Friday, June 02, 2006


Visible Men

The Washington Post begins a year-long series on what it means to be a black man in America:

Being a black man in America can mean inhabiting a border area between possibility and peril, to feel connected to, defined by, even responsible for each of those boys -- and for other black men. In dozens of interviews, black men described their shared existence, of sometimes wondering whether their accomplishments will be treated as anomalies, their individuality obscured by the narrow images that linger in the minds of others.

This unique bond, which National Urban League President Marc Morial calls "the kinship of the species," is driving many black men to focus renewed attention on the portrait of achievement and failure that hangs over the next generation. A recent spate of scholarly studies have brought urgency to the introspection, as the studies show the condition of poor, young black men has worsened in the past decade despite the generally strong economic conditions of the 1990s.

Black men now number 18 million, and many are pondering their roles in a country that is undergoing significant social and demographic changes.

In the coming weeks and months, The Washington Post will explore the lives of black men through their experiences -- how they raise their sons, cope with wrongful imprisonment, navigate the perceived terrain between smart and cool, defy convention against the backdrop of racial expectations. On Sunday, The Post will publish the findings of a major poll conducted jointly with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University. The nationwide survey measured the attitudes of black men on a variety of issues and asked others for their views of black men.

More than 50 years after the publication of Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," black men appear more visible than ever -- a freshman senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, is the American Idol of national politics, and Will Smith is perhaps the most bankable star in Hollywood. Yet black men who put their kids through college by mopping floors, who sit at home reading Tennyson at night, who wear dreadlocks but design spacecraft, say it sometimes seems as if the world doesn't believe they exist.
This could be an interesting series. However, I am always somewhat wary about these "under-the-microscope" journalistic studies. It almost adds to the stereotype that blacks -- men in particular -- are still really some outside-the-norm problem or, in Marc Morial's rather awful phrasing, a separate "species."

Maybe this will be a rather informative approach that can do some lasting good.

At this point though, "color" me skeptical.

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