Archive for May, 2012

MANHOOD IN THE 21st CENTURY

May 30, 2012

When I was a young man, black folk were finding out a lot about Afrika and Afrikan customs.  I discovered, through my studies, that young Afrikan boys, at a certain age, were segregated from the women and girls and were forced to engage in ‘rites of passage’ that would graduate them from boys to men!

Notions of hunting a lion or leopard assaulted my young brain in an idyllic way.  That knowledge of Afrikan rites of passage helped me assume the posture of an “urban warrior”.  I came to view the training provided by my father, with the help of my older brother, as guidance in my path to manhood.  Like traditional cultures, by 13, I was acknowledged by my father for my budding manhood.  I was encouraged to assert myself, as long as I was not disrespectful to my parents or other elders.    The penalties for being too full of myself were undefined but I knew they might be severe and could have included my untimely death at the hands of enraged parents!  My father’s mentoring propelled me forward and caused me to abandoned any fears that might inhibit my desire to  interact with other men.  The world revealed itself to me as something to embrace and not to disparage.

In the sixties and early seventies, pride and ethnicity and pride in one’s ethnicity were burgeoning themes among Blacks, Latinos and other non whites in this country.  That ethnic awareness brought with it very macho notions of manhood and the delineation of family structure.

The ‘powers that be’ were threatened by the positive ethnic assertions that also promulgated civil unrest and demands for greater access to American dreams..

Here in Detroit, after the “Great Insurrection of 1967” dope houses selling heroine sprang up in virtually every neighborhood in the City.  Crime rose exponentially with the increase of heroine use in the hood.  Men and women, who were once proud of their roles in their given communities became slaves to brown powder.  They pandered themselves as they abdicated their roles in the family dynamic and the community at large.

By 1970, the “Free Love, Do Your Own Thang Movement” was in full swing.   The movement brought with it marijuana, mood altering drugs, rampant promiscuity, communal living and the unintended dismantling of the nuclear family.

It is not my intent to do a sociological treatise on the perversion of American Society or the erosion of the nuclear family, but I would be remiss if I did not identify what I believe are factors that have contributed to some of the current social trends in our culture.  The subject of this blog is the net effect of all of the changes we have endured, since the early sixties.

I learned at the University that as deviant behaviors (actions and activities outside of what is considered mainstream) become more widely practiced, those behaviors are incorporated into what then becomes considered mainstream behavior.

In 1950, nuclear families consisted of a man, his wife and their progeny.  Sixty years later, most households with children are female dominated, white females have the most pregnancies out-of-wedlock, over 50% of all legal marriages end in divorce and more so-called minority children are born in this country than white children.  Same sex marriage and marriage between people of different races are no longer illegal.  Medical marijuana is sold in many states despite federal regulations that prohibit its use and sale and prescription drug abuse is the prevalent form of addiction in the United States.

Times have changed.  Life is far more complex than it was when I was a young boy.  I found out about sex from reading my father’s Playboys.  One time I got hold of a Tijuana Bible.  I watched an 8mm black and white pornographic movie one time.  There were however easily accessible references that provided instruction about sex that I could obtain by typing in a few words on a keyboard.  I did not have access to pornography on a disc in a player or the ability to watch people having sex on cable television.

Puberty was confusing but I was able to figure out how to proceed with on the job training!  I was not confused by irresponsible media, as to what I should or should not do.  That is NOT the case in the twenty-first century.

I found this image on the internet on a social media site.  It disturbed me on many many levels.  I encountered a kid like this on Woodward Avenue, in midtown Detroit,  a few years ago, as I was waiting for the bus to go downtown.  I was struck by his overtly feminine attitude because it seemed to be a parody of what women actually do!

Back in the day, there were effeminate men but most of them attempted to keep a relatively low public profile.  It seems today that there is no taboo associated with displaying an effeminate affect, in fact, there are younger men that seem to take great pride in being overly demonstrative about their sexual preferences, in public venues.  It has become trendy to shock old skool fools like me and behave outlandishly in public.

