Dead Black Males: The Problem is Gender, not Race

In Detroit, Milwaukee, Baltimore, and other cities, public school administrators and boards, almost all of them black, are in despair at the destruction that young black males are visiting upon themselves. They have decided that one possible solution is schools designed for the needs of boys, especially black boys. In Eastern cities many public high schools used to be single-sex, and many private schools still are. St. Albans, the Episcopal prep school in D.C. favored by le tout Washington, is for boys; National Cathedral School, for girls. But the feminists and their allies will have no single-sex schools in the public system. U.S. District Judge George Woods struck down the Detroit plan for because it would discriminate against females. Better black boys die bleeding from gunshot wounds in an alley, the feminists imply, than allow any government policy that presupposes there are significant differences between the male and female of the species, and that the differences sometimes work to the disadvantage of the male. Feminists seem to declare a monopoly of gender victimization, and they don’t care that growing up a black man in our society is difficult.

The problem is more the maleness than the blackness. Black girls often do well in school. They sit still and pay attention and have better verbal skills. They get the credentials that are the key to public sector jobs, and they benefit from affirmative action plans that allow employers to score double points for a minority female hire. What they don’t have is black men. What has happened to the others? It was safer to be a black on active duty in Vietnam than to be a young black man on the streets of our cities today. Of the ones who survive, few are the social equals of successful black women. Nationwide about a quarter of young black men are under the control of the criminal justice system; there are more black men in jail than in college. When my wife was at Wellesley, the black girls fit in; but the only black boys at Harvard were on athletic scholarships, and, like the white athletes, were not the intellectual equals of the Wellesley girls. Black women college graduates end up marrying older black professionals, or whites, or staying reluctantly single.

The polite wisdom is that the differences between men and women are almost entirely genital. But as Anne Moir and David Jessel say in Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women, “There has seldom been a greater divide between what intelligent, enlightened opinion presumes—that men and women have the same brain—and what science knows—that they do not.” Not only are the physical differences between men and women (height, weight, metabolism, upper-body strength) cumulatively great and significant, the mental and emotional differences are on the average even greater. Aristotle wondered whether men and women belonged to the same species. He concluded they do, but there is much evidence to the contrary. Not only do hormonally influenced drives like aggression vary by sex, even abstract thought processes do. On top of all that, boys and girls develop to different rhythms and at different times. Put a boy in a school with a curriculum designed for girls and taught by women whose main desire in life is that boys behave like girls, and any self-respecting boy will likely end up with the attitude of Huckleberry Finn toward “sivilization.”

Part of the program for the black boys’ schools is a so-called Afro-centric curriculum. Much of this is silly but not likely to do much harm (Americans know little history anyway). If black boys learn geometry, it matters little whether they think that the dead white male Euclid stole it from the black Egyptians. Yet, I doubt that much of the indifference or hostility to school that is present among black boys is caused by their perception that the substance of learning is white. More probably they reject learning because it is effeminate. Black males have a low opinion of the masculinity of white males, who they think have emasculated themselves by obeying the law and functioning within the system. Blacks are not the only ones to reject middle-class morality. I detect in the purest Anglo-Saxon stock from West Virginia that now lives in run-down urban neighborhoods a similar attitude, and a similar penchant to end up dead or in jail. In fact, the behavior of men in Slavic societies just recovering from Communism, in which the ordinary male was not allowed assertiveness and independence, looks strikingly like that of blacks in inner cities: drunkenness, family abandonment, and early death. The problem is not racial, but sexual.

The Instability of the Male

Male development is the beginning of the problem with men. Male identity, both physical and mental, is a much more fragile construct than female identity. The human body, since we are mammalian species, has a basically female plan. Why else would a man have nipples? Human gonads are fertile at the body temperature of the female, but sterile at the body temperature of the male. They must descend to a vulnerable position outside the body (which I always thought very odd) for the man to be able to reproduce. The male fetus, with its XY chromosome, is unstable. Many more males than females are conceived, but by the time of birth, the percentage of male births is only 51. Many more male than female fetuses miscarry. The male fetus, although it has a male chromosome, must receive from its mother androgen in precisely the right amounts and at precisely the right times to become a normal male.

After birth the pattern of development between male and female continues to differ. Boys mature later than girls. They are ready to read later. If they are put in school at the same age as girls, they learn early on that girls are better than boys at school; that boys are likely to be failures in school; that schools are meant for girls and sissies. Boys eventually catch up with girls (mostly) in verbal skills and surpass them in math when the flood of testosterone hits, but by that time many boys, especially the most masculine ones, the ones who have trouble sitting still and have been dosed with Ritalin, hate school. This problem was recognized by parents and teachers in the 1950s, but with feminist propaganda about the supposed disabilities of women it was forgotten. Forgetting the problem doesn’t make it go away.

The structure of the male personality differs from that of the female. The male is a dynamic bundle of energies that is always threatening to disintegrate. The female is much more stable and secure in her relations to the rest of the human race. Being able to bear a child gives one a certain rootedness of purpose and a sense of connection with other people. Female brains have many more connections between the two hemispheres than do male brains. Men tend to use the halves of the brain separately, and within each hemisphere they tend to use isolated centers. Women prefer to use the whole brain. They often arrive at the solution to a problem faster than a man would but have trouble analyzing the steps they took to solve the problem. Men therefore suspect that women have a mysterious “intuition,” especially when it comes to understanding social relationships. On the other hand, my wife always marvels that I can at the same time drive the car, listen to the radio, read a map, and (usually) tune out the pandemonium in the back seat. Men suffer far more from schizophrenia than women, and also far more from autism. In autism, the hemispheres have fewer connections than normal. The children (mostly boys) tend to engage in behavior that is exaggeratedly male: they are often geniuses at math (as in The Rain Man) and at music; they have trouble communicating with other people to the point that they withdraw into their own world; and they engage in ritualized and often self-destructive behavior.

