Travis Bryant believes that instead of perpetuating stereotypes about black men, we should seek to find solutions through reforms in education and mass incarceration.
hurts so much more
than Love rejecting;
they act like they don’t love their country
what it is
is they found out
their country don’t love them.
—Lucille Clifton, love rejected.
I just read Marie Roker-Jones’ piece entitled, “My Plea to Angry Black Men”. Honestly, after reading it, I became angry – not at what was said, but the lack of substantive remedies for what she describes as a “vicious cycle”. What struck a nerve is the idea that anger is the root of the issue for some black men—rather, anger is the fruit of issues that have perpetuated themselves for generations, particularly for the black male in the United States. In her article, Ms. Jones does not plea for anything—rather, she opines endlessly on what she perceives of some black men and painting a picture that makes it seem as though all we can be known for are violent tempers.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic, speaks of the expectation for behavior placed on black men in this country in her essay entitled, “Fear of a Black President”:
“This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard.”
Even President Obama is not exempt from this label. After the second Presidential Debate on October 16, 2012, Alex Castellanos, Republican consultant for CNN, stated, “The President was better in this debate. In fact, he was repeatedly angry and showed that anger.” I watched that debate—the same one where Mitt Romney frequently disrespected the audience, Candy Crowley (the moderator), and his opponent—yet, because of his display of passion and vigor in defense of his work, the President is angry?
Too often, this stereotype is wrongly placed on the heads of black men, and is one of many that we struggle against in the battle to better educate society on the true meaning of what life is like as a black male in this country. We are associated as thugs, criminals, womanizers, and the reason for the destruction of family values in the black community. There are ways for us to overcome these stereotypes, including needed reform in education and mass incarceration.
With the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004, Congress recognized the fact that racial/ethnic disproportionality exists in special education. This leads to a broader context of disproportionality in the general education setting, as well. Too often, educators are not trained in the cultural differences of their students, which can lead to misplacement of many in a special education setting that is not inclusive with other students. African American students, particularly the black male, are more likely to be referred for these services, which in many cases, is detrimental to their successful matriculation through school. Another notable concern is the need for black males in education. United States Department of Education Arne Duncan introduced an initiative to recruit, train, place and develop 80,000 African American male teachers by 2015. This is extremely important, as many black boys do not have teachers that look like them in the classroom, and are not shown a model of success, self-control, and life skill preparation from a black male perspective on a daily basis. Some students spend the majority of their day preparing for school, in school, or doing after-school related activities. The need for a positive black male influence for black boys is one that must be met.
Mass incarceration is a product of the “War on Drugs”, which began in 1971 during the presidency of Richard Nixon. His approach, however, was one which sought to reform and treat offenders. As time progressed, the introduction of mandatory sentencing guidelines created disparities, which often were to the detriment of the black male. The current war on drugs created a disparity of 100 to 1 for those convicted of trafficking crack cocaine versus penalties for trafficking powder cocaine. In her book, “Marked”, Devah Pager notes that roughly 12 percent of all black men aged twenty-five to twenty-nine are behind bars, versus less than 2 percent of white men in the same age group. Last week, United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced reforms in criminal justice policy aimed to reduce these numbers.
These two areas do not begin to display the stereotypes faced by black men daily. Sure, disparities exist for many other classes, but I can only talk from the black male perspective. Roker-Jones states, “Stop sitting on the train grilling like you are waiting for someone to start with you.” If I lived in a city such as New York, where the controversial stop-and-frisk tactics were in force (until a federal judge ruled them unconstitutional on Monday), I would look at those who approached me on a crowded train with suspicion and angst, as well. As someone who could be labeled as an “angry black man” because of my serious demeanor, I wish to be a catalyst of change. Apathetically perpetuating stereotypes is not the answer.
photo: .khale unger photography / flickr