What will it take for black men to heal?



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Updated: Part 10 added...

Minneapolis resident Mac Walton is penning an investigative series entitled "What Will It Take For Black Men To Heal?" It will examine who has asked this question in the past and what they have discovered and will end with a vision for what a good program to help Black men heal will look like. He'll be reviewing literature from people such as Haki Madhubuti, William Julius Wilson (a sociologist), Dr. Joy McGruy-Leary (a psychologist who wrote "Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome"), Eldridge Cleaver, Ralph Ellison and more.

He gave us permission to share it with readers of The Liberator blog, although if you live in Minnesota and want to pick up some copies of the Spokesman to read the hard copy or share it with friends who do not have computers, definitely do that -- each installment is also available each week on their website.

He's made parts 1-3 available thus far, I'll go ahead and update this post as new installments are released. Encourage folks you know to come here and particiate in the discussion by leaving comments. And to those of you for whom this may be a tired discussion, please participate and don't dismiss the value of doing so -- as long as most of us need to have this conversation, we all need to continue to be a part of it.

Here's some background from Mac on why he choose to do this project:
"I was -- and still am -- searching for comments from Blacks folks from all walks of life, and not just Blacks trying to get funding for their organization. Specifically, I'm trying to get us to dialogue about this issue at a higher level than mere Black male responsibility (though that is important) or even at the level of education so the Black man can get a more skilled position. Why? Because economists are now saying it is not just low-skilled but higher-skilled positions that are being shipped to India, Pakistan and China. I'm trying to get us to begin addressing the question: If you train the Black man for a job that no longer exists in this country, then what? Ultimately, I'm trying to get us to begin talking about how we're going to control our own destiny, not only as Black men but as Black people. For example, when are we going to get to the position where we develop our own businesses, including informational ones and train our people to do them?"
Sidebar: Liberator editor Melvin Barrolle had this to say about the series proposal, "The article can be promising. The narrative will have to be fresh however since this topic has damn near saturated the market recently. If he is able to dig deeper (i.e. demonstrate a firm grasp of the theorists he mentioned) then readers will be awarded with a necessary and timely piece."
"I do understand that this subject has been talked about a lot lately. The question is by whom. I hear whites talking about the rise in violence and wondering (they say) how can they be more "supportive". I read and hear leaders of non-profit organizations Like the NAACP, the Urban League and The Rainbow Coalition talking about the rise in crime, the the high dropout rate and the disproportionate number of Blacks in prison. But I don't hear them saying that this is nothing new and that the real deal is that white folks at the federal level have gotten the message from white folks at the local level that beefing up the local police force, building new jails and prisons and housing us and Latinos in them is becoming too expensive and now think that it may be more cost effective to throw us a few more crumbs. I don't hear them saying that the source of the problems of Black men are white people who control the businesses, banks, funding and governmental agencies. This includes white conservatives in control of law enforcement and White liberals in control of funding, who steer us into social service and away from social justice and ownership and control of Black communities. I want to be clear about this: It's the folks who are presently talking about delivering the Black men out of ghetto jungles and into some middle class garden of Eden where big houses with white picket fences and gas-guzzling SUVs abound that are not going deep enough into the issues.

And understandably so. Let's face it: Whites want to lower the cost of keep the Black natives in check, and Black folks with some influence see an opportunity, yes, to help some Black people but also to better secure jobs for themselves and the staff at their respective organization (I'm not trying to critical of them. I'm just saying that's where some of them are at). They may speak of discrimination in some vague way or talk about the high dropout rate, but they don't talk about why people dropout or what's behind the discrimination. Specifically, they want come out and say that, for the most part, the system does not intend to help us and will do everything it can financially, socially, legally to keep us a dependent people, with sho nuf poor Blacks fighting and killing each other and going in and out of prison while middle class Blacks beg for crumbs from white so-called benefactors.

I don't know how deep I can dig into the question of what it will take for Black men to heal. As you know, there are certain constraints in newspapers. I do know my series does go deeper than what I'm hearing now. But this problem is too deep and too wide for any one person to handle..."

Which is why I'd love to hear comments on this series as we post them. Here's PART 1, mostly an introduction to the series, starting off with the initial question, “What will it take for Black men to heal?”:
(Spokesman-Recorder) To answer the question “What will it take for Black men to heal?” we first need to ask “From what?” and “From whom?” We will look at the question of Black men healing from a number of perspectives: economic, political, spiritual, psychological and political.

We’ll look at Black men who are troubled, but we we’ll also look at Black men who are successful and who could be role models not only for Black men, but for many Americans.

