Being a black man in America is a complex matter, amounting to much more than the simple fact of being born black and male. The quality of black men’s lives often depends on circumstance. Phenomena such as class, sexuality, education (or lack thereof), and support systems, both personal and political, impact black men’s lives in varying ways. We are, like any other population, very different on an individual level. However, at the societal level, we share much of the same experiences, which makes it easier to speculate on the psychology and behavior of black men, on average.
The average black male in America does not own wealth, and he does not have what we call a “good job,” and because he doesn’t possess these resources, his children quite literally become his wealth. There is a reason why many impoverished black men have several children, often with more than one woman. It is not beneficial for him to raise a single family on poverty-level wages. Producing several children with more than one woman increases his chances for stability in the future; in the same way a middle-class white man increases his chances of future stability (wealth) by investing in the stock market. Children are often the most important and valued achievements to black men, even if they are not physically in the children’s lives, even if they can’t (or won’t) provide for them.
There is also a reason why over seventy percent of black children are born to unwed mothers. Marriage is often not an option for black men because they don’t possess the economic security that would ensure its long-term success. Also, the family unit worsens his quality of life. The man who lives on his own and contributes to his child’s upbringing through mandated child support payments or informal agreements with the mother (more common) probably has a better quality of life than the married, working class stiff who must support a household on a meager income.
What can be understood from this is that, for the most part, black men in America live independently rather than as part of a household. Also, our economic means greatly influence the decisions we make, as well as our behavior. If the black family has deteriorated over the last half century, it is a result of the economic stagnation that black men experience.
There is a strong universality to the black male American experience. For the most part, black men are still struggling to integrate into American society, and many in fact are missing from it. Even when college-educated, we are more likely to be unemployed and live in poverty than any other demographic. Up to 6% of working-age black men are incarcerated and over 30% of those not incarcerated have been convicted of a felony. Most shocking is that a third of all black men can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their lifetimes.
How do we begin to break this vicious cycle? Perhaps one way is to begin challenging the socialized (and internalized) nature of black manhood. For much of our history, we’ve accepted our roles in American society. We lead lives of quiet if dignified obscurity, never quite reaching for something more, resigned to a life of servitude in one way or another. We are misunderstood and misrepresented, and so feared. We either rebel against our place in this society, which entraps us in more ways than one, or conform and accept the limited prospects available to us.
We should all care what happens to black men in America. If an entire group of people can be dehumanized; summarily designated as illegitimate and subhuman, and treated as such, denied employment and educational opportunities, profiled, targeted, and executed by police, and incarcerated in record numbers, then we are at a moral crux. If we can all be part of this, be aware of this, accept and even reinforce this, then it says more about humanity in the 21st century than most of us would care to admit.