Systemic racism past and present deprives black people of rights, opportunities, and material wellbeing. While this common reality unites black people there are still differences among us. Progress and problems are not the same for all black people. Recognizing the obstacles faced by black men are unique from those of black women is not new. It's a long-standing discussion and debate among black people. From the 1980s onward various black activists, politicians, authors, and thinkers have analyzed the problems of black men and offered possible solutions. I can personally remember books like the three volume set Countering The Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys by Juwanza Kunjufu and Black Men Single, Obsolete, and Dangerous by Haki Madhubuti. Some have emphasized job training and public sector work projects to fight black male unemployment. In some cities there are all black male schools - academies with dress codes and black male faculty that address the educational deficits faced by black males. However, none of this occurs without controversy or tensions among black people. Some believe equal effort should be made and attention focused on black women and girls too. They argue that while black women have made some gains, they still face challenges related to race and gender. All of this speaks to a gender divide among black people. Many believe that if black men are doing better than black people are better off. Others including Black Feminists believe black people must confront racism and sexism which intersect.
Now mainstream think tanks like The Brookings Institute and white liberal experts like Richard Reeves are talking about the problems of black men in a new article from the organization's website entitled The Inheritance of Black Poverty It's All About the Men. It reads, " Black Americans born poor are much less likely to move up the income ladder than those in other racial groups, especially whites. Why? Many factors are at work, including educational inequalities, neighborhood effects, workplace discrimination, parenting, access to credit, rates of incarceration, and so on. But gender is a big part of the story too, as detailed in a new paper from the Equality of Opportunity Project, “Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective” by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Maggie Jones, and Sonya Porter. "
It's more important how black people focus our activist and political energies. If more things improve for black men will our communities automatically be better for black
women? Black men are in trouble by every social and economic measure. For all the progress made since the 1960s it appears they have lost ground. Problems like crime, mass incarceration, the decline of marriage, and family are tied to the unique and negative circumstances of being a black man in a racist society where economic inequality is worse than any time since the early twentieth century. Here are the facts- Black men born into poverty are almost twice as likely to remain poor compared to anyone including black women. Black men working fulltime hourly or salaried earn $ 378 less than white men and $ 125 less than white women. They are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to white men. One in every three black males will be in prison compared to one in every 17 white males.
What about black women ? They have made some significant progress compared to black men. Consider the this they are narrowing the gap with white women in avoiding intergenerational poverty, more women are going to college getting bachelors and master's degrees, and they have a rate of participation in the labor force. However black women because of racism and sexism still lag behind white men and women. They work making 36% less money than white men and 12% less than white women. Going to college doesn't erase the gap. But it's worse for black women in terms of health and wellbeing. Black women are five times more likely to die than whites from pregnancy related complications, and they are more likely to die from breast cancer too. More frightening is black women and girls making up disproportionate share of those missing and exploited. And they are less likely to be found alive or dead.
Call it conservative, masculine, patriarchal, or sexist the idea that we can afford to focus on black male wellbeing and not black women is wrong. The unique problems of black men need attention, but that doesn't mean black women have arrived. They don't have it easy. Furthermore, their progress doesn't diminish black manhood. For all our outrage and struggling for change too many black people buy into the idea that women should be subordinate to men. That should not be the case. If the struggle for black freedom and equality over racism is simply about putting black men on the same level as white men what good is that? I would say none. We must rise and move forward together as equals. Helping black men shouldn't mean ignoring black women.