We will take a brief journey through the literature about Black men with an eye toward hearing what our elders and ancestors had to say, not only about levels of individual Black responsibility, but about the American capitalist system and its institutions as well.

We will provide the basic foundation of a program to heal Black men. Space permitting, we will also publish comments about the series from you, positive or negative. However, we are especially inviting comments from readers who are already involved in working with Black men or doing community work in the Twin Cities.

Last but not least, we will end with a roundtable of Black men who will dialogue around the question “What it will take for Black men to heal?”

By doing this series, we do not hope to exhaust the subject on Black men from any one perspective, but rather to provide specific facts, timely — if not provocative — analyses, and seeds of ideas for specific action.

Ultimately, we hope to expand and elevate the dialogue beyond the question of Black male responsibility (though that is important) to questions about American institutions themselves. After all, it is American institutions that promote and perpetuate racist, sexist, homophobic and classist antagonisms. If we do our job, you will be provoked to study as well as talk, act as well as criticize.

Let’s get busy. (article)

PART 2 says that "The roots of our problems are many and deep" and summarizes the body of ideas, literature and historical work that have provided some of the best answers to this question thus far:
(Spokesman-Recorder) If we are going to heal, we must ask ourselves, “Heal from what? Heal from whom?” Here, our struggle for liberation and our documentation of it is rich with insights.

Obviously, national organizations such as the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and the Urban League have called attention to, documented for us, and fought with us against the continuous and devastating discrimination and humiliation against us in every area of our lives — from employment to business to housing to training to law enforcement to just trying to drive home.

Indeed, The Urban League has made it the centerpiece of its annual The State of Black America publication in 2007. But, when we review some of the most important literature, we find that our problems as Black men reach far beyond us to the most negative aspects of capitalism and its institutions.

In When Work Disappears, (Vintage Books, 1996), sociologist William Julius Wilson says the Black man’s problems are rooted primarily in changes in the American capitalist economy. The U.S. economy has transitioned from an industrial to an informational base, and many African American men lack the educational skills to compete for new jobs in an information age.

Another problem, says Wilson, is that many of the manufacturing jobs left over from an industrial age, jobs which match the semi-skilled level of many of the Black unemployed, are being shipped to Third World countries where wages are low and unions essentially nonexistent. Consequently, as manufacturing jobs disappear, so does the relevancy of Black men.

To heal, or at least survive, the Black man must advocate to get the education and training needed for an increasingly global, information economy. But can our lack of relevancy be explained merely by the disappearance of manufacturing jobs or a changing economy?

Some say the problem is much deeper.

In Black Men (Third World Press, 1990), Haki Madhubuti acknowledges the persistence of racial discrimination and a changing economy but blames us (Black men) for being irresponsible as well. Discrimination and oppression is nothing new, says Madhubuti, but what is new is that the Black man has become an “obsolete” and “endangered species.”

Why? Because he has forsaken his family and his community. He has walked away from his traditional duties as provider, or co-provider, of his family, as loving partner to his wife, as teacher to his children and contributor to his community. He has become endangered because White society has no more use for him and he has no more use for it.

Though not using the word “heal” specifically, Madhubuti suggests that, for us to heal as Black men and for African Americans to survive, we must relocate ourselves in our families and reconnect to the positive values and roles that helped sustain us and move us forward in the past.

Others suggest that the problem goes beyond Black male irresponsible behavior.

Taking up where Black psychologists left off (see Dr. Na’im Akbar’s Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery, Mind Productions & Associates, Inc., 1996), Dr. Joy DeGruy-Leary, in Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (Uptown Press, 2005), identifies and explains the behaviors and feelings of post traumatic stress among African Americans, which exists “…as a consequence of multi-generational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery.”

The key patterns of behavior reflect “Vacant Esteem” or “insufficient development of …primary esteem…feelings of hopelessness, depression and general self-destructive outlook…” They represent a “Marked Propensity for Anger and Violence…Racial Socialization and (internalized racism)…learned helplessness, literacy deprivation, distorted self-concept, antipathy for members of one’s cultural/ethnic group…”

Writer and Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver clearly came down more on the side of political oppression than psychological trauma. In Soul on Ice (Random House, 1968), Cleaver wrote that Whites rightfully fear us because they (Whites) have placed us — and continue to maintain us — on the lowest rung of American’s social ladder.

