Is the Black Man in America doomed?

The NY Times says that Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia say that we are close. In “Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn,” Erik Eckholm goes over many statistics that show how the un/undereducated Black man is the rule and not the exception, and how that is leading them down a path from which recovery may prove difficult.

(Random thought: Before digging into this topic, I’d like to first note the irony in Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia doing studies about Black men. Princeton has 8.2% Black students, Harvard has 8% Black students, and Columbia has 5.3% Black students. I just find it interesting when I hear/read authoritative on Black people written by non-Black people. Now, I am in no way saying that the message is worthless because of the messenger, but I am saying that it is in some ways disheartening. I digress…)

With that said, the story and the studies it references raises some important facts. I applaud the approaches to measuring joblessness that include the incarcerated as well as those not looking for legal work. Though it is an interesting theory, I do not agree with the implication that child support law enforcement have contributed to joblessness.

There are some concrete steps that I see that can be taken to address this rampant joblessness.

The first set is psychological. For starters, many associate unemployment with vagrancy. I believe that in many cases it is a myth. Vagrancy, laziness, triflingness, whatever you want to call it does occur, but I think that’s less common than it is perceived. Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that many individuals who are not seeking work are “working” illegal occupations; you can’t be lazy and stay out of jail. The second psychological step is to remove the stigma of the man or woman who has come home from prison. What is tripped out is how many people show a lot of “love” to people when they get out of jail (remember Chris Rock saying people got more love coming out of jail than coming home from college), but they don’t get a lot of love from business owners (including Black business owners) when they are looking for legitimate work. This is part of the reason why people who come home are so likely to commit and be caught in the midst of illegal activity within 6 months of their release and end up right back in corrections system. What needs to happen here: People need to have positive attitudes towards their people. Do not confuse a positive attitude with stupidity, but instead confuse it with educated optimism. There is nothing wrong with giving someone a conditional hire. Do not confuse conditional with opportunity to humiliate. People are amazing in the sense that they will excel when people show faith in them. The article quotes a brother who says he and his peers suffer from a “general state of hopelessness.” Hopelessness is overcome by having faith in yourself and others having faith in you. Think about it, when was the last time you felt like you could do something when people were constantly putting you down saying you “never did it before” or that you were “incapable” of doing it? We need to invest psychologically in our brethren.

Secondly, there are opportunities to educate outside of traditional school. Ideally, everyone would matriculate through elementary, middle, high school, undergrad, grad, doctorate, post-doc, etc. In cases where that has not happened, that does not mean that education should not be an option. What can be done here: Maybe we can encourage young men/women to seek opportunities that they feel are more practical. What I mean by that is this: usually people leave school because they do not see immediate benefit. I more than anyone wish to eradicate instant gratification ideology from the world, but in the mean time, I feel like we can use it to demonstrate both immediate and future benefits gained from education. For example, why not identify trades/talents that students have in say, 8th grade. In their high school (9th thru 12th grade years), why not provide access to training in their fields of interest (e.g. web design, auto repair, cosmetolgoy, medical assistant, whatever)? Why not provide access to the training and tie performance in “regular” school together with the vocational training? Meaning, we should reward high performance in the vocational education equally. That way, there is recognition (who doesn’t like that?) for those that excel in economics and those who excel in electrician training. We should embrace Adult Education and Professional Certification programs. If/when people demonstrate hunger and willingness to work, then they deserve to have a chance taken on them (see above).

Re-entry. The article calls out programs that focus on prison re-entry. The same attention needs to be paid to juvenile re-entry. Programs like Detroit’s Partners for Success are great examples of taking a proactive approach to confronting the issues the will be present in the lives of young men/women when they leave the system. We talk a lot about this on the site, and some of the posts on the subject can be read here. Keys to successful re-entry are showing confidence and providing opportunities.

Those sound a lot like the keys to life in general.


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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

6 responses to “Is the Black Man in America doomed?”

  1. aahpat says :

    Black American suffrage is the enemy

    Victory! Thirty-six years and the war on drugs can declare victory. No matter how many well designed and well intentioned programs are instituted they are fighting an economic current greater than all of the resources available to government today.

    The enticement of the drug prohibition created $ 144 billion a year US retail illicit drugs market concentrated in poverty oppressed and racially segregated urban communities and combined with decades of starving public education in urban America have succeeded in the goal that inspired Richard Nixon and the Wallace right wing of the Democrats to create the Jim Crow drug war. H.R. Haldeman’s diary quoted Nixon intentions: “[President Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.” Dan Baum, Smoke and Mirrors:The drug war and the politics of failure…..

  2. Dumi says :

    FYI Ronald Mincy the editor of the book is Black and a number of the authors in the book are Black too. I get the point of your digression, but just wanted to bring that up. I’m gonna have to pull together my coins and get a copy of the book to really figure out what’s going on.

  3. Garlin II says :

    Yeah, I know the authors are Black. That is why that was only an aside and not the focus of the piece. I was speaking more generally about the lack of press given to similar studies from HBCUs.

  4. Dumi says :

    As big of an HBCU advocate as I am, I can’t say I know much research that has been executed this scale from an HBCU. While at Morehouse I worked for the Morehouse Research Institute that should have/could have produced something of this magnitude, but did not. But I do prefer to be corrected if there are such publications. Also Orlando Patterson weighed in on this in A Poverty of the Mind this past weekend.

  5. t.HYPE says :

    Okay Garlin, you owe us a follow up based on the Poverty of the Mind op-ed that Dumi mentioned because I want to hear what black men think of his theory.

    Here’s part of it:
    The important thing to note about the subculture [hip-hop, drugs, sex, not being serious about school, etc.] that ensnares them is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America’s largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie. Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.

    Is there something in the male psyche that would rather stay in a comfort zone, whatever the cost, rather than move forward into unknown and potentially uncomfortable situations, regardless of the benefit? What is so cool about having more kids than you could ever possibly afford? I need to understand? I know the readers of this blog probably do not belong to the group of men I’m describing but you might know some of them. Help me out. I need to understand!

  6. PinkFloyd says :

    You said
    I just find it interesting when I hear/read authoritative on Black people written by non-Black people. Now, I am in no way saying that the message is worthless

    But you were busted when pointed out by readers, somewhat misleading article to me once I found that out!

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