Geoffrey Canada and ‘Reaching Up for Manhood’

Tim Wernette reviews Geoffrey Canada’s book.

One of the more malicious aspects of racism and classism is that disenfranchised people (the poor, people of color) are often marginalized and silenced. That’s why Geoffrey Canada’s Reaching Up for Manhood is especially important. He speaks to us from his experience as an African-American male growing up in the impoverished South Bronx, and as an adult mentor of boys in that community. His insight into the struggles most boys and men face is combined with his understanding of the special challenges faced by young, poor, inner-city boys and men. In the book’s preface, Canada speaks to all of us when he states:

“More and more I have become concerned with what boys think they should be, with what they believe it means to be a man. Our beliefs about maleness, the mythology that surrounds being male, has led many boys to ruin. The image of male as strong is mixed with the image of male as violent. Male as virile gets confused with male as promiscuous. Male as adventurous equals male as reckless. Male as intelligent often gets mixed with male as arrogant, racist, and sexist.”

In addressing issues of risk-taking, self-worth, fatherhood, and sex, Canada covers important ground. He also adds needed perspective on becoming a man when he discusses drug use in the lives of young men and how, when combined with unemployment, they create a devastating mix for many males living in poverty.

While Canada speaks eloquently about the urgent need for adult men to reach out to young males, I would especially encourage those who have programs that include manhood-initiation rituals to read his chapter “Mentors.” It discusses the impact gang membership and imprisonment has on many inner-city young men, and how the lack of understanding of cultural differences can lead to disastrous consequences:

“If we are to save the next generation of young boys, they need to be connected to men so they see examples of the possible futures they might live out as adults. At the same time, we have to be careful that we do not go charging into children’s lives without being properly prepared for the different ways they see the world. It’s as much an issue of class and culture as of race…We must spend time understanding what the children with whom we want to work are going through and living with every day…The gap between the poor and the non-poor, regardless of race, is growing ever larger in this country. Things many of us take for granted – safety, enough food, decent housing, a trip to the movies – poor children may have to struggle to obtain. This often creates circumstances where conflicts and hurt feelings between children and well-intentioned outsiders occur unintentionally.”

Canada has written an important book about the importance of mentoring boys and young men, especially those disenfranchised by race and poverty. He has offered all of us an imperative to reach out to these young males, not just so they can avoid imprisonment and/or death, but so they can achieve their full potential and become constructive contributors to our society.

This book review originally appeared on Earl Hipp’s Man-Making blog. The review itself was written by Tim Wernette. Tim is a Gender Equity Educational Specialist with the University of Arizona who speaks primarily to high school audiences in the hopes of changing the destructive aspects of gender stereotypes.

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  1. No assumptions made. If a few friends use some terms amongst themselves that few if anyone else uses, it would be silly to claim that such are heard in normal discourse by a significant percentage of the population – when that simply isn’t the case.

    “I was curious to find out if you believed that whites had privilege over people of color, as you do not believe men have over women.”

    Now you’re comparing apples and oranges.  White people, including white women were never legally bought and sold as slaves, legally dismembered, legally raped, and legally tortured and killed, and don’t constitute the vast majority of the prison population (as one of many examples).  Moreover, perhaps you know of many, many data points that answers that question clearly.

    “Do you think there is racism, personal or institutional?” 

    Personal for sure.  It depends on which institutions you are referring to.  But, it’s not at all germane as you’re trying to draw a parallel that doesn’t exist.  Women are the majority, not a minority – and white women especially have measurable advantages over many men, but especially men of color.

  2. To make matters even worse, the feminist movement piles on by constantly claiming that all men, including the poores men of color, enjoy “male privilege”, which works to increase their disenfranchisement, disadvantage, and marginalization.

    • And to make matters even worse, people like Eric (so as not to lump people together into misleading statements like “the feminist movement”) tend to oversimplify the intersection of identities such as race, gender, and class…

      Moderator’s Note: Please refrain from aiming accusations at individual posters.

      • Right on queue. . .a personal attack.

        Which, once again, illustrates how the feminist movement never backs off in ignoring (and hence increasing) the obvious struggles of many black males, including them in their “male privilege” theory. Fact is, in feminist theories and arguments, the most uprivileged black males are lumped in with wall street big shots and high powered CEOs because they happen to be male.

        • Julie Gillis says:

          I’m not entirely sure what the poster above was aiming for, but my understanding of intersectionality is that people can hold different privileges in different contexts. This allows for all kinds of differentiation, and shows why I as a white woman would have more priv. than a black man at a given context. He might have more in a different set up.

          Regardless of if you believe it, which I assume you don’t, most of the feminists that I know (many are academics) do not lump groups together, but examine how those intersections work to keep the majority of the groups at odds with each other.

          • I have never (Ever. Literally.) seen feminists who liberally use the term “male privilege” parse it to specify that it excludes any males, even the most disenfranchised.  Instead, they use term to broad brush all males as having a birth-right advantage (privilege) over all females, regardless of the fact that majority females statistically enjoy far more advantages as compared to minority males, in measurable, non-subjective ways.  
            If they honestly believed in “intersectionality” and weren’t just using the term as a hammer, they would liberally also use the term “white female privilege.”  But, they don’t.

            • Julie Gillis says:

              Well, all I can say is you don’t have exposure to a wider group of feminists, much as I didn’t have exposure to a wide range of MRA and other men’s rights folks prior to coming here. I’ve had to reconsider my views, and I’ve done so. I’m a feminist who speaks about intersectionality. I exist. I don’t use words as hammers either. 😉

              You don’t have to give me any credit, and I don’t expect you will, but I do exist.

              • This was not meant to be personal toward you or anyone else. Anyone who claims that little black boys born in poverty (for example) are privileged haven’t earned any credit. However, I would love to give anyone credit who opts to do the right thing by desisting from ever using the term “male privilege” again.

                • Julie Gillis says:

                  Curious, should whites (or anyone for that matter) stop using the phrase white priv?

                  • {Shoulder shrug} Fine with me. It’s something seldom if ever heard in normal discourse anyway.

                    • Julie Gillis says:

                      See that’s the thing about assuming what “normal” is. People talk about wide ranges of things. My groups and circles use those concepts all the time. I was curious to find out if you believed that whites had privilege over people of color, as you do not believe men have over women. Do you think there is racism, personal or institutional? No great need for you to answer, but it seemed germane.

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