The Permanent State of Crisis in Back America

July 10, 2010

The election of Barack Obama has obscured the tragic and ugly side of what is happening in poor and working African America neighborhoods, especially to young black men. As Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow points out, “today an astounding percentage of the African American community is warehoused in prisons or trapped in a permanent, second class status-much like their grandparents before them, who lived under an explicit system of control.” Alexander makes a creditable case that the War on Drugs has decimated the black communities, targeting black men for arrest and imprisonment.

Moreover, the mass incarceration of young black men has resulted in an unbelievable figure of one-third of black men being either being incarcerated or on some form of court-ordered supervision. In Pittsburgh, for example, an Urban League report documented that African-American men in their early were twice as likely to have prison records as bachelor degrees and that only three out of 100 Black students who enter kindergarten will graduate from college. 

The crisis among young black males is driven and ground in the high joblessness among black men, the War on Crime and Drugs policy, deteriorating structure and condition of the black family, and the dominance of the “cool pose” culture among young black men. 

Joblessness among young black men is at the level of the Great Depression according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the nation is reeling from almost double-digit jobless rates showing up for the first time in decades, black males are looking at numbers just about twice as worse. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that almost one in five Black men 20-years-old or older are without a job. Dr. Rodney Green, chairman of the economics department Howard University and the executive director of the Howard University Center for Urban Progress states, “There has been a consistent pattern of Black male unemployment rates that are twice the unemployment of White, even in good or bad times.” He said this is due to continuing discrimination against Black males in the labor market and also a split in the labor market where job loss is greatest in industries that employ large numbers of African-Americans such as construction, service and retail.

The high jobless rate among young black males is seen as one of the drivers of the booming markets for illegal activities, especially drug selling. Because so many of the young men perceive that they are blocked from opportunities in the labor market, they have turned to illegal activities. Yet, their numbers in the justice system far out distance their percentage of the general population, especially when it comes to drug use and sells. The post boy for drug sell is a young black urban male. The wars on drugs, crime, and gangs have resulted in mass incarceration of black men, leaving young boys fatherless and contributing to the on-going chaos in black neighborhoods. Consider, for example, that one-third of young black men are in the criminal justice system.

The internal condition which feeds the crisis of Black is the decline of the black family as a viable structure for the socialization of black children, especially black males. Shockingly almost 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers. Those mothers are far more likely than married mothers to be poor, even after a post-welfare-reform decline in child poverty. They are also more likely to pass that poverty on to their children. Single motherhood is a largely low-income and disproportionately black problem. As Kay Hymowitz poignantly states “The truth is that we are now a two-family nation, separate and unequal – one thriving and intact, and the other struggling, broken and far too often African-American.”

Another internal factor contributing to the crisis among young black males is their embrace of the “cool pose” culture. Thomas Chatterton argues that Black America is suffering from a culture crisis. Chatterton says that black popular culture has now become conflated with hip-hop or street culture.

Born in the projects of the South Bronx, tweaked to its gangsta form in the ‘hoods of South Central Los Angeles and dumbed down unconscionably in the ghettos of the “Dirty South” (the original Confederate states, minus Missouri and Kentucky), there are no two ways about it- hip-hop culture is not black culture, it’s black street culture. Despite 40 years of progress since the civil rights movement, in the hip-hop era — from the late 1970s onward — black America, uniquely, began receiving its values, aesthetic sensibility and self-image almost entirely from the street up.

In particular this “cool pose” culture is having a devastating impact on all classes of black youth. A 2005 study by Roland G. Fryer of Harvard University crystallizes the point: While there is scarce dissimilarity in popularity levels among low-achieving students, black or white, Fryer finds that “when a student achieves a 2.5 GPA, clear differences start to emerge.” At 3.5 and above, black students “tend to have fewer and fewer friends,” even as their high-achieving white peers “are at the top of the popularity pyramid.” With such pressure to be real, to not “act white,” is it any wonder that the African American high school graduation rate has stagnated at 70 percent for the past three decades?

Moreover, Chatterton points out that the “cool pose” or keeping it real has “ inverted-pyramid hierarchy of values stemming from the glorification of lower-class reality in the hip-hop era has quietly taken the place of white racism as the most formidable obstacle to success and equality in the black middle classes.”

What is clear is that there is a permanent crisis which is causing havoc in Black America. In the Age of Obama, absent well-off black middle and professional class blacks, the vast majority of African Americans are starring down a bleak future and struggling with a social virus which threatens its current state of being.

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