Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come. – President Barack Obama
Even as part of the nation heartily embraces President Barack Obama’s second term, there are many who are bitterly disappointed that Mitt Romney lost.
Personally, I am heartened by the idea of ‘four more years’ and the progress that I hope it will bring to our nation.
I am also secretly (well, not so secretly now) gleeful that yet another generation of young black males will grow up with President Obama in the White House as a reminder of what they can achieve.
Yet, even as the confetti falls, and the whoops go up, it is important to point out that these same young black men will come of age in a United States of America full of disheartening statistics about their welfare and future.
“… 37 percent of black children, are poor (compared with 10 percent of whites and 13 percent of white children)…more than 900,000 black men are in prison [that is more than seven times over their white peers]; blacks experienced a sharper drop in income since 2007 than any other racial group; black household wealth, which had been disproportionately concentrated in housing, has hit its lowest level in decades…”
Black young men are more likely than any other group in the US to be a victim of violent crime, including homicide at the hands of a neighbor, foe or even those sworn to serve and protect them.
This is searing, because the contemporary danger of ‘red asphalt.’ The street corners colored from bleeding bodies, overlaps with most African American’s historical memory of black men’s brutalized bodies at whipping posts and dangling from trees.
Thus, it has become engrained in the collective consciousness of black society that we have to defend our black men and boys. They have to be buttressed in the face of these acts of violence, systemic discrimination and the sheer psychological weight of America’s hostility towards their black male bodies.
Even as I say this, I have to admit that many of the conversations about “saving the black man” are stained with strands of patriarchal thought.
It often implicitly assumes that once things are alright with our men and boys, then our people will be okay.
It also makes the lives of black males and their suffering more important than the lives, suffering and contributions of black women, which Melissa Harris Perry noted in her book, Sister Citizen: Shame Stereotypes and Black Women in America.
Still, I recognize that black males of all ages are uniquely perceived as a threat. They provoke alarm in the larger American psyche in a way that African American women do not.
Having an almost three-year old nephew on the cusp of his first forays into the US educational system has heightened my sensitivity to the minefield of antipathy that he will face.
According to a recent study, Challenge the Status Quo: Academic Success among School-age African-American Males, black boys are overrepresented in the number of students being suspended and expelled. Yet, they are underrepresented in honors placement courses.
The report goes on to point out systemic ways that black young men are prevented from attaining advanced degrees. A disturbingly high percentage of them are being educated inside special education classrooms.
Their neighborhood schools are least likely to offer the subjects required for admission at competitive colleges. They are most likely to have inexperienced teachers, often who lack the proper teaching credentials, educating them.
These educational shortfalls are especially chilling when one considers the ample evidence of how low school achievement is correlated with 1 in 3 black males’ interactions with the justice system – i.e. the cradle to prison pipeline.
The proof of this malady is in the anxiety of anyone raising a black boy.
They are keenly aware that there is not any degree of politeness or ‘respectability’ they can rear them with that can avail them of these odds.
The vulnerability of all ‘echelons’ of black manhood was made crystal clear when renowned Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested after being suspected of breaking into his own home!
Even if President Obama had a son, he’d look like the now infamously deceased Trayvon Martin.
These questions about the lives, perceptions and constraints of black manhood in America are not only important for black men and the black community.
It is a national issue.
While most Americans do not have any outward biases, or a desire to discriminate, the fundamental problem is that ‘intent’ is irrelevant.
Many of our contemporary policies and historical legacies have had a racially disparate impact that continues to perpetuate de facto and de jure racism.
Have you ever seen Chris Rock’s satirical film Head of State?
It predates the time President’s Obama, and tells the story of a black alderman who is catapulted to the highest office in the land. One of my favorite scenes is on Election Day. Chris Rock’s opponent realizes that he is on the verge of losing and leaks this information to the press to help him gain a competitive edge. Right on cue, whites in California make a mad dash to the polls to prevent a black man from elected.
The scene is hilarious because of the over the top depiction of white angst about black leadership.
It was dramatized in the film, but it has been pertinent and palpable while President Obama has been in office.
And now that ‘black is back’ in the White House, we’ve seen how protests about his reelection, were acutely racially tinged, even if they were based on concerns about his policies.
We also have a lot of work to do to unpack what it means that Obama’s re-election was wrought by a diverse coalition of Hispanics, Asian American, African Americans, women, youth and people at the intersection of these identity groups.
This has shown that it is definitely possible that in 2016 we may elect another person of color, or a woman to the presidency.
What then? Will be ready as a country? What progress will we have made? And what will it all mean for ultimately allaying the roots of black anxiety and white angst???