Written by Serie McDougal
White slave owners associated several general characteristics with Black men, including weak, docile, and ignorant. There were also certain characteristics that enslavers did their best to deny to Black males, including authority, family responsibility, and property ownership (Dancy, 2012). However, White respect for these characteristics was not so cut and dry. Therefore, Black male exceptionalism represented the circumstances under which Whites recognized and respected characteristics of Black men that were contrary to these generalizations. For example, Marable (1994) explains that Black men during slavery were not praised or rewarded for being assertive, they were rewarded by Whites for being accommodating. Black men who were considered exceptional were those who were industrious and ethical and assertive. However, to earn the respect of Whites, their assertiveness must not be used to challenge the established order or White privilege.
Black male assertiveness was acceptable as long as such Black men were pawns for Whites or that their assertiveness was used to support White power and privilege. For example, Black slave drivers were allowed to be assertive in forcing other enslaved Blacks to work and punishing their failure to do so. Athletic Blacks were allowed to use their physicality to entertain Whites. During slavery, Whites sometimes arranged events to force Black men to fight one another for entertainment. By all means, they were discouraged from fighting on behalf of other Blacks, particularly engaging in anti-slavery activism. Black male athletes engaging in political protest of police killings of Black males by kneeling during the U.S. National Anthem, are abandoning the model of Black male exceptionalism that has for so long reinforced White supremacy. President Donald Trump, in September 2017, made national headlines for redirecting focus away from police brutality, by framing football players as disrespectful to the U.S. flag and military (Hayward, 2017).
After admonishing football team owners to fire football players, who he described as “sons of bitches,” when they refuse to stand for the national anthem. In keeping with his point that the players are being treated too softly, Trump draws on the stereotype of the Black male as a bloodthirsty brute and super athlete. He does this alongside expressing his disfavor for football rules designed to minimize head trauma that may lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). ESPN analyst Kevin Blackistone suggested that one reason Trump promoted a form of football that disregards traumatic brain injury is because most of the NFL players are Black males. Moreover, Black males are overrepresented among football positions that suffer the greatest levels of CTE (Moye, 2017; Weaver, 2017). Although President Trump’s rhetoric was shifting national dialog about protests away from the original political issue, the theme that remained consistent was lack of value for Black lives, in this case, Black male lives in particular. His comments harken back to antebellum beliefs that Black males could bear more pain and were less vulnerable to physical stress than their White counterparts.
This racialized and gendered stereotyping has implications on Black males’ health status in general. James (1994) defines masculine self-reliance as a risk factor for John Henryism, a state of mental/physical vigor with a single-minded focus on hard work without regard to physical well-being. Some gender scholarship, according to Pass, Benoit & Dunlap (2014), exacerbates this problem in its repeated definition of Black masculinity as the hyper-version of every negative aspect of hegemonic White masculinity. Trump is using rhetoric that reinforces a great deal of gender scholarship about Black males as hypermasculine invulnerable beings. Black males’ break with racial gender stereotypes and exceptionalist expectations will always be seen as an ungrateful betrayal as President Trump has framed it.
Dancy, T.E. (2012). The brotherhood code: Manhood and masculinity among African American males in college. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.
Hayward, P. (2017, September 27). Trump unites his rivals by hijacking a courageous protest. The Daily Telegraph (London), p. 12.
Marable, M. (1994). The Black male: Searching beyond stereotypes. In R.G. Majors and J.U. Gordon (Eds.), The American Black male. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Publishers, pp. 69-77.
Moye, D. (2017, September 25). Donald Trump prefers violent football so more Black players get hurt: ESPN analyst. Huffington Post, np.
Weaver, C. (2017, September 27). MSNBC, huffpost: ‘Neanderthal’ Trump wants Black players to suffer. Newsbuster.org, np.
Written by Serie McDougal
I grew up watching Michael Jordan on TV in an apartment on the South Side of Chicago. If you did that you would inevitably have to sit through commercials. I have to say that my favorite commercials were the ones that featured Jordan. Looking at the sacrifice and protest of Black male athletes today, I recall Jordan’s commercials. One that comes to mind is the “maybe I destroyed the game commercial” in which Michael Jordan explains his hard work, determination, sacrifice, and courage. I was always extremely inspired. I would be so caught up in the values he espoused. I remember being disappointed when I realized that the commercial gave the impression that Michael’s primary goal was individual greatness and basketball success, though you could apply those principles to anything. But why was that a problem? Why would Jordan appear so different to me than Muhammad Ali who public proclaimed he was the greatest of all time? Maybe the answers lie in the reasons why Jordan’s greatness was celebrated during his prime when Ali was so greatly ridiculed.
Have Blacks been hindered in their pursuit of so called “traditional” manhood values such as independence, assertiveness, leadership & strength? Yes… and no. Players like Mahmoud Abdul Rauf, Craig Hodges, and Colin Kaepernick have exercised some of these values during their athletic tenures. However, their exercise of these values became a problem only when they began to support collective Black liberation and/or challenge anti-Black oppression. The purpose of this article is to locate the more recent forms of Black male athletes’ protest within the history of Black male workers’ political protest. For example, in the 19th century, northern Blacks were significantly impacted by European immigration. Employers preferred hiring Irish workers, therefore Blacks lost employment opportunities. Clarke-Hine and Jenkins (1999) explain that before 1820, Black craftsmen were in demand, although employers preferred to hire other Whites. By the 1830’s certain practices were used to successfully drive African Americans from skilled trades.
