While we’re building an audience…
While we’re working to see if at least a hundred people think the “BELIEVE in Men” blog has a place in Baltimore’s future, here’s a look back at an article that was published in the Perspective section of the Baltimore Sunday Sun in 1989. Its title was “Drugs, Murders, Crime and the Special Problems of Males.”
The most apparent fact about the current plague of drug-related murders racking America’s inner cities is that the vast majority of the people involved are black. Since most of us are oblivious to the gender-based problems of men and boys, we attach no significance to the fact that they are also male.
If hundreds of black women were slaughtering each other in a mad attempt to earn illicit money, policy-makers most certainly would inquire into the gender basis of their turmoil. We are accustomed to thinking of women as victims.
But we live in a society that can stare directly at desperate, defiant men and fall to see beyond the soothing sham that “It’s a man’s world.” We are blind to the fact that being male can be a problem, especially for poor blacks. We cannot fathom the frustration of being a man with nothing in a society that tells men they have it all — or are not worth anything at all. In a recent song that hit the tops of the black music charts, a woman cooed. “You gotta have a J.O.B. if you wanna be with me.”
But make no mistake. The problem of evaluating men solely on their ability to perform economically is not confined to the black community, nor even to America. In Germany, for instance, the same sexist tune is sung with different lyrics: “Women are what they are. Men are what they do.”
In other words, women are valuable merely by virtue of their existence as women. Men are worthless without performance. Denied, as they are, the reasonable expectation of success, young black men are especially vulnerable to this form of sexism. Without money, they are consigned to the living hell of feeling inferior to and unworthy of their female counterparts.
In anguished, pathetic, violent and illegal ways, they try to compensate. They have nothing; therefore they are nothing. What can they lose?
We cause our cities to decay from their cores when we tell our young urban men that intrinsically they have no value. We rob black men of their determination and resiliency when we make them feel essentially worthless, and only hope they seek and find productive work as a salve for their psychic wound. We delude ourselves when we think that minimum-wage jobs will provide young men with the self-esteem they need to thrive in a world in which men, especially black men, are expendable.
The problem is not primarily a lack of money. The problem is that contemporary society focuses too much on the connection between men and money. We would do better to affirm to ourselves and to our young men their inherent value as people — every bit as good and noble as women regardless of how much they make — and then to encourage them to build on that foundation of strength and self-esteem. A solid self image will not disappear as fast as a job might.
The cruelties perpetrated upon black men by white society hardly need to be recounted. But black society, too, has been unkind. Disturbingly, the recent ABC television mini-series “The Women of Brewster Place,” a much-heralded story of seven black women in Harlem, carried the clear message that even in black society black men are, at best, largely irrelevant. “l don’t have a husband,” a young mother said timidly. “Well, I’ve had five,” an older and presumably wiser woman answered with the kind of disdain that typified the program, “and you ain’t missing much.”
In his stump speech during the 1988 presidential campaign, Jesse Jackson railed against the fact that women earn less than men. He pointed out the injustice of the pay differential by saying, “But women can’t buy bread for less than men can. They can’t buy milk and eggs for less than men can.” True enough, but regardless of their income, women can gain access to other invaluable commodities — the love and affections of children, for instance, and the interest of the opposite sex. But men, as we have seen, are generally rewarded with these things in direct proportion to their income.
Before she moved to Chicago and national prominence, Oprah Winfrey was the co-host of a local talk show in Baltimore. On one program she unwittingly helped prove with crystal clarity that there is such a thing as sexism against men — and that it bears down especially hard on black men.
During an interview with Fred Hayward, director of Men’s Rights, Inc., an organization concerned with sexism and men’s problems, she tried to induce her guest to concede that though men’s issues might make interesting conversation, they are insignificant compared to women’s issues. Mr. Hayward, one of the nation’s most insightful commentators on problems facing men as a result of their gender, was not about to concede any such thing.
Ms. Winfrey pressed. Mr. Hayward responded. “Oprah,” he said, “proportional to the population. there are eight times as many blacks in jail as whites. What does that tell you?” As a black woman proud of her race, Oprah had a quick response. She said it told her that blacks live under more social and economic pressure than whites. Mr. Hayward agreed wholeheartedly, then moved in to close his case. “Oprah, proportional to the population, there are twenty-four times as many men in jail as women. What does that tell you?”
Perhaps it is not merely by coincidence that Ms. Winfrey co-produced and starred in the television mini-series that so achingly empathized with black women and gave black men such short shrift.
How many black men. we should ask ourselves as we ponder our escalating whirlwind of urban crime, are in jail? How many black men risk everything for the self-esteem drug money can buy?
We should pay attention not only to society’s differential treatment of blacks and whites, but also and especially to our differential treatment of black men and black women. Racism knocks black men down. Sexism, plodding heavily on the premise that the value of men is equal to the money they make, comes along to kick them.