And, Whites know Black men hate them for it. (article)

PART 3 is mainly a continuation of part 2, yet a bit more specific as it finds that "White fear keeps us down and out of sight":
(Spokesman-Recorder) At the top of the White racist, sexist social structure, says Eldridge Cleaver in Soul on Ice, is the White man (the “Omnipotent Administrator”). Next comes the White woman (the “Ultra-feminine doll”). Then the Black woman (an “Amazon”); and last and least, like a fired worker on an employment line, comes the Black man (a “Supermasculine Menial”).

To deal with the lower classes, especially with the Black Supermasculine Menial, the Omnipotent Administrator has infected himself with a strange, complex and psychotic idea. Being a thinker, he appreciates his own intellect, which he views as superior to the Ultra-feminines’ as well as others on the social structure.

However, he associates his own body with weakness or alienation. On the other hand, he is a worshipper of the physical prowess of the Black Supermasculine Menial.

“Fearing impotence, impotence being implicit in his negation and abdication of his Body, his profoundest need is for evidence of his virility. His opposite, the Body, the Supermasculine Menial, is a threat to his self concept (and to compound it all, this perceived threat and resultant fear is reinforced decisively by the fact that the men beneath him are a threat to him in reality, because their life goal is to destroy his Omnipotence over them). He views them as his enemies and inferiors, men of a lesser breed than himself and his kind.”(Soul on Ice, 211-212).

So the Omnipotent Administrator may enjoy watching basketball great LeBron James racing down the court and soaring above the crowd to slam a basketball through a net, but he doesn’t want him working in his office or living in his neighborhood. Cleaver is clear: For us to heal, for us to be liberated, we must join with other groups, including progressive Whites, and destroy a greedy, capitalistic economy and build a more humane society on its ruins.

Preeminent novelist Ralph Ellison was even more specific about the Omnipotent Administrator’s intentions. He was not content simply to keep Black men in a lower position. No, the Omnipotent Administrator wants to keep him out of sight as well.

In Invisible Man (Vintage International, second edition, 1995), Ellison suggested that we are discriminated against, ignored, humiliated — kept “in our place” — because Whites wish to keep us “socially invisible,” that is, out of their workplaces, out of their neighborhoods, out of their families, and away from their daughters.

“I am an invisible man,” says Ellison’s narrator. “No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as if I have been surrounded by hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me.” (Invisible Man, page 3)

This brief review of the pertinent literature tells us is that we do have real problems, problems that reach as far back as slavery. But to heal, we need healing from many of the same institutions that now say they want to help us: law enforcement, corporations, and various federal, state and local agencies.

Many of these institutions giveth with one hand (e.g., grant funding) and taketh away with the other (think prisons).

We can always use support. At the same time, we have matured as professionals, and we seem to be ready now to help ourselves. Perhaps the best way “people of good will” can help us is by funding (and monitoring) our progress but otherwise leaving us alone to design and implement programs to help ourselves. (article)

PART 4 - A program just for us: a Black employment and leadership program:
(Spokesman-Recorder) As Black men, we have been trying to survive and to improve conditions for ourselves, our families and our communities. But oppression has had a devastating effect on us. To heal -- indeed, to survive in the future -- we will have to develop and run programs that speak to our needs and interests as family men, workers, and leaders in and outside our communities.

The following are recommendations for a program that can provide a good start in helping Black men to heal themselves and better prepare themselves to assist our families and community. They include three working principles and four pillars, with one pillar (the counselor component) containing three components and four cautions.

Working principles

1) Know that oppression against us and the adverse effects it has had on us is nothing new. Our own people and organizations have documented centuries of discrimination, humiliation, and general oppression against Black men.

2) The motives of your oppressor may not be your own. Let's face it: White America is now reaping the unenviable benefits of putting us in an apartheid-like existence up to the middle 1960s, giving us poor education, beatings and killings in the '60s and '70s, and a phony drug war from the 1980s until this day.

Instead of helping us to get treatment, education and a decent job, they imprisoned us, usually for nonviolent drug offenses. Now that the cost of keeping us and our Latino brothers in prison has gotten too high, they suddenly want to help us to heal. Sure.

3) Let no one do for you what you can do for yourselves. No one knows our history, culture and experiences better than we. Therefore, as Black men, we have the knowledge and responsibility to heal ourselves.

Four pillars

This program would combine employment and leadership training. The curriculum would address the basics of leadership as well as train men for specific trades. Besides job training, it would include presentations and workshops on leadership, AIDS, domestic and community violence.

The program would rest on the following four pillars:

1) It would be a program based in an African American community, run by African American men, utilizing African American trainers, therapists and counselors.

2) It would be a program that utilizes African-centered values, principles, customs and spirituality throughout its programming.