Many Whites resented the idea of working alongside Blacks. These sentiments were made known through practices used by White workers to exclude Black men from apprenticeships. Sometimes White workers used terrorist attacks (i.e., lynching & bombings) to prevent employers from hiring Black men. In New York, for example, Black men were systematically prevented from achieving the advanced status of “cartman.” During that time, a major concern for Whites was Black collective advancement. In 1802, the postmaster general wrote to the U.S. senate that only Blacks should not be allowed to be mail carriers because the position would provide them a good opportunity to instigate and carry out revolts among the enslaved (Litwack, 1961). In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Black men were disproportionately represented among those who worked as seamen. Seafaring was less segregated than other labor forces in the 19th century. By no means was seafaring without racism, but maritime culture had a system of order, hierarchy, and mutual dependence that made the experience a more tolerable workplace for Black men compared to other industries (Bolster, 1990). This, in addition to the relatively high wages, and relatively less racial intolerance aboard vessels was attractive to Black men. Traditionally thought of as a manly occupation, being a seaman also offered Black males opportunities that would typically not be available to them. Enslavers sometimes hired enslaved Black men out to work aboard ships to receive their wages (Bolster, 1990). Some Black men, eager to make an escape or to temporarily get relief from the high level of racist hostility ashore, sought out seafaring. Indeed, the prominent Black advocate for freedom and liberation, Frederick Douglass, sought his escape aboard a ship. On the heels of Denmark Vesey’s plan for revolt, South Carolina passed legislation (Negro Seamen Acts) deterring Black men from seafaring. Some of the laws required that Black seamen be imprisoned upon arrival in South Carolina until their vessels departed, with their captains paying the expenses of their detention (Bolster, 1990). South Carolina passed Act for the Better Regulation and Government of Free Negroes and Persons of Color, because they feared that Black seamen would infect other Blacks with the spirit of revolt. They were correct, Black seamen, as early as 1809 participated in the distribution of abolitionist materials (Bolster, 1990). They were the defiant ones. Muhammad Ali became legendary and iconic because he refused to submit to the pressure. Harshly ridiculed during his time and admired in death, Ali took the road less travelled by; he was the greatest, but he stood for something greater. Something greater than personal success costed many of our ancestors’ wealth and prestige, but gained them eternal glory. As many football players have pledged to continue to kneel during the national anthem whether Colin Kaepernick does or not, pressure on them will continue to mount. The questions that remain are, will current athletes sustain this movement and will Black people translate the spirit of Black athletes protest into social and political advancement in the settings where we live and work?
Bolster, W. J. (1990). "To feel like a man": Black seamen in the northern states, 1800-1860. Place of publication not identified: publisher not identified.
Clarke-Hine, D. & Jenkins, E.(Ed.) (1999). A question of manhood: A reader in U.S. Black men’s history and masculinity. Bloomington, IA: Indiana University Press.
Litwack, L. F. (1961). North of slavery: The Negro in the free States, 1790-1860. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Reese, F. (2017, August 31). Sidelined, silenced: Unsigned Kaepernick highlights limits of free speech in sports, workplace. Atlanta Black Star. Retrieved September 01, 2017, from http://atlantablackstar.com/2017/08/31/sidelined-silenced-unsigned-kaepernick-highlights-limits-free-speech-sports-workplace/
Written by Sureshi Jayawardene
The Urban Institute, a think tank specializing in economic and social policy, recently issued a report, “Why Does Cash Welfare Depend on Where You Live?” exploring the variation in state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) policies and the factors that might explain these differences. TANF is the primary government program associated with cash welfare and provides cash assistance to low-income families with children. Black families are hyper aware of this weak social safety net and understand the racialized nature of this system in its failure to help those who need it most. Black communities also already know that race is key to the implementation of TANF. However, the Urban Institute’s study shows the importance of a deeper awareness of why benefits vary by state.
The central goal of TANF, since 1996, has been to help curb poverty. Welfare reform implementations of 1996 significantly changed the structure of TANF. When Clinton created TANF twenty years ago to replace, AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), states were afforded much greater flexibility in the disbursement of benefits. Each state uses its federal TANF block grant to fund its own unique TANF program. Whereas with AFDC, the federal government shared the burden of any heightened need and costs with states which meant that funding rose automatically, with the block grant design of TANF states receive a fixed amount of money regardless of the volume of people who qualified for benefits.
According to the Urban Institute, differences in TANF benefits by state result from states’ broad authority to establish rules related to:
Congress has done little to adjust these fixed funds for inflation and other factors, which means that funding levels have eroded and not seen an increase since then. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, due to the fundamental design of TANF, states reach far fewer poor families than they did with AFDC. Therefore, the number of families benefiting from the program has been on the decline, without any significant shifts to poverty rates in the nation. For example, in 2013-14, for every 100 families living in poverty, only 24 families received TANF. This figure fell to 23 in 2015. In 2016, in an average month, 1.5 million families—that is, only 1% of the total population—received TANF cash benefits, and nearly 40% of these families received benefits only for children in the household.
The TANF-to-Poverty Ratio
The Urban Institute reports that although the TANF-to-Poverty ration has fallen in every state except Oregon, the difference among states has increased. For instance, in 1998, for every 100 families with children in poverty, the state of California provided cash assistance to more than 3 times as many families as Texas did. By 2013, this ratio had grown to 13 times as many families. Between 2013 and 2014, Louisiana, Texas, and Wyoming provided TANF to fewer than 5 families for every 100 with children in poverty.
