Black Men Are Not An Endangered Species
Back in 1995 I was in a restaurant when I overheard a conversation between two very intelligent, well dressed, well spoken, professional black men. They were having a conversation about how difficult it was being a black man in America and they were actually talking about the eradication of black men from America. After listening to their conversation for a few moments I decided to approach them and ask if they truly believed what they were saying. I walked up to their table, apologized for eavesdropping, and then asked, “do you really believe everything you were just saying?” One of the men looked at me angrily and said: “you damn right! Don’t you watch the news? I believe in 20 years all black men will either be dead, or in jail!”
I was shocked! It wasn’t what he said that shocked me, it was the way he said it. I could feel the anger and powerlessness in his voice. I could sense his feeling of hopelessness and feeling like a victim of society. As I listened to him, I felt a deep sense of compassion and wanted to tell him that I completely disagreed with his statement and there was no possibility black men could be eradicated for America, but I knew there was nothing I could have said that would have changed his mind, so I simply placed my hand on his shoulder and said: “Don’t believe the hype my brother, don’t believe the hype!” and I walked away.
As I walked away, there was a part of me that said “you have to do something. You have to do something to change the mindset of black men in America.” But who was I to do something? At the time, my life was in total chaos. I had gone through a divorce, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and depression. How could I do something? Or more importantly, what could I do?
After a few years, I was able to rebuild my life. I had been on an amazing journey of transformation in which I had read literally hundreds of books and participated in several workshops and seminars dealing with personal growth and development. As a result, I was genuinely happy with my life and I was extremely grateful and proud of the fact I had overcome so many obstacles in my life. One evening I was reflecting back over that journey when I remembered the conversation I had with the men in the restaurant. Then it hit me! I knew what I was supposed to do to help change the mindset of black men in America. I decided to write a book. In the book I would share how I overcame being a high school dropout and being homeless for two years living out of my car, in addition to the other adversities I mentioned earlier.
I wrote a book titled: Brothers Are You Listening? A Success Guide For The 90’s. The intention was to empower black men to live extraordinary lives and it was the answer to my question about what I could do to help change the mindset of black men in America.
It’s been more than 25 years since I overheard the conversation in the restaurant, and since then, I have written a total of nine books, hosted several online summits, been featured in numerous publications, and even been featured on television numerous times. I’ve accomplished all of this with no formal educational training or degrees and definitely no special privileges. My story confirms what I’ve always believed, “every black man is capable of creating an extraordinary life.”
So, what can be done to support black men in creating extraordinary lives? First of all, we must change the inner narrative a lot of black men have about themselves based on negative media generated stereotypes. It is important for us to see ourselves as men who happen to be black, not just black men. This does not deny our ethnicity, it affirms our humanity. Mainstream media has always perpetuated the idea that black men are somehow different (and in most cases inferior) and therefore in our attempt to refute these claims, we defend our race and culture by focusing all of our attention on our blackness. Being proud of our ethnicity and culture is important and in no way am I suggesting in any way to not be proud to be a black man, but in order to create extraordinary lives we must acknowledge that our ethnicity has little to do with how successful we can become. Our success comes from our willingness to embrace science, spirituality, emotional healing, and personal development. These things transcend race and ethnicity and gets to the heart and soul of who we are as human beings.
We must be willing to begin asking ourselves deeper philosophical and existential questions like “who am I, and why am I here?” These questions also transcend race, and when we can answer them, our lives can become extraordinary.
Of course it’s important to understand the role the media plays in how black men see themselves and also how the rest of the world sees us. Think back to the men in the restaurant? How and why did they conclude that black men were going to be eradicated from society? They accepted a media generated stereotype that black men are an endangered species. We are constantly portrayed in the media in such a way that it’s no wonder some black men believe they are endangered. We see stories of black men being disproportionately killed by police which in and of itself is reason to believe black men are under attack. Then there are the stories of high incarceration rates which have some validity yet they do not address the real reason black men are disproportionately incarcerated. It is this constant barrage of negative news stories about black men that drive this narrative that black men are on the verge of extinction.
In addition to mainstream media, collectively, black organizations are partly to blame and must also acknowledge how they have contributed to this narrative. It began back in the 70’s when black organizations were soliciting funding for programs targeted to black men. By highlighting statistics that justified the need for funding, these organizations compiled an over exaggerated narrative about the plight of black males in order to secure funding for their organizations. Although it was unintentional, this strategy for nonprofits to raise money to support black men in some ways actually hurt black men by perpetuating the narrative of black men being endangered.
So where do we go from here?
It is my fervent belief that black men are positioned to experience unprecedented levels of success in America today. No matter which segment of society you look into you will always find black male presence. Black men are chemists, professors, astrophysicists, engineers, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, artists, computer programmers, dentists, CEO’s, psychologists, teachers, and even president of the United States. Therefore, we must reject the media generated narrative that there is a shortage of black male role models. In the history of this country, there has never been a shortage of black male role models, there has always been a lack of exposure of those role models through mainstream media. But now it is incumbent upon us to ensure black males are exposed to positive black male role models, and more importantly, it is up to us to become positive male role models that our black men want to emulate. We must let our black men know that we are capable of much more than just singing, dancing, and playing sports and we must focus our attention on being better husbands, better fathers, better lovers, and better friends.
Now more than ever, black men need reasons for hope and optimism and it begins with our willingness to accept the fact that black men are not an endangered species and we are capable of creating extraordinary lives.
Join the movement and shatter the stereotypes!
Coach Michael Taylor is the author of Shattering Black Male Stereotypes and the host of the Shatter The Stereotypes Empowerment Summit