3) It would have an employment component that would focus not just on living-wage jobs, but, as much as possible, on jobs that likely would not be shipped overseas.

4) It would include a counseling program to provide support for staff as well as participants.

Three elements, four cautions

The counseling pillar would contain three elements: case management, advocacy and mentorship. A certified therapist and at least two culturally sensitive and socially conscious social workers or certified counselors would provide professional case management.

Counselors would assist participants with advocacy, especially in dealing with bureaucratic red tape of city or state government. They would be counselor/advocates. As counselor/advocates, they would be willing and able to do what many participants do not do, or have tried to do but became frustrated and failed: Confront a bureaucratic, racist and sexist system.

Counselors would set up a mentoring base and speakers' bureau so that successful Black men and women could assist Black men not only to gain and maintain employment, but to deal with the inevitable problems of being Black, poor and male in a society that hates Black males more than anyone else.

Caution 1: If counselors are not willing to professionally but doggedly advocate for Black men, they shouldn't be hired.

Caution 2: If a therapist is not willing to support the advocacy of his counselors, he or she shouldn't be hired.

Caution 3: If a director is not willing to support the therapist, counselors, and the advocacy element of the counseling component, he or she should not be hired.

Caution 4: Make sure there is sufficient funding in the budget for this pillar. If the program does not budget for a professional yet culturally sensitive counseling component, the program will have no long-term success. We could argue that, due to the effects of generations of poverty and oppression on Black men, this may be the most important component of the entire program.

What it is

We know other elements need to be considered for this program to be comprehensive and successful. But a program that rests on these four pillars and three elements would contain the basic building blocks for a long-term successful employment and leadership program for Black men.

There is nothing more healing than self-actualization -- doing for self. The question for our White friends and potential allies is: Besides financial and moral support, do you support us enough to stop trying to exploit our problems by getting grants for yourself and your agency and leave us alone to take care of our own problems?

The question for us as Black men is: Are we ready to do what no one else can do for us -- liberate ourselves? (article)

PART 5 - High unemployment (and underemployment) leads to financial poverty:
(Spokesman-Recorder) “The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them.”
--Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? 1967

In the next three series installments, we will try to establish the relationship between poverty and violence. This week, we will discuss the poverty of income, and next week the poverty of spirit. Then we will show how capitalist institutions impose a poverty of income and spirit on Black men, thereby helping to create violence in Black men and in the Black community.

Poverty of finance

Poverty of finance is related to one’s income or financial wealth. For the super-rich, or well-to-do, finances include land, businesses, stocks and bonds. But for middle- or low-income people, finance is tied primarily to income.

When we look at incomes, we see that 37 million Americans live below the poverty line, which is $19,971 for a family of four. That’s what the U.S. government tells us through the census.

However, there are 90 million Americans, almost one-third of the nation, that are struggling to make ends meet: to pay the mortgage or rent, to pay utilities, to put food on the table, to pay child care, or to pay for our children’s education, even pay for gas to get to and from work and to and from that once-a-week dinner with the family at a local restaurant.

The government won’t say it, but this 90 million, which includes incomes up to $40,000 a year, are poor as well. They’re families struggling to make it from paycheck to paycheck.

In looking at African Americans (25 percent of whom live in poverty), we see that the unemployment rate for Black youth 16-19 is 30.6 percent, which is more than double that of White youth (13.3 percent). Overall, unemployment for Black men is 8.2 percent, at least twice that of White Americans, which is 3.9 percent (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006).

Of course, the highest unemployment is among African American men 20 years and older, at 8.4 percent, a 2.4 percent higher rate than African American women at six percent (see Young African American Unemployment by Ariel White, Black Press USA.com). But these statistics hardly tell the story. Many Black males are not even counted in the statistics, since many of them have dropped out of the job market.

On the other hand, some of those still looking are not finding work, especially in major metropolitan cities. For example, in New York City, a city-commissioned report said that, due to changes in the city’s structural economy and outright discrimination, the employment of African American men ages 16-64 dropped 12.2 percent. It said that only 52.8 percent of African American men were employed in 2003.

In other words, 48.2 percent of Black men were unemployed in New York City in 2003. The major culprits, it said, were the loss of some 13,000 manufacturing jobs and discrimination.

The report said that many Black males have felonies, and White employers used these felonies to keep from hiring them. This use of felonies was also mentioned by The Wall Street Journal. They reported on a study that showed White men with criminal records having a better chance of being called back for a second interview than a Black man without a criminal record (see A Crisis in Black Male Employment: Unemployment and Joblessness in New York City, 2003 by the Community Services Society, from the New York Amsterdam News, March 18, 2004).

