Black Men: Reality Behind Statistics


It is popular among both the well-meaning and among the mean-spirited to cite statistics which illustrate the disproportionate numbers of black males who are incarcerated, addicted, illiterate, mentally ill or who are otherwise afflicted with personal and social maladies. The statistics purportedly support the notion of a crisis among black males.

While I tend to be suspicious of both the methodology and the motives of the purveyors of such statistics, I generally applaud the heightened sensitivity to issues which impact black men.

My concern, however, is that this statistical malaise is being homogenized and spread over the vast majority of ordinary black men -- men who are quietly leading extraordinary lives.

There are black men, like my dad (and like other black dads on Mosher Street in West Baltimore), who have been married to the same women for more than 40 years. These black dads have, in the context of long-term and stable marriages, raised, nurtured and disciplined generations of black children. Their children are now successful doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, ministers and politicians.

Raising successful children is, arguably, rather ordinary. What is exceptional about such dads is that although they experienced the blatant racism and often-oppressive poverty of a segregated Baltimore, they were able to instill hope rather than hatred in their sons and daughters.

These black dads were able to absorb, daily, the personal bigotry directed at them and yet leave as a legacy to their children not an eroded spirit but rather a buoyed faith that education and hard work will improve the quality of one's life.

That, I submit, is extraordinary.

Lest I am accused of hero worship, there are black men, other than the dads from Mosher Street, whose quiet accomplishments are noteworthy. My friend, for example, raised his three young children, two boys and a girl, by himself after his wife left.

I agree that my friend should not be praised for merely doing his duty. Yet, when statistics focusing on personal and social malady among black men are sloshed about, the point that is lost is that most black men are like my friend and do their duty without being led, cajoled, paid, jailed, drugged, coerced, sweet-talked or otherwise tricked into assuming responsibility for their personal conduct.

Indeed, divorced and/or separated black men are often surrogate daddies for a host of their children's playmates, many of whom are non-black and who, like their own children, are being raised in single parent households.

Black men often begin new relationships with women who are single parents and find that they are called upon to share parenting responsibilities. I submit it is extraordinary to find those who not only do their duty but who also assume the obligation of others who have abandoned their responsibilities. Black men, like black women, have quietly been doing this for generations.

Finally, there are other black men who are without personal obligation but who possess a social conscience which compels them to care for strangers. They are the black men who volunteer as Big Brothers or as mentors in the city schools. They serve as choir directors and as coaches. Some black men are foster parents who have adopted strangers and are raising them as if the children were their own.

Perhaps some sociologist reading this piece will accuse me of being naive and point out that the personal anecdotes which I have related do not refute the statistics about incarcerated or otherwise incapacitated black men.

My intent, however, is not to obfuscate the data but merely to say that neither the lives nor the lifestyles of the majority of black men can be reduced to a spreadsheet upon which only social malady is profiled.

Maurice Taylor, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Morgan State University, chairs the Baltimore County Human Relations Commission.

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