WASHINGTON -- At a three-day conference here, a cross section of black America's leadership worked through its second day yesterday of dealing with what it regards as a national crisis: the deteriorating state of young black American men -- an "endangered species," as they have been called.
At the same time, the leaders have been issuing alerts and warnings against the use of their discussions of the problems of young black males as justification for racially biased, "knee-jerk" stereotypes of all black American men.
Before the group, the 21st Century Commission on African-American Males, began its discussions Tuesday, the commission's designated "resident scholar," Douglas Glasgow, a former vice president of the National Urban League, warned that "a literal battery of myth stereotypes have replaced reality about the African American male."
"The true picture of the African American male still today remains an enigma," Mr. Glasgow said. "No population segment in our nation has attracted such wide attention and yet remains so poorly known [and so] misunderstood."
On Monday, some black leaders, offered the forum of a U.S. Senate committee hearing, warned that the problems of young black males were being used to reinforce stereotypes of black men as dangerous and dumb.
"You see us as less than you are," Clifford L. Alexander, a black lawyer who was secretary of the Army in the Carter administration, told the Senate Banking and Urban Affairs Committee. "You think that we are not as smart, not as energetic, not as well suited to supervise you as you are to supervise us.
"And yes," Mr. Alexander added, "if you see a black man, you think that you had better cross the street before something bad happens to you."
A transcript of the testimony of Mr. Alexander, who is also a former chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, became one of the most popular documents distributed later in the week at the commission conference.
Against this background, the commission has been considering recommendations for national policy papers in the areas of employment, health care, drug abuse, education and family life. The commission's aim is eventually to bring thousands of young black males, isolated by their communities, the law and their own alienation, back into the fold. Possibly the words heard more often at this conference than any others have been "family" and "home."
Although the conference will end today, it is expected to be several months before a final policy paper, including legislative proposals, is issued.