BLACK OPPRESSION: How Far Have The Black Community Come Since the 1960s?

More than a century ago, Booker T. Washington who was a renowned educator, author, activist, and presidential adviser, encouraged those who had been emancipated from slavery with these words, “Success is to be measured, not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which [one] has overcome while trying to succeed.” It has been 57 years since Martin Luther King, the infamous civil rights leader contended for a cultural and economic equality system. Alongside other freedom fighters, Martin Luther King strived for equal civil rights and economic opportunities to pave the way for easier paths to success in the black community. Statistics from various studies on the overall conditions surrounding the lives of black males show obvious gaps in different areas. For instance, black men are least likely to be hired and mostly the first to be laid off, thus experiencing high unemployment rates. They encounter inequalities in their income compared to their White male counterparts, notwithstanding their societal status. Black men are handled extremely differently in the judicial system, as evidenced by arrests, convictions, and jail sentences, as well as more rigid prison sentences than white males who commit the same offense. How much progress can we say that the black community has made since then? How much freedom do we enjoy now than in the 1960s? How have the sacrifices of these freedom fighters paved the way for teenage black males to transition smoothly into manhood?

How Far Have The Black Community Come Since the 1960s?

While giving one of his infamous speeches, “I have a Dream”, Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The statement set in a series of events that set in motion the reduction of racism in the USA. Since his infamous speech until now, there has been visible advancement in the black community. Civil rights laws have been enacted and affirmed. Companies are committing to and investing heavily in diversity because more corporate leaders recognize that it makes a great business judgment. And several black billionaires and CEOs sit on the respective ranking lists. Some rise to the peak of their career in sports, entertainment, education, and even politics. For instance, in 2008, Barack Obama was elected to be the first black president. His election was proof that the color of one’s skin no longer posed a hindrance to individuals rising to important leadership roles in the United States. Despite their level of education, only a handful of these men rise and thrive in their careers. Approximately 6 in 10 black men enter the middle class or higher by middle age. This statistic is of course an approximately 20 percent increase compared to 1960. Also, the percentage of those living in abject poverty drastically reduced to 18 percent from 41 percent within the same period. Some of these successes are attributed to marriage, education, and career. Serving in the military as young black adults, self-awareness and individual responsibility to choose the right path in life, and regular church attendance, also contribute to the financial success for the black male. The recurring youthful black male run-in with law enforcement is a significant deterrent to future success for black males, as reported in a report, called "Black Men Making It in America: The Engines of Economic Success for Black Men in America." The study showed that about 28 percent of black males who spent time in the criminal justice system as boys, grew to become a part of the middle class.

The Black Community in the Corporate World

In the corporate world, especially in executive professional positions, black men struggle to climb up the corporate ladder. Despite their level of education, only a handful of these men rise and thrive in their careers. They also struggle with feelings of alienation and isolation in the workplace. While trying to blend in with their white colleagues, they are faced with several limitations such as persistent negative stereotyping, working hard to manage how they interact with white female colleagues, struggle to form a bond with their white male colleagues who can attend to critical roles as collaborators, sponsors, and mentors, and they suppress discomfort or anger to avoid lashing out and being regarded as the “angry black man. The absence of national urgency in addressing the situation of Black males unveils how they are perceived by the larger society as an individual or social issue. In reality, these issues reflect the symptoms of an even greater American problem, which is the unfulfilled promise of social equality guarded under the law.

