Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Institutional factors shape dreams, outcomes of black men as well

By Briana Whiteside 

Too often, our society provides low standards for young black men and at the same time fails and criticizes them for not achieving more. As a sister of 5 black young men, I can’t help but to wonder if they will ever be expected to, or held accountable for achieving past those ready markers of failure placed on them by society.

During her speech at Bowie State University, first lady Michelle Obama stated, “Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re [black men] sitting on couches for hours, playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.”

Although I agree with the First Lady in general, I have reservations about her aspects of her statement. Black boys and young black men are turning towards being a “baller” or a “rapper” in part because educational systems appear to fail them in ways that systems of athletics and entertainment do not. Unfortunately for a large number of low-income men, becoming lawyers and business leaders could be, based on many statistics, far-fetched ideas.

Ellis Cose, in his book The Envy of the World: On Being A Black Man in America (2002), speaks of “the seduction to the street” where black men are lured and offered a place to belong and own. In The Assassination of the Black Male Image (1994), Earl Ofari Hutchinson explains, “black males who desperately want degrees are losing ground…young black males haven’t given up the dream, but it has become tattered.”

By no means am I making excuses for the shortcomings of black men. However, I am calling attention to the fact that structural realities might affect, in substantial ways, the aspirations and outcomes of black men. Institutions that provide black men with inadequate standards, guidance, and instruction should share some of the blame, right? Either way, this perpetual cycle of underachievement passes like a plague from one generation to the next.

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Black Studies site. 

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