the consequences of not graduating and going on to college ("We're not stupid!" they told her indignantly).

SO why were they flunking out? Their candid answer was that what sociologists call the "cool-pose culture" of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up. For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture, the fact that almost all the superstar athletes and a great many of the nation's best entertainers were black.

This in no way undercuts the "acting white" argument. Let me elaborate:

It is a rare case that you will find an outright, blatant "You're acting like a white person" comment directed at students. The "acting white" phenomenon is, in a way a symptom of Post-Traumatic Slave disorder. In a sense it is a understanding of what "black" is as oppositional to what is white. and by white, we mean stereotypical white. This goes back to my problem with the piece I wrote earlier, I believed they asked the wrong people about "acting white." clearly those who were doing well did not buy into such an idea and they would not regularly associate with those who would hold such ideas.

If we go back and look at slavery we note that the areas where blacks were able to be somewhat free, was in entertainment. Entertainers would need to "be cool." Often entertainers in black communities were the best off. As we move forward through time, we find the number runners, and entertainers both in the South and the North. It was basically understood by both whites and blacks that blacks were "cool." Coolness and slickness became the hallmark of blackness in America. I recall watching a documentary on Satchmo where whites were referred to as "ofays." they were expected to not be cool. So "cool" and "black" became synonymous. So moving ahead, we have the changes that went on in the 60's where being defiant became the new cool. Look at many popular pictures of the Panthers. Black leather jackets, dark shades. I mean the Panthers were cool as hell (oxymoron aint it?). Post Black power movement we have Hip Hop which became the new cool. In all of this coolness was still the hallmark of authentic blackness. WHile the trappings of "cool" may have shifted the equation has still stuck. Even the Lt. Governor of Maryland, while talking to some African-American women business owners, would use some slang to show his authenticity as what? A black man, a black person, he knows the language code of how we speak and how we speak is "cool." Also, Cool is a means of survival. There are places in America where if one is not "cool" one will soon be a victim. The wrong walk, wrong manner of acting can mark one for robbery or worse.

In essence then, what we are seeing is, in fact, a fear of "acting white" that is couched in terms of "coolness." This coolness/blackness is exploited by various industries which is why it has gotten worse. In the past 12 years or so, we have seen a dangerous monoculture rise up in black communities. Where once a kid who liked hip hop was also forced to listen to other forms of black music, today one can listen to Hip Hop 24/7. One can watch the marterialistic and largely misogynistic videos at anytime. One has no real incentive to become what used to be called "well rounded."

Used to be that one taught your kids and dressed your kids for where you wanted them to go. Now a days, I see the clothes that some kids are wearing and I see where they are headed and a lot of times the clothes are bought by parents seeking to please their children rather than raise their children. So as parents drop the ball, we should not be surprised when co-opted "coolness/blackness" takes over and our kids make bad decisions.


Anonymous said...

Is there more pressure on males to be cool than on females?

If the value of graduation for whites is higher than the value of graduation from blacks, then blacks are supposed to put less effort into graduating.

By value of graduation I mean the difference in lifetime salaries between a graduate and a non-graduate. If that is different between poor blacks and poor whites, which it is, then you do not need coolness to explain differences in effort expended by poor whites and poor blacks to graduate.

If the males see their older brothers graduate and the lives of graduates is not much better than the lives of non-graduates then there is a limit to the amount of effort males will rationally put into graduating.

Culture tends to change itself when the enviroment changes. If and when the reward for graduating for blacks becomes equal to the reward for graduating for whites, what blacks think is "cool" will shift by itself.

I think a diploma in the hands of a poor black woman may well be lead to more of an improvement in her earning potential than a diploma in the hands of a poor black man. If that is the case, and it is something that can be measured and answered yes or no clearly, then you do not need coolness as an explanation for why black males do not graduate.

Asking culture to make an irrational change just does not work.

No, I have to qualify that. You can be like Elijah Muhammad and get people to join a cult and you can change the culture of your cult members as long as they remain captivated by you. But mass culture does not make irrational changes. And the further your cult behaviors are from rational behavior, the more limited the appeal of your cult will be regardless of your charisma.

sondjata said...

I don't know if there is more pressure on males. I would think that there are different types of pressure (and risks) for females. However; given the high rates of males being raised by single women, I think that has an impact on this "cool" thing.

It has been proven that whites, even those without a high school education have a higher value placed on them in the market place. However I do not think that young black men in high school have any clue about that disparity outside of some general "white folk are racist" idea.

The thing with black examples of graduation and success is that it often happens "out of site." That is, black success is often removed from the immediate area of young black males. the closest, most accessible success story is often the drug dealer or the Rapper. The athlete may not be geographically proximate but through the media they are beamed into the home and subconscious of young men.

Also job and career success are often long term things which many poor black men do not see themselves living long enough to get to.

Also, since success=ful blacks often share the same desires are poor 'unacomplished" blacks, there is the arguement that if I can have it and show it now, then why not?

On the issue of black women and degrees, I think that is a whole other dynamic. Black women are simply not seen as being as threatening as black men. Again, I don't think the average black high school dropout has a clue about this particular issue outside of some anecdotal evidence.

The reason I say this is because no matter how cool one wants to be, if one truely understood the long term ramifications of certain choices, I think we would see a whole lot less of those choices.

Anonymous said...

What high school children see is what happens to their older cousins, or their friends older cousins or their older brothers who go to the same school, from around the same social background and they get an idea of the value of education from that.

It is anecdotal evidence but it is the very best type of anecdotal evidence.

Even if they don't know about racism they know what the return is for their education by looking around, and comparing people who got it to people who did not, while white kids know what the return is for their educations the same way. So if you see different behavior, it may well be that the black children are acting rationally given the returns to their education while the white kids are acting rationally given their returns to their education.

See? I'm just saying you can't chalk it up to different culture - culture adapts to the real environment instead of setting it. And it is hard to change culture without changing the environment. You can change it within limits but you have to be aware of how limited it is.

So my point is that "cool" is cultural. It is an effect and not a cause. If you can change the return to education, cool will change by itself. If you cannot change the return to education, you can't change cool except by a little bit.

There is a real problem and the problem is not the children.

We have to do everything we can to make sure poor black children are rewarded as much as possible financially for graduating.

While I'm on this subject, do you know how your family got to the Northeast? Mine came for work. When my mother tells me the story, our family in 1940 sounds a lot like immigrants of today.

What happened that this immigrant story didn't turn out like the other immigrant stories?

It isn't culture. It is the real environment that has to be fixed or today's super hard working immigrants - especially the African-derived ones - will be right with us tomorrow, thinking its cool to drop out of school.