Challenges Faced

Some of the challenges faced that affect young black males include:
  • Peer and Classroom Discrimination
The survey, “Gender Matters Too”, shows Black boys and girls in eighth and 11th grades differed in their perception of peer and classroom discrimination. For boys, discrimination harmed their grades, attitudes, and their regard for the importance of school. For girls, however, the effects generally had a positive impact. This reveals that apart from the color of one’s skin, gender also plays a significant role. As a result, many young black boys are hopeless because of inequality and blocked opportunities. The truth is that although slavery was abolished several years ago, racism still holds a strong place in the heart of many. The significant inequality in educational achievement for young black men is linked to high exclusion rates. The rate of exclusion from school activities far exceeds those of other countries in Europe and North America. However, even in the US, school exclusion and suspension numbers show that significantly high numbers of black male students are being suspended and/or expelled, often for comparatively insignificant occurrences and at a much higher rate than their white counterparts. Barack Obama, in 2014, once said: "As a black student, you are far less likely than a white student to be able to read proficiently by the time you are in 4th grade. By the time you reach high school, you’re far more likely to have been suspended or expelled. Black kids are nearly four times as likely [as white kids] to be suspended. And if a student has been suspended even once by the time they’re in 9th grade they are twice as likely to drop out, we know young black men are twice as likely as young white men to be ‘disconnected’ – not in school, not working. Fewer young black and Latino men participate in the labor force compared to young white men. And all of this translates into higher unemployment rates and poverty rates as adults.” His comments about the results of educating black folks resonate strongly with the situation in the USA. Black males are also tagged as criminals and are repeatedly harassed in and out of the classroom. Rather than being treated as individuals, stereotyped opinions of black failure held by teachers can serve to impede or kill a student’s dreams and aspirations because they are regularly told their goals are impossible to reach. If unchallenged, these notions of ‘failure’ become internalized and negative learner identities can be difficult to escape.
  • Stereotyping
American Author, Bell Hooks, once wrote, The portrait of black masculinity that emerges in this work perpetually constructs black men as ‘failures’... Yet, there has never been a time in the history of the United States when black folks, particularly black men, have not been enraged by the dominant culture’s stereotypical, fantastical representations of black masculinity.” Her remark reveals the underlying dominant-negative stereotypical tale of black men in the United States societies. It describes the presence of black males as problematic to the extent that black males are considered as failures. Most people, especially members of the white community, perceive black masculinity as failures. In the educational sector, for instance, black boys in the US are being tagged as ‘underperforming’. This has, in turn, reflected in US and UK statistics as it relates to black male academic performance, such as unbalanced unemployment and over-representation in the criminal justice system. Several racist ideologies the white community have of Black people are reinforced by the negative stereotypes they have of black men being more dangerous, sexually promiscuous, and violent than other race/sex groups. This paradigm is so strong that the mere mention of the names of Black men can trigger a fight-or-flight response in white males and females. A recent study discovered that even armed Black and white women were less intimidating than unarmed Black males to white Americans. The existence of racism in the U.S. makes Black males peculiarly targeted by fatal violence, police homicide, and economic downward mobility. Studies have shown that despite the economic success and personal ambitions of the black males, they are still considered as more dangerous and dangerous. Unfortunately, it has essentially been the death of black males that evokes compassion and arouses the anger that causes the people to agitate in a bid for a solution. Yet racism shadows Black men every day of their lives, dehumanizing them, limiting their quality of life, and even shortening their life span. Efforts to evade racism’s effects, such as obtaining an education, and increasing their income, causing them to question their worth. Young black males struggle with depression, which stems from discrimination and social oppression, even when they achieve traditional measures of success. They are disproportionately shot and killed by police or arrested and jailed more often.

The Way Forward

Resolutions should go beyond renaming streets, but to accept, without blaming the black community, how racial discrimination contributes to limited opportunities, the insufficiency of jobs, and the use of fatal aggression. Engaging in political activism concerning limitations to black young people accessing quality educational opportunities is also a welcome idea. Organizations should assist these young black males to develop a proactive approach to assessing educational opportunities, think about strategies to achieve social mobility, and encourage constructive racial and cultural identity, and a focus on achieving success through personal transformation. Another way to help the young black males is to offer practical and emotional support such as advice, career advice, tutoring services, self-affirming classes, access to educational opportunities, should be provided for them in schools, as this is critical to their educational and personal success. Additionally, the role of mothers is pivotal to how black males traverse and transcend the educational terrain to ensure a positive outcome. Localized community organizations, black churches, and black supplementary schools, also influence young black men by providing advice, mentoring, inspiration, information about accessing education and training opportunities which enabled them to convert their social capital directly into channels that produce direction and insights to help them make better decisions.   References