Copyright © 1998 International Development Options
All Rights Reserved
Volume One Winter 1997-Spring 1998 Numbers 1-2.
THE CRISIS OF THE BLACK MALE IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE
Pedro A. Noguera
Social and Cultural Studies
Graduate School of Education
University of California - Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720
Published online: December 15, 2016
In recent years, terms such as crisis, at-risk, marginal, and endangered are being used with increasing regularity to describe the plight and condition of black males. Though the origins of the terminology are distinctly North American (United States) (Taylor-Gibbs, 1988; Kunjufu, 1987; Anderson, 1991), in Britain, Canada and throughout the Anglophone Caribbean, expressions of this kind have begun to find their way into both the popular culture and, increasingly, into the vernacular of social science (Miller, 1991; Small, 1994).
The rationale for the use of such stark and ominous descriptions of conditions facing black males is provided by a broad array of social and economic indicators, all of which point to the undeniable fact that large numbers of individuals who fall within these two social categories, black and male, are in deep trouble. While acknowledging the extreme nature of the many problems disproportionately confronting black males, this paper seeks to interrogate the validity of this formulation, and to posit an alternative strategy for understanding the set of phenomenon in question. As a strategy for conducting this analysis, I will place the U.S. and Caribbean manifestations and depictions of the presumed crisis confronting black males in a comparative framework which I believe will help to illuminate the limitations and weaknesses inherent in the current formulation.
Three questions will be employed to guide this analysis and to generate interpretation of the social phenomenon under study. First, why are race and gender treated as salient to the understanding of the various complex issues and problems confronting individuals who happen to be black and male? That is, to what extent does a racialized and genderized conception of the problem exaggerate the importance of these factors and negate the significance of others? Moreover, how useful is such a formulation to the predominantly black societies of the Anglophone Caribbean?
Second, if we accept the argument that many black males are experiencing severe economic and social hardships and have become increasingly marginal to their families, communities, the labor market and social institutions, how do we explain the relative prominence and high visibility of black males in public life? In the Caribbean, with few exceptions, every major politician, and many of the most important civil servants, are black and male. In the U.S., there are several individuals who are black and male and who are widely recognized and even revered by fans and supporters from diverse backgrounds. Does the notoriety of these individuals suggest that some black males may be immune from the crisis? If so, which ones?
Finally, if the black male is in a state of crisis, what does this mean for black women? Have black women also been affected by this crisis or have the hardships facing black males resulted in improved social and economic status for black women? Does the crisis afflicting certain black males imply that patriarchy as a cultural system is declining among black Americans, or among the largely black societies of the Caribbean? If not, and if the problems confronting black males are merely symptoms of broader problems confronting black people or poor people generally, why do the troubles of males seem to overshadow those facing females?