African American males are confronted with a plethora of challenges. However, being black and male is not among them. Let me repeat: black males face many problems. Black males are not the problem.
We are not the problem. This simply stated truth is an important, powerful, and even revolutionary distinction to make, even as black males are faced with obstacles—including a school-to-prison pipeline designed to profit from criminalization and incarceration, not education and employment—that consistently stack the odds against us. In too many circles, and especially in the mainstream media, black men are either ignored, or alternately blamed and pitied for being the problem. Show me a black male, of any age, who believes that self-defeating notion and I will show you one both destined and determined to live out that belief.
When it comes to public and media attention, with rare exception, only the following black men are consistently portrayed: athletes, entertainers (usually singers or rappers, though sometimes actors), victims, criminals (actual or suspected), or some combination of these. There are the obvious exceptions (President Obama, of course), but beyond that, we are invisible. As a result, to be black and male is too often treated as a condition to be suffered, tolerated, and perhaps overcome, not a gift of identity worthy of celebration. Nothing could be further from the truth, which is why Black Enterprise remains committed to presenting the reality of African Americans, and of black males in particular—our issues and challenges, as well as our achievements and triumphs—while making the case that we are defined far more by the latter than the former, despite the assassination of our collective character and distortions of our image by the mainstream media.
Today, Black Enterprise remains the only media company that consistently showcases the achievements of black men beyond (though including) the minority of us who run, jump and score, rap and sing, appear in mug shots, and unsuccessfully dodge bullets fired by police and each other. To be clear, we do not shy away from the tough realities of being black and male in this country, such as the killings of unarmed men that inspired the “Black Lives Matter” movement (a topic I’ve also addressed in this column) and a substandard education system that leaves too many black males with few options and even fewer hopes. We apply our mission of solution-oriented media to these and other issues, in our magazine and on our television shows and website, as well as in live forums such as those presented via our BE Smart partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We will next address the subject via events such as our “Black Men Matter” Town Hall discussion at our 2015 Entrepreneurs Summit in Atlanta.
However, even as we wrestle with the difficult problems and harsh realities of being black and male and navigate unique external pressures that no other race or gender faces, we must emphasize that we are still responsible for setting the standard of our own behavior. And we must celebrate the entrepreneurs and scholars, the executives and professionals, the scientists and educators, the activists and innovators, the husbands and fathers—still largely invisible, even in 2015—who comprise the majority of African American men and the black male experience. In order for black males to overcome, we must tie our identities not to failure, problems, and obstacles, but to our achievements, goals, and limitless potential, and challenge the rest of the world to do so as well.
We are not the problem. The sooner that we accept and embrace this truth about black males, the sooner we can deal with and solve the real problems that present challenges not just to African Americans, but our entire nation.
Earl G. Graves Sr. is the Founder and Publisher of Black Enterprise.