Do you think White employers use felonies to deny Black men jobs in other large cities?

Due to a changing economy, discrimination, and the fact that some Black men have given up on looking for jobs, poverty is increasing for many Black Americans at the same time that the gap between the wealthy and the poor is widening.

To heal, we must do more than get job trainings. We must change the policies on felonies and confront those (can you say “sue”?) who deny us an equal opportunity for a living-wage job and a slice of the American dream. (article)

PART 6 - For those living in spiritual poverty, job training is not enough:
(Spokesman-Recorder) “Blues with a feeling/ Is what I feel today./ Blues with a feeling/ Is what I feel today./ I’m gonna pack up my suitcase/ And make my getaway.”
-Blues harmonica player Little Walter

“Nothin in my pocket but the bottom,/ More than I can say for my shoe./ Speaking of the blues, I got ’em./ That’s all I can afford to lose./ You know I need. Yes, I need someone./ Oh, before you reach the end,/ You too might need a friend.”
-Blues guitarist Mighty Joe Young

Last week, we spoke of the poverty of income: the 37 million who are poor according to the U.S. government, and the additional 90 million who are poor because they’re having a hard time making ends meet, because they’re living from paycheck to paycheck. But poverty of income is only one type of poverty.

We also have poverty of spirit. Whereas poverty of income is about an external deficit, poverty of spirit is about an internal deficit. Whereas poverty of income is about an insufficient amount of funds in our checking account, poverty of spirit is about an insufficient amount of spirit, or love, in our heart.

Now, when many in the religious world speak of a poverty of the spirit, they cite an insufficient connection to God, the need for the sinner to develop a closer relationship with “The Almighty.” This may be correct, but it is also misleading.

Why? Because they speak of God as some omnipresence outside the person, as some kind of bearded Charlton Heston perched on a stool high above us in the sky, pondering whether to tap us on the shoulder to tell us we’re saved or condemned to eternal damnation.

Yes, God is outside of us, but God is inside of us as well. God is part of nature, the cosmos. God is part of all living beings. Therefore, if God is inside of us, all of us, all of nature, then God is the blood, the breath, the spirit, the wisdom that constitutes our soul.

Therefore, when we speak of poverty of spirit, we are speaking about an internal deficit within us, within our heart. We are saying that we are impoverished spiritually, not because we haven’t seen or spoken to Charlton Heston lately; not because we don’t have a job; not because we just lost our husband to a young and ambitious secretary, or lost our wife to a younger, more virile “Mandingo” with a better paying job.

More succinctly, we are impoverished because we haven’t reconnected to the God within us.

Some of us have been so damaged by racism and poverty that we need more than a job training program. The prospect of one day getting a living-wage job may not in itself be enough motivation to even start such a program, much less stick with training once they’ve enrolled. Some of us got them “blues with a feeling” and sho nuf need a friend.

For some of us to heal, we need to be surrounded by brothers and sisters who understand and respect us, who, in their day-to-day interactions, lift our spirit and fill our soul — whose warm smile and welcoming handshake says, “I believe in you.” (article)

PART 7 - How poverty generates violence in the Black community:
(Spokesman-Recorder) Week before last, we spoke of poverty of income: the 37 million poor Americans by the U.S. government’s statistics ($19,971 for a family of four), the 90 million Americans who are near-poor, and the high levels of poverty among African Americans with discrimination in hiring as being one of the reasons.

Last week, we spoke of a poverty of the spirit where some Black men are beaten down spiritually from discrimination and oppression. In this installment, we will use the theories of two preeminent experts on violence to make the connection between poverty and violence.

Amos Wilson

A scholar and activist, the late Dr. Amos Wilson was taken home to be with his ancestors a few years ago, but he left a psychological masterpiece. In Black on Black Violence: The Psychodynamics of Black Self-Annihilation in the Service of White Domination (African World InfoSystems,1990), Wilson analyzes what happens when not just one person, but a large segment of a people experience poverty of income.

Remember: 25 percent of Black people are poor, and more than 50 percent of Black children are poor by U.S. government standards. An entire group of people — African Americans — experience poverty of the spirit from centuries and generations of exploitation, oppression and humiliation. The knife of oppression cuts deep for centuries.

