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.