What will it take for Black men to heal?


If we are going to heal, we must ask ourselves, “Heal from what? Heal from whom?” Here, our struggle for liberation and our documentation of it is rich with insights.

Obviously, national organizations such as the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and the Urban League have called attention to, documented for us, and fought with us against the continuous and devastating discrimination and humiliation against us in every area of our lives — from employment to business to housing to training to law enforcement to just trying to drive home.

Indeed, The Urban League has made it the centerpiece of its annual The State of Black America publication in 2007. But, when we review some of the most important literature, we find that our problems as Black men reach far beyond us to the most negative aspects of capitalism and its institutions.

In When Work Disappears, (Vintage Books, 1996), sociologist William Julius Wilson says the Black man’s problems are rooted primarily in changes in the American capitalist economy. The U.S. economy has transitioned from an industrial to an informational base, and many African American men lack the educational skills to compete for new jobs in an information age.

Another problem, says Wilson, is that many of the manufacturing jobs left over from an industrial age, jobs which match the semi-skilled level of many of the Black unemployed, are being shipped to Third World countries where wages are low and unions essentially nonexistent. Consequently, as manufacturing jobs disappear, so does the relevancy of Black men.

To heal, or at least survive, the Black man must advocate to get the education and training needed for an increasingly global, information economy. But can our lack of relevancy be explained merely by the disappearance of manufacturing jobs or a changing economy?

Some say the problem is much deeper.

In Black Men (Third World Press, 1990), Haki Madhubuti acknowledges the persistence of racial discrimination and a changing economy but blames us (Black men) for being irresponsible as well. Discrimination and oppression is nothing new, says Madhubuti, but what is new is that the Black man has become an “obsolete” and “endangered species.”

Why? Because he has forsaken his family and his community. He has walked away from his traditional duties as provider, or co-provider, of his family, as loving partner to his wife, as teacher to his children and contributor to his community. He has become endangered because White society has no more use for him and he has no more use for it.

Though not using the word “heal” specifically, Madhubuti suggests that, for us to heal as Black men and for African Americans to survive, we must relocate ourselves in our families and reconnect to the positive values and roles that helped sustain us and move us forward in the past.

Others suggest that the problem goes beyond Black male irresponsible behavior.

Taking up where Black psychologists left off (see Dr. Na’im Akbar’s Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery, Mind Productions & Associates, Inc., 1996), Dr. Joy DeGruy-Leary, in Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (Uptown Press, 2005), identifies and explains the behaviors and feelings of post traumatic stress among African Americans, which exists “…as a consequence of multi-generational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery.”

The key patterns of behavior reflect “Vacant Esteem” or “insufficient development of …primary esteem…feelings of hopelessness, depression and general self-destructive outlook…” They represent a “Marked Propensity for Anger and Violence…Racial Socialization and (internalized racism)…learned helplessness, literacy deprivation, distorted self-concept, antipathy for members of one’s cultural/ethnic group…”

Writer and Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver clearly came down more on the side of political oppression than psychological trauma. In Soul on Ice (Random House, 1968), Cleaver wrote that Whites rightfully fear us because they (Whites) have placed us — and continue to maintain us — on the lowest rung of American’s social ladder.

And, Whites know Black men hate them for it.