Wilson has written very positive things about Black people — see Awakening the Natural Genius of Black Children (African World InfoSystems, 1992). He is no racist. But he wrote painfully and honestly about the negative effects of U.S. capitalism and its institutions on Black people, especially on the Black male criminal:

“The Black-on-Black violent criminal, in many instances, being neither Black nor White, is but an empty shell of a man whose bottomless vacuity, numbness and lack of definition are the sources of his insatiable need to fashion an identity out of current fads, eccentric dress and behavior. His voracious and rapacious greed, his need to consume conspicuously, a gluttonous devourer of things and people, reflects his ethnic hollowness. His need to intensify the painful feeling of others is emblematic of his need to feel something within himself, to have someone know the pain he has so deeply buried (page 87).

The Black-on-Black criminal has experienced a loss so deep, so painful, that he feels he has to strike out at others so they will feel the pain he feels. Here, Wilson is talking about an impoverished spirit, a buried soul.

Wilson combines the poverty of the pocketbook and the poverty of the heart to render a scathing indictment of American capitalism and its racist institutions. White institutions, he says, help create the Black-on-Black criminal by putting him in an inferior status and keeping him perpetually angry.

He then takes this anger out on people in his own community. At the same time, White corporations tell him that he can achieve a semblance of power, a modicum of status in his own community, by purchasing ostentatious, gaudy and expensive goods:

“What many African Americans, including Black-on-Black criminals, desire most are those things manufactured, owned, controlled and sold by their White oppressors. The White American ruling class devalues what it does not own or control, thereby provoking possessive/obsessive desires in the deprived groups it dominates… Through its manipulation of production and prices it seeks to manipulate the social conditions and organization (as well as disorganization) of the behavior, perception and consciousness of those who seek to acquire what it produces.”(pages 127-128)

First, White institutions tell African Americans that they are inferior, they’re idiots, they’re ugly, they’re not worthy. Then they tell them that, though inferior, they may be all right if they get a big SUV with spinning rims, wear sports gear, and put some gold around their necks.

Wilson says the Black-on-Black criminal will only heal when Blacks take control of their communities, teach positive values, and reclaim those positive values that once held them together — when we loved and looked out for each other, when we valued each other not for what we owned but who we were.

James Gilligan

Both a medical doctor and a psychiatrist, Dr. James Gilligan is the author of Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic (Vintage Books, 1997). In this book, Gilligan agrees with Wilson that a great amount of injustice has been done to Black people by American institutions and characterizes this injustice as “structural violence.” Wilson and Gilligan both focus on the psychology of violence, but Gilligan provides more detail about the causes and its effect on the individual.

To Gilligan, violence is caused by shame and humiliation. He defines shame as the absence of self-love. He says there are only two types of love: self-love and love of others. Denied the love of others, a person’s self-love, or soul, like money in a savings account, slowly but surely begins to wane.
When we commit violence, says Gilligan, we’re actually trying to do something that to him is positive — that is, reclaim a part of the self, a part of a depleting sense of self-love, which we feel has somehow been violated. This is why, when you ask most young people today why they became violent, they’ll say it was because they were disrespected, or “dissed.”

Gilligan tells the story of a man he worked with who was considered the most violent man in prison. He asked this man, “What is it that you want more than anything else?”

He said this prisoner, who had little formal education and who had difficulty speaking, suddenly became very communicative, almost eloquent. “I want respect,” he said. “I want pride. I want dignity. And I’ll kill every m-f in this prison to get it!”

What it is

Together, both Gilligan and Wilson are telling us is that, to heal, we must do more than gain a marketable skill to get a living-wage job. We must address those ills which have come out of White institutions but, like cancer, infect many of us.

We must look inside our families and address our parenting habits. We must look deep inside institutions — media, schools, churches, prisons, the music industry — and eradicate racism, sexism, homophobia, in fact, any words or actions that tend to induce feelings of inferiority, shame or humiliation.

In other words, we can no longer attempt to merely fill a brother’s pocketbook. We must fill and monitor his heart as well. (source)

PART 8 - Strong men help us save ourselves:
(Spokesman-Recorder) They cooped you in their kitchens,/ They penned you in their factories,/ They gave you the jobs that they were too good for,/ They tried to guarantee happiness to themselves/ By shunting dirt and misery to you./ You sang:/ Me an’ muh baby gonna shine, shine./ Me an’ muh baby gonna shine./ The strong men keep a-comin’ on./ The strong men git stronger… [From “Strong Men” by poet Sterling Brown]

You’ve heard of Black men who leave their wives or girlfriends. Children, too. You’ve heard of Black men who leave the community by committing crimes and getting locked up, where they languish while gaining new criminal skills to come back and commit crimes all over again.