The report highlights that the majority of African Americans lives in states that provide TANF cash assistance to no more than 19 families for every 100 families living in poverty. The majority of non-Hispanic White people live in states that provide TANF to at least 20 families for every 100 living in poverty. Here is one of the ways the policy has racially disproportionate effects.
The Urban Institute analyzed TANF policies of each state, organizing them into three broad categories: generosity, restrictiveness, and duration. Their findings were key to the racialized and racist nature of the delivery of TANF benefits. For instance, researchers found that the racial demographics of a state were central to how generous or restrictive a state’s TANF policies were. According to them, African Americans as well as other groups of color are highly concentrated in states where TANF policies are less generous with maximum benefits, more restrictive on behavior, and stipulate shorter time limits on families. African American families, in particular, are concentrated in states with harsher, more restrictive TANF policies.
Trump’s Budget and TANF
The Trump administration recently released its budget outline which involves major changes to social safety nets, including dramatic cuts to the country’s only cash assistance program, TANF. Critics of the Trump budget blueprint have called attention to the severe underfunding of TANF in the past two decades, which means the program would be further stifled and ineffective in achieving its objectives under the current administration’s proposed budget. Trump aims to cut TANF funds by $21 billion over the course of a decade and reduce the amount of federal funds to states to deliver benefits by $15.6 billion. This budget also proposes the elimination of TANF contingency funds, which account for funding needs when an economic crisis increases pressure on the program. According to the White House, this budget “strives to replace dependency with the dignity of work through welfare reform efforts.” The Urban Institute’s findings and the budget proposal of the Trump administration demonstrate that access to welfare for poor families would be further restricted. Poor Black families are likely to find themselves even more ineligible with Trump’s proposed welfare cuts.
Written by Serie McDougal
It was a steamy hot July in1955. A young Martin Luther King Jr. stepped up to the podium at the Holt Street Baptist Church in the midst of a Bus Boycott to end the segregation aboard buses in Montgomery, Alabama. He began giving a riveting speech to the crowd who was gathering confidence and inspiration that they could eventually break the back of Montgomery County and force it to end segregated seating aboard buses. However, King noticed that people began to enjoy the carpooling system they had created as an alternative. He had been hearing rumblings among the congregation that people were proud of the system they started because it was a creation all their own. Moreover, they enjoyed one another’s company. They began to get to know one another on a different level. They enjoyed being together in the interest of advancing the Black community. They became more interested in expanding this new experience instead of integrating Montgomery’s busing system. As King read the crowd, he abandoned his prewritten speech as proclaimed, “I want you to realize the gravity of what you have created. You have claimed something that Montgomery was never capable of giving you. Something more valuable than sitting next to someone who is White? You have claimed your freedom, and you have experienced what that feels like. Let’s not end that! Let’s not end this bus boycott! Let us build and sustain it in perpetuity! Let's call it ‘The Harambee Transportation Company’.” The rest is history.
Obviously, the above is an alternative history of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But why reimagine such a momentous accomplishment? More specifically, how is it relevant to the work experiences of Black people today? People tend to perform better on their jobs when they are respected at work and find their jobs interesting and fulfilling. Many African Americans do not have this experience in large part due to racism. In Chicago, seven African American, current and former employees of the water department are a part of a class-action lawsuit charging that they were and are subjected to systematic denial of promotions and routine racial and sexual harassment. Yet, racism is said to be bad for business because it denies companies the best and the brightest due to their race. Well, then why engage in systematic bias over a protracted period of time and foster a culture of White supremacy if the market accepts the logic that racism is bad for business? Milton Friedman argued that capitalism was fundamentally good and racism doesn’t make sense because the pressure to make money will force employers to not make decisions based on race. Racist math doesn’t work according to this logic. Answering this question requires a different calculus. The country may lose billions of dollars annually due to employment discrimination that causes loss of productivity and talent. However, according to the crowding hypothesis as articulated by Bates & Fusfeld (2005), when Black people are crowded into lower paying jobs and systematically denied promotions, their wages will go down or do not rise. Non-Black workers benefit from this because it takes them out of competition with Black workers, making it easier for their wages to rise (Bates & Fusfeld, 2005). The other kind of capital not accounted for in the logic that racism is bad for business is the psychological capital that is gained from the sense of superiority that is fed by routinized racial harassment. The same logic applies to sexual harassment but combined with racism the experience is far more pervasive transcending labor markets and class divisions. However, did the Montgomery Bus Boycott prove Friedman’s logic correct? Did it prove that racism, in fact, is bad for business? In fact, it resulted in a collective action model that gave the civil rights movement a blueprint. However, racism has found new and more resilient means of resisting this economic logic, as it has in Chicago’s water department. But, imagine for a minute, what would have happened if the Montgomery Bus Boycott had never ended. Perhaps, the outcome would have been a Black owned transportation company. Maybe it would have been a model for Black owned business expansion in similar cities across the country. The Black liberation struggle has developed many methods for advancement. For example, the NAACP has made clear the role that legal action plays in challenging racism. An additional solution to job discrimination may come from moving the creation of Black businesses up the priority list from an “alternative” to a “primary” method of creating work opportunities for Black people in which they are respected, fulfilled, and stimulated.
