Is Black Culture Holding Back Black Men?

Super interesting op/ed in yesterday’s NYT which asks the question, Is black culture holding back black men? It’s about time someone asks the question in the midst of all the PC conversations of education, housing, etc.

I’ve written in the past about how gangsta culture sows the seeds of racism in schools and that rap music shouldn’t be God’s soundtrack for black people.

See Chris Yeh for more excerpts and analysis of this op/ed. Article:

So why were they flunking out? Their candid answer was that what sociologists call the "cool-pose culture" of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up. For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture, the fact that almost all the superstar athletes and a great many of the nation’s best entertainers were black.

Not only was living this subculture immensely fulfilling, the boys said, it also brought them a great deal of respect from white youths. This also explains the otherwise puzzling finding by social psychologists that young black men and women tend to have the highest levels of self-esteem of all ethnic groups, and that their self-image is independent of how badly they were doing in school.

I call this the Dionysian trap for young black men. The important thing to note about the subculture that ensnares them is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America’s largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie. Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.

For young black men, however, that culture is all there is — or so they think. Sadly, their complete engagement in this part of the American cultural mainstream, which they created and which feeds their pride and self-respect, is a major factor in their disconnection from the socioeconomic mainstream.

9 comments on “Is Black Culture Holding Back Black Men?
  • My view may be simplistic as a non-American looking in, but of a few educated black Americans I know well, they have faced accusations from others of the same race for “abandoning” their culture, or “acting white”, when they ensure they have proper diction, for instance. These may well be isolated incidents: I have not asked. But if not, then they would agree with your article. Certainly as a Chinese man I have never been accused of the same, so I cannot speak from having parallel experiences. (Indeed, my insistence on maintaining my own language has brought me ridicule from my own race.)
       Chris Yeh’s blog entry is particularly good, particularly his post-postscript. A similar criticism may be levelled at other races, too, glorifying stardom ahead of hard work.

  • As a young Black/African-America(whatever) male myself, I can attest the point Jack Yan made. Many a times I have been accused of “acting white”, simply for having goals in life, and not glorifying the gangsta lifestyle and disregard of education that plagues many of the african-american youth today. I’m not quite sure what the remedy for this problem would be. [will continue this comment later, must go to class]

  • [..continued, hopefully this will be coherent]
    Fortunately, the negative comments were pretty much isolated incidents. Although neither of my parents have attended college, they have instilled in me to excel in education. Television networks such as BET or MTV, and the general entertainment media, surely do glorify the gangsta lifestyle. Honestly, as of now, I do not think the blame is on someone other than ourselves, who can recognize the problem and effectively rectify this situation (which is certainly a daunting task).

  • And I must say, there’s hardly ever any positive african-american male role models depicted in mainstream society.. We only see the same over and over again (i.e. cornell west, colin powell, barack obama, etc..)..Where’s the motivation for young black males if they hardly see anyone else like them as a prominent figure in our society?

  • Sorry for spamming your blog. But from my own personal surveys, not many of my peers know about people such as Dick Parsons, Clarence Otis, former Surgeon General David Satcher, Kenneth Chenault, or Stan O’Neal.. who do we see on a daily basis? lame rappers like 50 cent, or whoever else promotes such reckless and carefree lifestyles

  • I think Kenny nailed it on the head. African-Americans (I’m speaking mostly about the “younger” crowd, but in general as well) in the U.S. have very little exposure to positive role models through the usual media outlets. Mainstream rap, and the culture that goes along with it, is the main source of “inspiration” for black youth, and so of course the “gangsta” lifestyle is glorified. Artists who choose to talk about things other than women, money, drugs, etc. are just not given the same type of focus as those who continue to play on the popular stereotypes that allow them to keep pulling in tons of money. The worst part of all this is that until positive African-American role models are given a more prominent role in the media’s portrayal of African-Americans, the situation really doesn’t appear to be getting any better.

  • It’s also important to keep in mind, I think, that there’s a major business industry whose livlihood is dependent on glorifying gangsta culture. Economic incentives easily trump moral ones.

  • Kenny, thank you for confirming what I know. It’s always good to learn from a third party who has experienced this first-hand. I also seem to recall that Bill Cosby was criticized when he commented negatively about African–American youths using ‘You was’ and other terms from “gangsta” culture.

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