Being A Black Man (at the corner of progress and peril): An analysis

Being a Black Man at the Corner of Progress and Peril is a collection of news articles by the staff at the Washington Post. After reading The Bond, Disintegration and Honky, picking up this book followed suit with my current fascination with race; in particular Black men and how they are percieved by not only the mainstream but by other Blacks. Being A Black Man takes the articles, written by the Post staff, and places them in a complete text and utilizes various research methods to discuss the state of Black Men in America in the post civil rights era. The interesting thing is that, in order for the text to analyze the current problems with Black men, it had to discuss the historical statistics.

Basically the collection of news articles is a compare and contrast essay. I could easily delve into each article and deliver my opinions on each item presented, but that would remove the ability for the readers of this text to develop their own ideas of why this book needed to be written.. or would it? 

Why is it still necessary to analyze race? Aren’t we in an era where the color of skin is no longer a detriment? There aren’t any Colored Only water fountains or entrances to buildings, so why is it necessary to isolate Black men and study them independently of other Americans? It’s simple really, White America believes racism is gone since there is a Black president and other cultures honestly think Black men are lazy and can’t get jobs because they don’t want jobs. Interestingly enough Being A Black Man reinforces these perceptions, but through the series of articles it explains in greater detail why stereotypes and reality converge to make understanding Black men one of the most complex social jobs in this country.

In one article, a 25 year old Black male, no father, mom an ex junky, is shown to be articulate, well mannered and well dressed, but unable to stay on a job. This same article does something that is eye opening, it actually quotes the young man who has quit two jobs. The young man thinks that because he has graduated from high school that he should be paid more than minimum wage. In other words in the Black community success is weighed by high school graduation, while in other communities success is measured by college degrees. It is an interesting concept to introduce the idea of success for Black men as it relates to other cultures. How do you approach this discussion with someone who isn’t Black? How do you talk to other cultures about the fact that success for Black men is completing high school?

In another article two young black men are graduating high school as valedictorian and salutatorian. These young men chose to attend a neighborhood school although they had offers from nearby private schools who knew the young men were great scholar athletes. These two young men, in the same manner as the Three Doctors from the Pact, and The Bond, made a vow to change their school. They knew their school was failing, but they felt that they could create a different culture. By the time they reached their senior year the AP courses had more boys than girls for the first time in the history of the AP program at this school. Those boys were all athletes. These two young men made a concsious decision to change the culture and did so before accepting collegiate scholarships and moving on.

How is it that in the same text these two completely different stories can be told? This is the duality of being a Black man in America. There are not any guidelines for success when a culture has had to endure so many issues. The road to success is covered by the debris of broken homes, illiteracy, low expectations, low self esteem and misplaced values. This is why this book is needed. The Black man is a unique persona that creates fear and inspiration, hope and helplessness. What is most interesting about Being A Black Man is that the editor Kevin Merida compiles statistics that should be printed and shared by any person who thinks that racism is in the past. The collection of stats places a very hard to read reality in the face of the reader. Black men have a lot of work to do and unfortunately a lot of the work was rooted and racism, but now is a self perpetuating problem that is difficult to approach because to state that Black men are now at the root of many of their problems gives a free pass to the glass ceilings and good old boy networks that are still at play in society.

Like a Facebook status, when discussing the status of Black men in America… it’s complicated.