Bates, T. & Fusfeld, D. (2005). The crowding hypothesis. In C.A. Conrad,
J. Whitehead, P.L. Mason & J. Stewart (ed), African Americans in the US economy.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, pp. 101-109.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, referenced rising rates of violent crime in a recent speech. Indeed, the murder rate increased 11% in 2015, particularly in cities like Baltimore, Memphis, Milwaukee, and Chicago (Gass, 2017). Sessions’ background is an important shaper of his response to the recent uptick in violence. Sessions was a prosecutor in the 1980’s, and his recent critics argue that his approaches to fighting crime, have not moved far beyond those of the 1980s (Jackman, 2017). For example, in a March memo, Sessions, quite arbitrarily ordered prosecutors to seek the harshest penalties possible (Cevallos, 2017). It is expected that sessions will take a hard line on mandatory minimum sentencing as well. However, it would be difficult to find evidence that this measure will bring those levels down.
Disregard for Scientific Evidence
What has not been noted is what Sessions didn’t say. In his speech, Mr. Session’s merely mentioned the need for prevention in a single sentence, yet after the stand-alone statement, he quickly abandoned the idea and returned to his focus on incarceration. What scientific evidence tells us is that treatment, reentry programs (i.e. job training), and prevention are far more effective approaches to fighting drug crime than incarceration (Gass, 2017; Kerman, 2017; Rhodan, 2017). Moreover, the Federal Sentencing Commission and the National Research Council indicate that lengthy prison sentences are ineffective crime control methods (Kerman, 2017). The US criminal justice system, based on its spending, continues to favor punishment over rehabilitation and prevention (Cevallos, 2017). Mr. Sessions memo and speech contributes to the already existing punitive imbalance. What motivates a policy so lacking in 21st-century logic? Who benefits?
Among the direct beneficiaries is the $20 billion-dollar prison industrial complex. Black people’s presence in prisons across the country already fuels the industry in the form of jobs created, building contracts, telephone services, bussing services, medical services, and purchase of products and services (Weatherspoon, 2014). As incarcerated populations are not counted among the unemployed and mostly vote democratic, Sessions policy is likely to undermine democratic voting power while also allowing the Trump administration to claim economic improvement by hiding a significant portion of its otherwise unemployed population (for example, most Black men in prison were unemployed at the time of incarceration) (Stewart, 1994).
What Can Black People Expect
With the implementation of Sessions’ order, Black people must have expectations based on historical precedent and scientific evidence. Racism is endemic to sentencing, therefore Black people can expect to absorb a disproportionately larger share of the sentencing increases that Sessions has called for. For example, a Washington State Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System found that Black offenders received harsher sentences for drug offenses than similarly situated Whites (Weatherspoon, 2014). Prosecutors seeking the harshest sentencing may also result in overworked, inexperienced public defenders compelling more Black defendants to admit to crimes they did not commit to negotiating for shorter sentences. It is also likely that harshest penalties and increased mandatory minimums will result in more fragmented families as judges and prosecutors will have less discretion to be lenient to certain offenders based on the circumstances of their offenses. Finally there is what Michelle Alexander calls the final phase of the mass incarceration process, which includes punishments that isolate Black people from the mainstream economy. She calls this final phase, invisible punishment, which begins after prisoners are released from prison. Largely outside of public view, they prevent convicted offenders from integrating into mainstream society. In this phase, they are legally discriminated against by way of denial of employment, housing, education, and public benefits (Alexander, 2010).
November 6, 2018
As midterm elections approach it will be critical that Black voters demand that elected officials have policies that include a commitment to treating drug abuse as a public health issue. It is time to convert popular Black resistance movements into a viable political party in the tradition of the Gary Convention. Moreover, officials that Black people vote for must have policies that place emphasis on reentry programs, prevention, and drug treatment…… However, in a White supremacist society it is not likely that this will happen speedily at levels that will provide measurable protection to the Black community from the regressive policies of the Trump administration. Recognizing this may compel Black public health professionals and criminal justice professionals to develop independent community-based crime prevention programs, job training programs, and drug treatment programs customized for Black people. Independent Black professional innovation is the only reliable failsafe for the Black future.
Attorney general jeff sessions delivers remarks on violent crime to federal, state and local law enforcement. (2017). States News Service .
Cevallos, D. (2017). Jeff sessions takes wrong turn on crime. CNN Wire.
Gass, H. (2017). Why some worry Jeff Sessions' crime-fighting approach is out of date. The Christian Science Monitor,.
Jackman, T. (2017). Sessions takes federal crime policy back to the '80s. The Washington Post.
Kerman, P. (2017). Tough on crime still racist. USA Today,
Rhodan, M. (2017). Sentencing reversal angers both sides. Time, 189(20), 11.
Stewart, J.B. (1994). Neoconservative attacks on Black families and the Black male: An analysis and critique. In R.G. Majors and J.U. Gordon (Eds.), The American Black male. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Publishers, pp. 40-68.