But have you heard about the husbands and fathers who stay and serve as role models, not only for their children, but for other men’s as well? While we’re at it, have you heard of Black men who not only stay and help make a house a home, but who work tirelessly to improve lives in Black communities with almost no acknowledgement from mainstream media or much support from financial backers, Black or White?

Oh, you’ve probably heard of Don Samuels, Minneapolis city council member; Clarence Hightower, executive director of the Minneapolis Urban League; Matthew Little, former head of the Minneapolis NAACP and senior contributing writer for the Spokesman-Recorder; and Spike Moss, activist — all strong, longtime advocates.

But have you heard of V.J. Smith, head of Mad Dads? He and his volunteers walk the streets talking and praying with young brothers and helping to keep the peace.

Ever heard of Wayne Hunter? He’s the violence prevention coordinator at Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, the oldest Black agency in Minneapolis. There, he counsels young men sent to him by Hennepin County Probation, giving them knowledge and tools to control their emotions and to become more loving husbands and nurturing fathers.

Or, how about young Will Wallace? He’s a former gangbanger who quit the gun-toting, drug-slinging street life and is now working — as he puts it — “to show these young brothers some love and put ’em on the right path.” Just add these men to the growing list of brothers who have traveled down a long road of community service with many footprints before them.

James Muhammad, project organizer for 100 Men Taking a Stand, an organized effort that comes out of Family and Children’s Service, knows these brothers and more. In fact, he knows so many that he formed an organization, The Sons of Bransford, to celebrate them and their work.

The Sons of Bransford — sometimes lovingly called The SOBs — gets its name and inspiration from James Bransford, a now-retired Hennepin County officer who became legendary for getting around red tape and racism to steer many a brother away from prisons, and for teaching other Black men to do the same. Many echo Muhammad’s words when he extols Bransford as “a paragon of resilience, like many of us who are sometimes down but refuse to be counted out and dare to live and tell our story.”
The Sons of Bransford began as a way to honor Bransford and soon evolved as a forum to honor other elders as well. But honoring elders, says Muhammad, is not the only objective.

“What we want to do is make the connections between the elders and the young folks doing work in the community. That’s why The Sons of Bransford will honor Kwame, Erik and Gary.”

Kwame McDonald is a Humphrey Fellow, a member of the African American Leadership Council, and a Spokesman-Recorder columnist.

Erik Mahmoud is co-founder and president of SEED Academy and Harvest Prep, two alternative schools on the North Side of Minneapolis.

Gary Cunningham is the former CEO of NorthPoint, a health and wellness center on the North Side of Minneapolis, and vice president and chief program officer of the Northwest Area Foundation, an important funding source in Minnesota.

All were honored at the second annual S.O.B. celebration on June 30, 2007.

What it is
If we are to be saved, we must save ourselves. Others can help, but the leadership and the direct service work must be done by us. Along the way, we must identify, encourage and celebrate those brothers who never leave family or community, but stay and work to improve Black lives every day.

Why? Because strong men “keep a-comin’ on. Strong men git stronger.” (source)

PART 9 - A new, independent political party could speed our recovery:
(Spokesman-Recorder) “The mobilization of the masses, when it arises out of the war of liberation, introduces into each man’s consciousness the ideas of a common cause, a national destiny, and of a collective history.” — Franz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth

To bring an urban agenda to the forefront in national politics, to address the specific plight of the Black community, Dr. Ron Daniels, founder and CEO of the Institute of the Black World, candidate for U.S. president in 1992 and campaign manager for Rev. Jessie Jackson in 1988, says we need a new national political party: a “Martin Luther King-Malcolm X Initiative.”

As the names suggests, this new party would be aggressive for social justice as well as for peace in our communities and justice everywhere for everyone else.

The Martin Luther King-Malcolm X Initiative would fight for the needs of Black communities all over the country: affordable housing, job training, environmentally sustainable community economic development, a land retention program, aid to farmers, culturally inclusive curricula, gang prevention, re-entry programs for prisoners, community-organized multi-purpose community centers, and more.

It would be an organization that has fully learned the lesson of Hurricane Katrina that the U.S. government has no intention of helping Black and poor people, and it would have to fight through smart politics and political will for everything it gets.

Daniels is correct, but not just for these reasons. There are three other reasons Black folks need a new political party.

First, we need to loosen the stranglehold that the Democratic Party has had on Black people since John Kennedy. We have been the Democrats’ most loyal voters — and the most ignored. The Democratic National Committee, which runs the party, gives soccer moms and NASCAR dads more props than Black folks these days.