I was seated next to three young black men at the bar at Fishbones in Greek Town last summer.  The fembot sitting closest to me was almost screaming, in an effort be heard above the other conversations and the televisions, at the bar.  He seemed determine to describe his most recent sexual exploit to everyone at the bar!

The movement toward a more feminized posture has moved well beyond sexual ambiguity. Once relegated to musical stages in the seventies and metro sexuality in the eighties and nineties, outlandish gender bending seems to be en vogue.  New Age media has positioned effeminate men, macho women, transgendered individuals, geeks and nerdy personas as preferred personality types.  Heterosexuals are viewed with a degree of contempt on television and in the movies often the brunt of jokes or constantly engaged in buffoonery.  Times have changed.

To Be Or Not To Be.  I may be wrong but there are people – mainly men that are “threatened” by men who feminize their appearance –  who react violently when they encounter these fembots in public.  I don’t condone homophobia or assault.  Personally, I think men that assault feminine men have sexual issues and are secretly attracted to the men they assault.  I wonder out loud: what is the payoff for men to parade around in skinny jeans and makeup at the risk of an ass kicking by other men or social ridicule by people in their neighborhoods or by their families?  Call me crazy but I see a lot of this conduct as a cry for help.

I don’t have a lot of one on one contact with men between the ages of 20 to 35.  Most of the information I obtain about them is anecdotal; coming from women within those ages, from their parents and the media.  Or as I noted, I encounter them on the street or in social situations.  I discount a lot of the ‘character studies’ that come from the media because the media’s proclivity for dramatic delivery.  The feedback from women and family members is subjective but very consistent in terms of what they are reporting about men in that age group.  I know men of  my age group whom I consider my peers and can compare how we behave as a group as opposed to our sons and grandsons.

What I see in the community at large makes me afraid.  I encounter hyper macho young men that feel like the best way to express their manhood is to denigrate womanhood and adopt a predatory approach to other men and the community.  I see a lot of young men developing a stereotypical view of life of the streets that is mainly derived from the media via hip hop and from loose confederations of other young men.  I’m certain that their behavior is a direct result of their severely dysfunctional home lives and limited access to positive male role models.

How do I know this?  I tutored young men for several years in the Partnership in Education through the Michigan Department of Education and more recently managed a case load with adolescents applying for disability benefits with the Disability Program for the Social Security Administration.  I have had a lot of contact with at risk youth from the ages of about 8 to 18.  The population of “at risk youth”  is growing exponentially in American communities.  Even the ‘best and the brightest’ feel obligated to engage in some degree of thuggery to be accepted in their respective communities and many times take those exploits to far.

Time and experience have taught me that if you don’t reach boys by the time they reach puberty they are almost impossible to manage if they have a history of problematic behaviors.  And trust, the juvenile justice system is about containment not rehabilitation.  After the second or third incarceration, there is little hope that a man-child will become a responsible productive citizen.

One need only turn on the news to hear about young men murdering women who refuse to continue to go out with them or when their women get pregnant by them and the fools don’t want more children or they murder their wives during a dispute or after the women ask for a divorce or they murder their parents because of minor disagreements or drug use or gang affiliation.

In this day and age, blacks make up 50% of the population in this country that die a violent death.  Even sadder is the fact that 93% of the perpetrators of those murders are black.  We as a people have cried racism each time a white person kills a person of color but remain silent about the atrocities we as blacks commit against one another.

Too many young men are dying and many more are being incarcerated.  These issues do not bode well for the future of American society.  If we (as in every person over the age of consent) are to stabilize life in the community by reducing crime, incarceration rates and deaths by violence, men like me (grandfathers) and men with young children (fathers) have to make a conscious effort to effect change in our communities by being the best parents that we can be and by being leaders in the community; by reclaiming our status as warriors.  We all have ideas about what being a warrior is because we all watch public television.

The hard part of our charge is doing what we know we should be doing by changing how we comport ourselves.   Society has reached critical mass.  If we as men do not assert our roles in our given communities we will not have any impacts on outcomes.  And we will have no one else to blame.