Weatherspoon, F. (2014). African-American males and the U.S. justice system of marginalization: A national tragedy. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Written by Serie McDougal
Recently, Tom Weathersby of the Mississippi state House of Representatives proposed a bill. It recommends a new law that would impose fines and psychological counseling for people who sag their pants. This article contains thoughts about what this bill means for young Black males. To be in violation of the law, one has to sag their pants in ways that expose underwear or body parts in an “indecent or vulgar manner.” The ambiguity of this phrase invites what is known as aversive racism. The theory of aversive racism assumes, for example, that in situation where evaluation criteria is unclear, Whites will typically treat African Americans with negative bias (i.e., stop and frisk laws) (Dovidio, & Gaertner, 2000). This proposal could be, at once, the continuity of White cultural racism and trickle down cultural chauvinism in the time of Donald Trump. Cultural chauvinism, goes beyond the recognition of cultural difference, toward to punishment of difference and elevation of one’s own cultural preferences as a default societal standard. This has been the White supremacist orientation toward African American styles for hundreds of years. Yet, in a way that might be considered strange, Whites have described African American cultural styles as wild, barbaric, and indecent (blues, rap, Ebonics, dance), yet also expressed deep admiration of those styles, expressed through imitation, appropriation, and commodification of them. The cultural chauvinism that President Donald Trump has shown the world, may be trickling down to the state and local levels or simply emboldening already existing White cultural racism. Tom Weathersby’s prejudice against certain styles of clothes, such as sagging pants, will be institutionalized into law if the bill is passed. But what do clothes mean?
Generally, clothes can simply represent style, but they can also be used to tell elaborate stories about culture and identity. African Americans have used clothing to symbolize, attitudes, values, interests, affiliation, pride, and identity (Andrews & Majors, 2004, p.326). From zoot suits to traditional African garments, African American men have developed unique ways of dressing to express themselves and distinguish themselves (Franklin, 2004). During slavery, Black men used the clothes available to them to create their own styles. This is, in part, a way of expressing themselves on their own terms and enhancing self-image while society attempts to make them invisible (Majors & Billson, 1992; Franklin, 2004). Black male clothing trend-setting has taken common items such as stocking caps or do-rags, bandanas, and plain white t-shirts to the point that they have been commodified and transformed into mainstream symbols of masculinity. Yet, their styles have also been criminalized and marketed. The hip hop industry has garnered millions of dollars by transforming Black male clothing styles into designer apparel.
Sagging pants is one of many culturally influenced behaviors such as playing the dozens, clothing styles, rapping, and using slang. However, for Black males these are not just innocent stylistic choices, they can be life-threatening (for example, Trayvon Martin). Black parents recognize this and send messages to their sons in preparation for bias, which is a racial socialization practice that between two-thirds and 90% of African American parents engage in. These parents make their children aware of racism and prepare them with strategies for how to handle it. They may engage in telling their sons to “be on time, to avoid wearing sagging pants or hoodies, and to work extra hard” (Brewster, Stephenson & Beard, 2014, p.97). They do this because they know that their sons will be misjudged in society’s institutions. Kunjufu (2009) explains that when some Black males behave in accord with their culture, their teachers perceive their shoulder shrugging, baggy clothes, sagging, attitudes, and direct eye contact as threatening, noisy, disrespectful, intimidating.
It is important that Black communities demand that service providers interrogate their assumptions about Black males and where those assumptions came from. In addition to interrogating their beliefs about Black males, they need culturally responsive policy making. To continue with the traditional approach of training Black males to adjust themselves in preparation for bias is placing too much pressure on them and not social institutions and it can lead them to internalize negative attitudes about themselves and other Black people.
Brewster, J., Stephenson, M., & Beard, H. (2014). Promises kept: Raising Black boys to succeed in school and in life. New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau.
Dovidio, J., & Gaertner, S. (2000). Aversive racism and selection decisions: 1989 and 1999. Psychological Science, 11(4), 315.
Franklin, A. J. (2004). From brotherhood to manhood: How Black men rescue their relationships and dreams from the invisibility syndrome. New York: Wiley.
Graham, A., & Anderson, K. (2008). “I have to be three steps ahead”: Academically gifted African American male students in an urban high school on the tension between an ethnic and academic identity. The Urban Review, 40(5), 472-499.
Majors, R., & Billson, J. M. (1992). Cool pose: The dilemmas of black manhood in America. New York: Lexington Books.
Written by Sureshi Jayawardene
Ida B. Wells once said, “those who commit the crimes write the reports.” Today, the glaring truth of Wells’ words reverberate throughout the Black community as the death toll steadily rises, while law enforcement officers face minimal charges often going without a conviction, and the criminal justice system remains the same well-oiled machine. As the Afrometrics article, “The False Premise of ‘Not Working’” from April 2015 pointed out, the system is working. In fact, it’s working rather well. In the late 19th century, Wells was concerned about the powers that would narrate and subsequently find ways to justify the extrajudicial killings of Black people. She dedicated her life to bringing attention to the dominant discourse, hegemony and American spirit underlining these killings. An avid activist and Black political theorist, Ida B. Well’s words are so relevant today, not simply because of the ceaseless gratuitous violence against Black people, but also because of how documentation of such violence is taking place. Or, not taking place. It is quite ironic, but not writing reports is as good as writing a report that does everything to avoid incriminating the murderer.
The Reports They Don’t Write
In October 2015, at a US Justice Department summit on violent crime reduction FBI director James Comey stated,
“It is unacceptable that the Washington Post and the Guardian newspaper from the UK are becoming the lead source of information about violent encounters between [US] police and civilians. That is not good for anybody.”
Comey claimed it was “embarrassing and ridiculous” that entities independent of the federal government had been more efficient in this data collection and that they made it easily accessible to everyone. However, a year prior to that, a few days before Michael Brown’s violent death, the most reputed crime-data experts in DC determined they could not accurately count how many Americans die each year at the hands of police, so, they put an end to counting altogether.
Since we are the victim and we fight daily to avenge those who are killed, we have to be the ones to compile the evidence and put together the reports. We have to compose our own narrative so that it will ultimately aid us in our collective action to bring down the forces that oppress us.
