Dear Academia: Stop Telling Me that Black Boys Are Not Important

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by Dr. Boyce Watkins

This week, I sat on a Congressional Black Caucus panel for the Janks Morton film “Hoodwinked,” starring myself, along with Marc Lamont Hill, Jawanza Kunjufu, Steve Perry and Ivory Toldson.   One of the men on the panel was Dr. Bryant Marks of Morehouse College, a highly-respected scholar who focuses on the success of African American males in his research.

Professor Marks and I had a brief conversation before the panel about the state of black males in America.   One of the other parties to the conversation was John Wilson, the head of President Obama’s initiative on HBCUs. John is a likeable person, and it is my greatest hope that all he said about the president’s commitment to HBCUs was real talk and not just political spin.  Others, such as Professor Darrell Issa, who claims he might be sent to prison by Joe Biden’s son for a peaceful protest at Delaware State, seem to have concerns about the future of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

I envy Dr. Marks, for he has the great honor of educating black men at the greatest generator of black male achievement in the history of the United States.  Morehouse College is second-to-none when it comes to helping our men stake claim to their greatness, humanity and personal power.  You can always tell a Morehouse man when you see one, for he has been built to be a special breed.  Unlike many black students at predominantly white institutions, the Morehouse man is not made to believe that he has to overcome second-class citizenship in order to be respected as a human being.   In many cases, he is built for leadership.

After speaking about my visit to Morehouse that we’ve planned for October 8th, Dr. Marks and I also talked about the fact that many black scholars feel that they almost have to apologize for doing research that focuses on black men.  At white universities, you are typically told that this kind of work is not of significant scholarly importance or that you’re being too narrowly focused in a world that seems determined to believe that is has become sufficiently post-racial.   Black men have the highest unemployment, incarceration and homicide rates in the nation, and we are expected to act as if everything is normal.  To hell with that….our families cannot survive if our future heads of households are having their futures murdered in broad daylight.

One of the reasons I fought so much with my colleagues at Syracuse University is because I was told that my advocacy for black men made me something less of a legitimate scholar than my colleagues.  If I was on CNN talking about black males, there would be no mention of it, even though my colleagues would get accolades for appearing in the local news.  Of course it was easy to ignore the criticism, since I was trained by some of the best scholars in the world in my field and determined to bring my expertise back to my community.  Also, the fact that my business school has not tenured one single black finance professor in over 100 years of existence speaks to the awesome wall of blinding racial inequality that had been built over several decades.  In other words, racism makes people stupid.

Dr. Marks and I came to the same conclusion when it comes to studying black men:  Our boys and men are important and we don’t have to apologize for a damn thing.  We are the husbands, fathers and leaders of our community, and it is critical that we do all we can as scholars to build and equip as many black intellectual warriors as we possibly can.  I see brilliant black men in all walks of life, who’ve been convinced that their intelligence should be used to bust rhymes, throw a football or convert grams to ounces.  So, our unharnessed power is everywhere, and all black parents, scholars and mentors are called to the front lines in the battle to save our children.

Also, black women are a critical part of this fight as well.  Mothers are often the first teachers of a child, and also a woman’s ability to find an adequate husband is largely determined by whether we raise our boys to be responsible men or a pack of reckless “baby daddies.”  As Frederick Douglass once said, “It’s easier to build strong boys than to repair broken men.” So, the protection of our cultural ecosystem is highly contingent upon all of us being committed to raising our children to be strong, responsible, intelligent and productive.  We are all in this game together.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. He also appears in the Janks Morton film “Hoodwinked.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.


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