I do not like the mayor's announced "Young Men's Initiative" -- a $127-million "public-private partnership" that throws big bucks at rescuing black and Latino males, they who are disproportionately in lockup in the state's prisons, dropouts from its schools, and unemployable because of their felony convictions, indolence or lack of a high school diploma, according to Bloomberg and his billionaire enabler George Soros.
How can anyone be "against" helping the disadvantaged and the lowest among the blacks and Hispanics -- those very young men who disgrace themselves and who -- disproportionate to other ethnic groups -- father children out of wedlock? Simple: I loathe stereotypes and I don't like the race and sex cast of the Initiative; it skews the complexity of the social problems that have a disparate impact on minorities of both sexes.
In these hard times especially, when our nation is gripped by unemployment nearing depression levels, in which Americans of every ethnicity are poorer, disadvantaged by homelessness and joblessness -- including many veterans of the armed forces -- this is the wrong lens and approach for the nation's focus and attention. (One could argue that veterans -- and their families -- because of their extraordinary sacrifice, "time out" of and disadvantages in the job market, more deserve affirmative governmental programs and special assistance at job placement over the lowlifes of their so-called race. Our vets do not, for instance, need moral instruction or lecturing in the guise of mentoring. They, of all colors, need jobs, and housing, and higher education).
Mayor Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative underplays this dire nationwide economic distress which has so many minorities unemployed, and underemployed and ensnared in poverty -- including minority women and young girls who aren't eligible for the Young Men's Initiative's paid internships, job training, and mentoring. No doubt, minorities are disproportionately in lockup -- but that is, in part, because of the vestiges of racial discrimination in the form of outmoded law enforcement policies that punish victimless drug offenses -- the kind that has always provided an underground job industry to the underclass and undereducated. In actuality, however, there is no color of crime -- except Mayor Bloomberg in his color-blindness is nonetheless in denial because he doesn't consider the racial impact of NYPD's "stop and frisk" practices on young minority males -- whose profiling by police is legion and fits the stereotype of "criminal."
I also don't get the mayor's resolve to have the public schools chancellor track black and Latino males in schools -- and study them as if they're guinea pigs for tips about ways to raise their academic achievement and self-esteem. According to the mayor, all-male academies should provide strong clues for assessing educational strategies. Some of them may do that, some won't -- but these academies aren't to be judged as "working" or failing on the premise that they enroll and serve an all-male minority student body. Indeed, there is no social science evidence to support any notion that all-male academies per se are the models for academic success much less excellence. Even if there was, it would be unprecedented and unwise public policy for such a separatist governmental approach to the schooling of "at risk" minority males.
Studying black and Latino men is plain stupid. And the misguided emphasis on their moral instruction by special tutoring and targeted efforts at job training and paid internships is only exacerbated by approaches at "mentoring" them in life skills -- that is, casting a long shadow on and blaming black and Latino men singularly for siring children out of wedlock. It takes two to tango; moreover, a beleaguered community of whatever ethnicity is not at fault for the mistakes of a couple who don't use caution when having sex or who intentionally look to having babies for their self-esteem.
Mainly, I am opposed to this Young Men's scheme because the black and Latino community is dis-served by good-intentioned paternalism -- such strategies for addressing the racial gap between non-whites and their peers are doomed to fail because they are trying to sell hope through charity and group blame. Noblesse oblige is not a program of social change; it won't make the public schools functional or improve instruction or for that matter train a single person for real jobs. Noblesse oblige is pure and simple charity -- that takes the form of handouts and differential treatment of people of color from others similarly situated in conditions of poverty and despair. This noblesse wittingly or unwittingly overlook the underlying causes of why so many minorities are involved with the criminal justice system, drop out of school, and can't find work. At the heart of this missionary zeal is what scholar Theodore Cross describes as "the human desire to rescue the life of a less fortunate person" which "produces, it seems, a parallel need to defame the character of the victim who is often said to be unable to help himself." Stout-hearted liberals can't seem to help themselves when it comes to defaming black people. Blacks, historically, have been regarded as "the white man's burden."
So, I strongly disagree with this the so-called "black male problem" analysis. It is akin to how pseudo-scholars and scientific racists used to study and discuss "the Negro problem" -- or, as some put it, "the problem of 'the Negro.'" The reasons for the racial gap through the looking glass of racial and sex stereotype and prejudice has always been distorted by myopic focus on the skin color of miscreants within the black community. Single-parent households, overcrowded prisons, and failing public schools must be addressed and remedied for what they are, big problems -- but not through gimmickry, and not through defining social distress as a "black male problem."
Crime has no color -- as my mentor Roy Wilklns of the NAACP used to say: "A punk is a punk"; and I will add that low-lifes who are career criminals, who commit violent felonies, belong in prison -- rather than placed ahead of the long line for employment training and scarce jobs. They aren't that vast an underclass -- in fact, the career violent criminals represent a tiny portion of the black, Latino and American community -- a segment with which I neither identify nor would coddle.
The jobs and mentoring and paid internships and better schooling efforts should be focused on the young people who are breaking the patterns of dysfunction, who are staying in school, using the library, working part-time, who are achieving despite the odds of their ghettoization and impoverishment. In this regard there are also many poor Asians and poor whites, and girls and young women, too, of all colors and ethnicity, who are struggling and deserve a helping hand -- and their exclusion from the city's Young Men's Initiative is not only troubling, it is wrong -- and discriminatory in ways that are very likely a violation of federal and state civil rights laws.
Michael Meyers is Executive Director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition.
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