Today, the FBI claims to know little more than a year ago when Comey made his embarrassing admission. But, there is plenty data, as Kia Makarechi, story editor and associate director of audience development at Vanity Fair, reported in July this year. He writes, “eighteen academic studies, legal rulings, and media investigations shed light on the issue roiling America.”
The Guardian, through a crowdsourced project, The Counted, has created an extensive searchable database of police killings in the US. Here you will find amassed significant detail about each police involved death of a civilian from 2015. For each case, you can also find links to news and media coverage of the incident:
This database also has a “send a tip” tab encouraging vigilance and awareness among citizens to report any helpful information regarding these incidents. In a separate effort, the Washington Post tracked the number of people killed by the police in just the year 2015. The data gathered includes demographic information for each victim and also notes conditions such as “signs of mental illness,” “threat level," and "weapon.”
According to Mapping Police Violence, in 2015 alone, unarmed Black people were killed by police at 5 times the rate of unarmed White people.
This organization presents data in easy-to-digest infographic form. Readers can find a map of police violence across the nation, images that portray the rate of conviction of police officers for their crimes, the “most dangerous police departments,” police violence by city and state, as well as annual reports. The organization also urges visitors to the website to demand political action.
Other databases also exist. They include: Fatal Encounters and the Facebook compilation Killed By Police. Finally, a database specifically focused on African American deaths at the hands of law enforcement, Operation Ghetto Storm, which is supported by the Malcolm X Grassroots Committee issued a report in 2014. This was actually an updated version of their 2012 report which details their organizational mission and objectives, and tallies the number and frequency of extrajudicial killings of Black people. The author, Arlene Eisen, links present day violence against Black communities to the long history of oppression and subjugation endured by African Americans. Furthermore, Eisen underscores that the model of protest immediately after a police shooting is insufficient to take down the system that sustains this oppression. She describes necessary steps to act against the continued war on Black people, including self-defense training and organization in the Black community, but also building broad alliances with other oppressed groups to work together against the continuing modes of violence on our communities.
In addition, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last week in the gun conviction case of Jimmy Warren that the fact that Warren ran away should not be used to further incriminate him. The court said that according to state law, individuals had the right to not speak to police and even walk away from them if they were not being charged with anything. The justices further declared,
“…flight is not necessarily probative of a suspect’s state of mind or consciousness of guilt. Rather, the finding that black males in Boston are disproportionately and repeatedly targeted for FIO [Field Interrogation and Observation] encounters suggests a reason for flight totally unrelated to consciousness of guilt. Such an individual, when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity. Given this reality for black males in the city of Boston, a judge should, in appropriate cases, consider the report’s findings in weighing flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion calculus”
The court cited evidence from a 2014 ACLU of Massachusetts report about the disproportionate levels of police stops experienced by Black people. The court also cited evidence from Boston police data on field interrogation and observation (FIO) to further support this.
Our Own Vigilance and Racial Protectionism
As a parent of a Black son, I often find myself frustrated and helpless that as his mother any amount of protection I afford my son will not safeguard him from experiencing racist violence. As we have seen in recent years, Black people are being killed by police for simply being. A new study from the Yale Child Study Center found that ‘implicit bias’ affects how teachers treat African American males from as young an age as 4 years old. Implicit bias refers to unconscious prejudices and stereotypes that influence interaction with different people. The researchers examined “the potential role of preschool educators’ implicit biases as a viable partial explanation behind disparities in preschool expulsion.” Researchers found that when expecting challenging behaviors, educators looked longer at Black children, particularly Black boys. The findings also suggest difference in implicit biases based on teacher race.
The findings of this study demonstrate the deep-seated nature of racist thinking and ideas. It is clear that teachers’ hyper-vigilant gaze at Black boys is influenced by the dominant culture’s racist narrative of Black criminality. However, to call something implicit and unconscious is dangerous, because this suggests that people have little to no control over the “unconscious” and that everyone is “biased” and “prejudiced” to some varying degree. In turn, there is little that comes in the form of a critique of the overarching dominant culture that sustains the real culprit: racism. While the term implicit bias can be problematic because it deflects accountability and transparency for racism and its consequences, the results of this study are useful for Black parents making decisions about their children’s education, everyday racial socialization, and overall safety from racial violence throughout the lifespan. Taking action regarding the impact of racial profiling and presumptions of criminality at the preschool age might aid Black parents and larger community networks in preventing our loved ones from being featured in the above databases.
Written by Serie McDougal
One of the unsung solutions in Black higher education is the role that Black Culture Centers (BCC) play in the college experiences of Black students. This is especially true for Black students on campuses, where they are underrepresented and/or in the numerical minority. On these campuses Black students face marginalization, social, isolation, underrepresentation in curriculum, and lack of cultural understanding. This can result in diminished sense of school-pride and spirit, and sense of belongingness. According to Patton (2006) Black students explain that they are sometimes stereotyped and treated in one of four ways: “as the spokesperson for all black people; as the academically underprepared beneficiary of affirmative action; as the angry, defensive minority; or as the invisible student” (p.2). In one of the few studies on the impact of Black Culture Centers, Patton (2006) interviewed students who participated in BCCs. She explains how BCCs benefit students in many ways, including increased opportunities for involvement and preparation for student leadership, a richer understanding of their community, enhanced development of their black identity, increased pride in their shared history, and an enrichment of strategies for thriving in college.