We usually only see the Democrats a few days before an election when they come to show their faces and remind us to vote. A new party could get Blacks to register as independents and then let all parties, including Democrats, kiss our babies more than once and fight for our vote.

Second, we need a new party as the first step in forming alliances with other progressive forces in this country. An independent party filled with progressive Hispanics, Latinos, Native Americans, Whites, and labor unions such as SEIU is a project just waiting to happen.

Think about it: Instead of registering under the banner of exploitive Democrats or reactionary Republicans, we could do so as independents. This alliance could constitute a voting bloc that couldn’t be ignored and could result in sizable gains not only for Blacks, but for poor people and the environmentalists as well.

Third, let’s face it: Many national Black organizations that once were aggressive in fighting for social justice have, for whatever reason, lost a lot of their power. To give just a few examples, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has been involved in a political squabble trying to decide if it wants to be a social service or social justice organization. It’s also in financial trouble.

The leadership of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) has gotten older and fallen out of touch. The Nation of Islam (whom some call “Black Muslims”) are experiencing leadership transition issues since their leader, Louis Farrakhan, has experienced failing health.

We need a new national political party to instill a deeper commitment of younger Blacks and breathe new blood, new ideas, and new strategies into the Black politic.

What it is

As Black men, our status is inextricably bound up with the health and survival of Black communities. If the Black community is in poor condition, we’re in poor condition. As the community goes, so goes the Black man. As Madhubuti suggested (see installment two in the June 28 issue), our healing cannot be accomplished outside the context of the Black family and the Black community.

For us to heal, the Black community will need not only appropriate social programs and services, but a more focused national independent political party to fight and win those programs and services for us.

In addition, the Black community will need a political party that will steadily but surely move us from social services to financial autonomy: toward the ownership of our own banks, small businesses, corporations, supermarkets and food cooperatives — in short, from being beggars at the door to producers of goods and services in our own right. (source)

PART 10 - We’ve been dancing too long:
(Spokesman-Recorder) “But no slave should die a natural death. There is a point where caution ends and cowardice begins. Give me a bullet through the brain from the gun of the beleaguered oppressor on the night of siege. Why is there dancing and singing in the slave quarters?” (-Eldridge Cleaver)

“We’ve been dancing too long.” (-James Baldwin)

In this series, we reviewed pertinent books from a wealth of Black literature (installments two and three) and concluded that our ancestors believed that, to heal, Black men must not only become more self-sufficient in terms of securing living-wage jobs, but must also confront oppressive institutions that deny them opportunities and their dignity as well.

We defined the basic framework for a program that would assist Black men — an employment and leadership training program (installment four). We offered a three-part analysis of poverty, looking at the two types of poverty (poverty of income and poverty of spirit), and argued that White institutions utilize both to generate Black-on-Black violence (installments four, five and six).

But not everything is negative.

In installment seven, we said that for Black men to heal, we need to stop lamenting the Black men who have, in one way or another, left the Black community. Instead, we need to better appreciate those who are still there — men who work long and hard to improve the lives of individuals and families in our communities with little acknowledgement from the White mainstream media or sufficient funding from public or private sources.

Despite their efforts, we said this was not enough.

To heal, we need a new national, independent political organization, not only to identify, clarify and prioritize issues, but to fight for better services; to form more powerful alliances with other progressive groups; and to loosen the stranglehold that the Democratic Party has on loyal Black voters.

Long-term, we need this independent political organization to transform us from mere beggars at the door, a dependant people scrambling for social service crumbs from our enemies, into nation-builders, a self-determining, community-sustaining people — a people with its own corporations, schools, banks, food cooperatives and organic farms.

This may be the last installment in the series, but it’s not the last word on what Black men need to do heal. First, the Spokesman-Recorder will continue the discussion at its Sister Spokesman and Brother Spokesman monthly meetings, where everyone is welcomed (the first Brother Spokesman meeting is October 13, 2007).

Second, the Spokesman is developing a 2008 calendar around Black men healing. Of course, the calendars will be available at meetings and at the Spokesman office. So the follow-up is there; we just need you to join us and be a part of it.

What it is

To heal, Black men must be self-actualized go-getters and self-sustaining don’t-quitters. In other words, others can support us, but we must do the deeper work, the heart-rending soul searching, ourselves. So, from job training to violence prevention to political independence, we need to stop frontin’, show up, and get the job done.

Come on, brothers, many of the sisters are already there and waiting on us. Why is there dancing in the slave quarters? We’ve been dancing (and balling) too long…

We can do this. What do we have to lose? Only our souls as men and our very existence as a people. (source)


Originally posted 08/23/2007

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