Men love the law and ritual. Secret handshakes, funny clothes, military drill, all appeal to some deep yearning in the male heart. The yearning is for an order that will keep the energies of the personality from flying apart. Maryland has begun a boot camp for non-violent offenders (for men only, of course; who would ever suggest such a camp for the few women in prison?). They are taken out of the regular prison, and for six months go through a program closely modeled on Marine basic training. They rise at 5 A.M. and follow a strict routine throughout the day; they answer “yes, sir” and “no, sir”; they march around; they go through grueling physical regimens. They are taught how to endure, how to be responsible, and how to be men.

Men have to be taught how to be men. The male human animal has all the biologically-based masculine tendencies, but he has to be taught to be a man. Only a man can teach another male how to be a man. The teaching can be more or less explicit, but it has to be done. Illegitimacy is prevalent among blacks; nationwide over half of black children live only with their mother, and in some depressed areas over 90 percent of the children do not have a resident father. As George Gilder noted in Men and Marriage, the mother doesn’t need a husband, an undependable and sometimes obnoxious male. She has welfare and can boot the man out. The men remain infantile and compete with their own children for the attention and affection of the matriarch of the family.

For these reasons, the Detroit chief of police was horrified when he realized that black boys in his city were growing up without once meeting a responsible adult male. The proposed schools for black boys were to have black male teachers.

In fact, in the studies that have been done on similar experiments with kindergartens, what helps boys view school positively is not the blackness but the maleness of their teachers.

Blacks have noticed that African traditional societies have elaborate rituals that help boys become men. These are the rites du passage that anthropologists have discovered in all traditional societies. In fact, a traditional society can probably not survive without them. It would be destroyed by the aggressiveness of its unassimilated males, or the men would never learn to accept responsibility. American blacks have tried to revive these rites in an urban setting. The new rites involve symbolic actions, such as drinking something sweet and then something so bitter it almost induces vomiting, but more importantly they involve men taking boys aside and talking to them seriously about drugs, sex, crime, and work. The boys seem to take to this. They will fast three days in preparation for these rites.

Our society is not a traditional society but a modern one. Suitable rites of passage are not prescribed, but must be discovered by every individual or group. In the rite of passage, the boy leaves normal life and faces the alien and the dangerous. He is scarred either emotionally or physically by the experience, but this suffering connects him with the rest of the world by giving him a sense of sympathy with all that is mortal. He realizes that he has a responsibility to use his strength in the service of the community. Only the initiated hero can become a king— the theme of Robert Bly’s ridiculed but perceptive Iron John. Military training and war have changed many boys into men. In peacetime, there are other avenues: travel to alien places; exhausting entrepreneurship; even body-building, as Sam Fussell discovered in Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder, in which the 98-pound¬weakling Oxford graduate descends into the ersatz rites of passage of the gym rat. But young men in our society find far more destructive substitutes than this for a true rite of passage: drugs, crime, homosexuality.

We aren’t a tribal society. William F. Buckley thinks that quasi-compulsory national service is a good rite of passage, but the Constitution, which frowns upon indentured servitude, and American individualism are in the way. In any case, girls don’t need it. America still has some tribes. Groups that have a religious basis for their identity are in the best position to acculturate their young men. The Orthodox Jews seem to do an excellent job of it in urban society, and the Amish in a rural one. Mainline liberal churches and many conservative ones have long ago given up on men. Frances Trollope claims in Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832) “I never saw, or read of, any country where religion has so strong a hold upon the women, or a slighter hold upon the men.” Things haven’t changed. In some black churches, the congregations are 90 percent women. Even among evangelical Protestants, Christianity Today, for example, has largely gone over to the feminists, who have restyled themselves “egalitarians.”

Churches confident they have a way of life to transmit might study the different ways that societies have initiated their young men—puberty rites, baptism and confirmation, the monastic novitiate—and develop ways of helping boys turn into men. Is this effort really necessary? Why do almost all societies make such a hoopla about this process? Why is it necessary to kill a lion single-handed (Masai, Africa) or survive basic training (Marines, USA) to become a man?

Men are tempted to escape responsibility and to regress to infantile dependence. Societies must prevent men from doing this by threatening them with a fate worse than death: the loss of sexual identity. Men, it is true, must nurture, but they must do it as men. Anthropologist David D. Gilmore writes in Nature that men “do it by shedding their blood, their sweat, their semen; by bringing food home, by producing children, or dying if necessary in faraway places to provide security for their family.” The institutions that help men follow this pattern will command respect and loyalty. The military has been the best thing to happen in America to blacks. Colin Powell is no token.

Black men who know how hard it is to grow up black and male should emphasize the common problems that black and white (and yellow and red) boys have in growing up. If they do this, they will get a sympathetic ear from the white power establishment, many of whom are fathers and have their own worries about their sons. While waiting in a courthouse once, I overheard two attorneys talking. Their talk wasn’t about the case they were waiting to try, but about a news item. A 20-year-old had broken into an isolated home. He was armed, and was killed in the chase and shootout that ensued. He was white, and the son of a prominent attorney who had died several years before, leaving him to go through adolescence without a father. Their voices reflected their anguish about him and their fears about their own young sons. It could happen to anyone. It has happened (by no action of theirs) to millions of black boys. The federal government can’t raise them, but it can at least not stop others from trying.

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Dr. Leon Podles is the author of two books including Sacrilege, an in-depth look at sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. His writing has also appeared in numerous publications

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