Students reported that the Black culture center’s activities and workshops taught them leadership and organization skills. They also provided them opportunities for leadership, and served as a pathway to membership in campus wide organizations.
Students reported that the Black culture center provided them with culture specific services that were geared toward their needs and interests and styles. The center provided them with an opportunity to form social relationships with other students and faculty and staff. They felt that faculty and staff at the centers were like mother and father figures and their peers, like family members.
HISTORICAL PRIDE AND IDENTITY
Students reported that the Black culture center provided them a place to learn about their culture and identity. They believed that the BCC was a place they could learn about and discuss Black issues and current ideas.
SELF-PRESERVATION AND MATTERING
Students felt that the BCC was a place they could go and feel a sense of comfort and relief. For them, they could speak freely and not feel treated as strange at the Black culture center compared to the larger campus.
Black Culture Centers are able to accomplish these outcomes through a range of services, including:
Pre College Programs
OPPOSITION AND MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT BCCs
Many BCCs face misconceptions. The more prominent of them are that they foster separatism, are only for Black students, and that they are only social (Patton, 2006). However, these misconceptions are based on a lack of understanding of BCCs. BCCs allow students to engage their institutions in ways that they are comfortable with, without having to check their cultures at the door. BCCs are for all students on campus who are interested in learning about Black cultures and themselves in relation to Black cultures. Lastly, as illustrated above BCCs offer a great deal of services beyond social ones, including skill building, academic services, and career/graduate school preparation. BCCs also face funding cuts and attempts to convert into multicultural centers. These options are based on under-valuing the role that ethnic specific centers play and lack of investment in what it takes to achieve educational equity.
THE FUTURE OF BCCs
According to Cooper (2014) BCCs are intent on becoming more academic in focus (2014), engaging in academic services, relationships with academic programs, housing libraries, and computer labs. The National Association for Black Culture Centers is also implementing an accreditation process for effectiveness in Black Culture Centers (see Appendix A) to aid in the process. According to Cooper (2014) “Yale's center is working with the archivist of the campus library to preserve artifacts, pictures and memorabilia, and provide electronic access to those materials” (p.7). Some BCCs are becoming involved in tracking and monitoring recruitment and retention rates and experiences at their institutions (Walker, 2007). There is also a recent push to collect hard data on the impact of their centers on students, given the general lack of data.
Cooper, K. J. (2014). Black culture centers are embracing multiculturalism and intellectual conversation. Diverse: Issues In Higher Education, 31(15), 6-9.
Patton, L. D. (2006). Black culture centers: Still central to student learning. About Campus, 11(2), 2-8.
Walker, M. A. (2007). The evolution of Black culture centers. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 23(24), 16-17.
APPENDIX A: Criteria for Center Accreditation
I. Institutional Commitment and Responsibilities
A. There should be a direct reporting connection of Center to chief academic or student activities administrator.
B. Center should be integral part of institution’s educational and environmental culture.
A. Center must be institutional member of ABCC.
B. Center must successfully complete Preliminary Information Form, self-study and peer review processes.
Completion of Preliminary Information form and acceptance by the Council.
Completion of self-study process and acceptance by the Council.
Successful peer-review process of the Council’s visiting team.
C. Center must meet minimal standards outlined in the ABCC handbook, including III and IV of this Accreditation Outline.
III. Initial Membership
A. Center must be institutional member of ABCC.
B. Center must successfully complete the ABCC accreditation process.
C. Center has probationary membership of one year.
D. Center’s institution must demonstrate ability to meet guidelines of institutional commitment and responsibilities.
E. Center must demonstrate evidence of meeting conditions of eligibility.
IV. Center’s Missions and Purpose
A. Center should demonstrate clear evidence of meeting the following related missions identified in the ABCC Constitution:
A. Center must demonstrate effectiveness in the following areas:
A. Qualifications of Director(s) and other professional staff, must be met.
Written by Serie McDougal
It must be understood, as Christopher Booker (2000) explains, that Black male existence was criminalized in the early stages of the American colonial experience; starting with physical movement. Freedom of movement throughout towns during slavery was associated with the male gender role. Among the enslaved, Black males were the more likely to leave their plantations than females due to their greater likelihood of being hired out to work by their masters. To police them, slave holding states enacted laws, like South Carolina’s Act for the Better Ordering of Slaves. Such laws required that slaves who were off their plantations to carry a pass or ticket permitting their movement in public spaces. Otherwise, they would be subject to whipping, torture, and mutilation. In early colonial America, serving on policing units called slave patrols, was considered an obligation for 18—45-year-old White males. Ultimately, in most places, these units were replaced by formalized police forces (Booker, 2000). Black males continue to struggle with freedom of movement. This historical context is fundamental to understanding present day patterns of police interaction with Black males. What’s more, abuse of Black males had to be justified so that policing forces could allay their occasional concerns about the impropriety of their actions.
