The 90-minute congressional hearing on the status of black males didn't get much media attention last week. No surprise.
It's much easier to lament the fate and conflicting images of black men than to have a wide-reaching discussion about a demographic group so easy to demonize and dismiss. The Trayvon Martin case served as a backdrop for the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys to talk about the plight of black males. Ironically, the hearing was held around the time when Don Lemon, a black CNN anchor, was getting lambasted by many blacks for having the audacity to say what most black folks have said at one time or another, publicly or privately, about a segment of misguided young black males:
•They use the n-word too much in their everyday conversation, giving no credence to the pain, indignity and historical reference of that offensive word.
•The sagging-pants-exposed-underwear look is inappropriate — yes, this also applies to their suburban peers — because it is inappropriate and reinforces stereotypes of ignorance and apathy. It also embraces a prison culture where inmates are not given belts for their pants because of safety concerns.
•There is disinterest in contributing to a clean neighborhood, best exemplified by tossing litter on sidewalks and streets, even when garbage cans are nearby. (Like the sagging pants, this too is a problem that crosses racial lines.)
•Completing college should be the highest priority, as it is the best way to break the cycle of poverty.
• Understanding that fathering babies out of wedlock is a not a symbol of manhood, but immaturity.
Lemon's perspective was honest and needs to be restated — but it wasn't exactly breaking news. Parents, pastors, politicians, pundits, teachers and coaches have been on this rant for years. Context, of course, is everything. Within any community there is a class issue; the black community is no different.
The educated and upwardly mobile are pitted against the under-educated and poor. Often times the pathologies and dysfunction of the poor are cast on the black community as a whole. It creates resentment internally. Lemon took heat not so much about what he said, but how he said it. He prefaced his comments by endorsing a recent diatribe by white Fox News conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly about the black community. When Lemon said that O'Reilly "didn't go far enough,'' in his criticism, it was akin to a Jewish person saying Hitler had some interesting ideas.
The message of personal responsibility and creating a positive self-image is one I've delivered personally to black males in my recent roles as an education leader in Hartford. My office door was always open, but no one could enter if his shirt wasn't tucked in and pants pulled up. The kids came to expect it — and appreciate it.
Brandon Frame, 25, is a director at Hartford's High School Inc. and founder of the The Black Man Can website, which promotes positive black male images. He is also the author of a self-help journal that encourages black males to shape their own self-image. "Be different. Be Great. Never Stop" is Frame's mantra to the young men he mentors.
So, yes, set the expectation-bar high for black males. But, when they meet and exceed those expectations let's not continue to tether them to stereotypes. For example, how can society cast aspersions at a black teen wearing a hoodie, and do the very same thing to an Ivy League-educated suit-and-tie wearing black law professor.
This eloquent, married, advocate for more rigorous urban education actually became president of the United States. Yet, in some quarters, his education credentials, intelligence, birthplace and religious affiliation are questioned. Let's have an honest conversation as well about where that is coming from.
Not to be forgotten in this examination of the status of black men are the scores of black teens killing each other in alarming numbers in Chicago, Baltimore and cities across America. A lot of it is gang related and retaliatory, based on some perception of disrespect. Much of the violence is rooted in lack of a strong father figure at home. We get that.
Let's also get that there are scores of black male role models making valuable contributions to their communities — and workplaces.
Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show'' (www.ctnow.com/stan and Saturdays, 6:30 a.m., on FOX CT).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun