Endangered species? Don't look at me

WILEY A. HALL

July 27, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

"I don't think I like being called 'an endangered species,' " complained my friend Will B. Humble the other day. "That's like calling me a dumb animal. It's like calling me a dodo bird or a buffalo. I'm not an animal and I'm not dumb."

We had been listening to a news report on the findings of the Governor's Commission on Black Males. That commission held public hearings throughout the state. It pored over reams of data. It considered testimony from experts. And after three years of study, the commission concluded that "the African American male is slowly but surely becoming an endangered species."

"You're taking the term the wrong way," I said to Humble. "The governor's commission is just trying to call attention to the plight of the black male."

"There! You see? That's what I'm talking about," Humble said. "What plight? You make it sound as though black men are a breed apart from everybody else."

Well, as nice as it would be to think otherwise, I am afraid the commission is saying exactly that -- black men are a breed apart.

According to the commission, black men are sicker, poorer and more emotionally confused than any other group in our society. Black men are more likely to be unemployed or in prison. They do the worst in school. They are less willing or able to care for their children.

The commission divided itself into four sub-groups: health, education, employment/economic development, and criminal justice. And in each category, the condition of black men was found to be imperiled.

All told, the commission painted a pathetic portrait: not of poor black men, or of unemployed black men, or of black men who are addicted to drugs or alcohol -- but of black men in general.

The panel called upon the state to establish a permanent Commission on Black Males and incorporate it into the state charter. It called for "an end to business as usual" with regard to the way black males are educated, trained, employed, treated by the criminal justice system, and portrayed by the media.

"The condition of African American males in Maryland is directly related to an erosion of their self-esteem," it said in its final report.

"This erosion is the result of a long history of exclusion from the larger society. Low self-esteem begins and perpetuates an attitude of despair which produces what is often called the 'dark dungeon of the mind.' Until some meaningful corrective action is taken, this problem will continue to manifest itself in ways that are damaging to the African American male, his community, and the state."

Noting Humble's reaction, I said, "I sense a certain degree of denial here. Maybe you're just unwilling to confront the truth. After all, stats are stats."

"Do you feel endangered?" demanded my friend.

"No," I said. "Not really."

"Neither do I," said Humble grimly. "I mean, I'm not saying times aren't tough. But times are tough for everybody. I figure I'll survive just the same as everyone else."

"You're saying there have been too many studies of black pathology?"

"I'm saying I don't like being singled out unless there's an awfully good reason," said Humble. "If I'm unemployed, my problems probably are similar to anyone else who's unemployed. If I'm a working man struggling to make ends meet, then lump me in with other working men struggling to make ends meet. If I'm a cold-blooded killer, then put me in that category. Don't treat black men like some freak animal that is so stupid they are about to become extinct."

"What about the legacy of segregation and discrimination?" I asked.

"Well, if black men are discriminated against, we ought to be studying the people who're doing the discriminating," said Humble vehemently. "They're the freaks, not me."

I sighed. "For the most part, I guess you're right, Humble. But the commission did say that black men have a particular problem with low self-esteem."

Humble sighed too. "Well, they might have a point there," he agreed. "Every time one of these commissions puts out a study of messed-up black men, my self-esteem gets shakier and shakier. But the solution is easy: no more studies."

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