In the past, treatment of Black men was rationalized by stereotypes about them that emerged from the religious and scientific communities who described them, respectively, as scientifically inferior, savage, and spiritually damned. Contemporary society is not far removed from this past, given the social threats Black men continue to face. How are the abuses of Black males rationalized and sanitized today? Smiley and Fakunle’s (2016) have recently published a new and profound investigation into the evolution of language used to describe brutality enacted on Black men during slavery and the contemporary coded racist language used to describe Black men who are killed by law enforcement today. They describe the ways that media reports use language to posthumously demonize and criminalize unarmed Black men killed by police to justify their deaths. They note that during slavery, popular American literature portrayed Black males as docile and submissive. However, after the civil war, Black males represented greater economic and political competition for Whites. This threat caused a shift in White stereotypical portrayals of Black males as submissive to Black males being portrayed as brutish, merciless, savage monsters. Terms like “thug” as they are used in the media today are extensions of former terms like “savage” and “brute” (Smiley & Fakunle, 2016). In their analysis of newspaper articles published after the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Tony Robinson, and Freddie Gray, Smiley and Fakunle (2016) found that the media focus on peripheral information about these Black males to justify their deaths. This information includes their behaviors, appearances, locations, and lifestyle. For example, Eric Garner's and Michael Brown’s large physical size and past criminal behaviors were used to present them as perpetrators and non-victims and, by way of this, to justify their murders. New articles oddly emphasized Akai Gurley’s tattoos, hairstyle, and style of dress. News reports also used a disproportionate amount of words to describe the dangerous neighborhoods that Akai Gurley and Freddie Gray were from although this information had nothing to do with the actions involved in their killings. Although it had nothing to do with the officers’ decisions to open fire on a child, news reports drew attention to Tamir Rice’s mother’s criminal background. Smiley and Fakunle (2016) explain how important it is to expose such attempts to invalidate claims of illegality by using language to transform the dead into “thugs.” Moreover, their research raises the importance of Black journalism. Perhaps future academic and journalistic research will look into the political and economic functional value of these portrayals of Black males. After all, social stereotypes of Black males have always had some practical value, maintaining White power and privilege and\or the denial of power and privilege to Blacks.
Booker, C.B. (2000). “I will wear no chain!” A social history of African American males. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Smiley, C. , & Fakunle, D. (2016). From "brute" to "thug: " the demonization and criminalization of unarmed black male victims in america. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 26(3-4), 350.
Written by Serie McDougal
Malcolm X once compared racist conservatives to wolves who show their teeth and do not try to hide the harm they mean to Black people. But, he also explained how the racist liberal approach was much more like that of the fox. While the wolf shows its teeth and snarls, the fox shows its teeth and pretends to be smiling. The fox, as depicted in most folk tales, is always more deceptive and dangerous because its ill-will remains hidden behind good intentions. The Arizona based conservative attack on Ethnic Studies was very direct in its rejection of the core values of Ethnic Studies, depicting it as a threat to national unity.
The Arizona style approach used to attack Ethnic Studies would not work in San Francisco. Nevertheless, the good intentions of San Francisco State University are embodied in the values of its mission statement, which touts a commitment to diversity, social justice, and community. The College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University is founded on several principles including:
Evidence based research demonstrates the positive effects that Ethnic Studies curriculum has on student academic achievement, student engagement, graduation rates, and self-efficacy. Under the auspices of “a new budgetary discipline”, the current proposal to significantly cut the budget of the College of Ethnic Studies is a reflection of the value that the university leadership currently places on diversity, social justice, and community. The university is claiming that the college spends too much in its efforts to serve underserved students. Not at all ironically, as the budget allocation for the College of Ethnic Studies is diminished, the University is currently planning to resource its growing athletic program.
The proposed cuts would result in a 40% loss of Ethnic Studies courses, making it difficult for students to take the courses they would need to graduate. This would also impact our departments’ ability to offer viable degree granting programs. These courses also play a big role in diversifying the university’s curriculum. Ethnic Studies lecturers would lose their positions, meaning the college would lose 50% of its teachers. The Cesar Chavez Institute, which is dedicated to research and community empowerment, would be shut down. The graduate program would no longer be able to offer courses or have a coordinator. The Ethnic Studies Resource and Empowerment Center which advises students on their career goals, academic goals, and funding opportunities would also be shut down. Ethnic Studies work-study student positions would be eliminated. Lastly, professors would get no release time or sabbaticals.
While the approach taken in Arizona was to institute a ban on Ethnic Studies, the budget proposal of the president and provost at San Francisco State is fashioned to economically bleed the one and only College of Ethnic Studies to the point that it can no longer function. As Malcolm X urged us to remember, the fox and the wolf come from the same family of canines, just as attacks on Ethnic Studies come in many forms but are fixed on the same objective. They are a part of the same racist conservative political agenda to roll-back the democratization of higher education that students fought for in the 1960s. The true fear of Africana Studies or any of the Ethnic Studies departments, is not their celebration of diversity, it’s the fact that they equip students with the intellectual and academic resources and consciousness to go out into the world, challenge oppression, inequity, and shift the balance of power.
With that said, the President of the University’s office has a fundamental misunderstanding of the climate of the times that we currently live in. This would be the time to help them understand that the College of Ethnic Studies will settle for no less than an increase in funding for its work. Without the College of Ethnic Studies, the university’s fund raisers could not move about the state and country bragging about the unique diversity of its campus. With less money, the College of Ethnic Studies’ students, faculty, programs, and institutions have done a disproportionate share of the work of serving underserved populations because it’s what we love to do. When you hear the president make a claim about how diverse the campus is in public from now on, he should be met with a resounding chorus of “40%!!!”, because that’s how many Ethnic Studies courses would have to be cut to balance the budget he has proposed. Our students, faculty and supporters are ready to battle with whatever may come, wolves or foxes alike.
Anyone can send a letter advocating on behalf of the college to:
President Leslie Wong: ADM 562 – (415) 338-1381 – email@example.com
Provost Sue Rosser: ADM 455 – (415) 338-1141 – firstname.lastname@example.org