Disappointed looking Black couple sitting down together looking off into the distance.
Cover Image © Motortion Films

My Black Perspective #22: Challenges

Finding elements to praise in Black Culture, as a Black person, is easy. It feels natural. Openly admitting the internal challenges that we face as a people can be… well… challenging. I say that because there always has to be some research done to determine which things are anecdotal stereotypes vs. facts supported by data.

The fact is, there are so many internal challenges facing Black America right now that you kind of have to do way more than a blog post to do them proper justice (if you’re trying to do a full explanation of things).

That said, I’m not going to attempt to write the gospel truth on Black People’s challenges and “things we SHOULD fix”. Instead, I’ll share a bit about some of the things I came across while researching for this post (in no particular order). The day just hasn’t been kind to me time-wise today, so I’d rather take that approach rather than come up short and end up making excuses for Black People in America. The goal is to speak honestly, not in totality.

Please keep in mind that this is referring to internal challenges Black People have as a culture these days. I feel like the posts I did earlier related to resources and money/ownership more than cover a number of our external challenges. That said, you won’t see things like Police Brutality listed in this post.

Black Americans’ Health

While I’m sure mental health is an issue with most Americans in general (haha), I’m specifically referring to things related to our leading causes of death. While looking around for some information on this one, I remembered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks causes of American deaths (broken out in a number of ways) at an annual level.

I jumped into their data set and came up with the following (this took a nice chunk of time out of my morning before work – LOL)…

Things to Keep in Mind:

  1. This is only about the top 10 leading causes of death for Black People.
  2. This includes all ages.
  3. The % are referring to % of the Top 10 causes, NOT % of all causes of death.

You can check out the PDF I put together for more details, but I’ve summarized the main takeaways in these 3 tables.

Tables showing information on the Top 10 Causes of Black People's deaths in America in 2009 and 2019 according to the CDC.

Cardiovascular issues have long been a known problem within the Black Community (diet and exercise, people) and America as a whole, but what really stood out to me was the presence of brain issues (e.g. Alzheimer’s and Dementia) for women and weapons/substance-related deaths for men. Keep in mind that the numbers I’m showing aren’t saying weapons/substances aren’t an issue for Black women — it’s just saying that it’s not in their Top 10 Causes of Death (if that makes sense).

I will do another post with this data set looking at all races one day (just because I find it interesting), but today we’ll focus on Black People.

While the Top 10 things for women are clearly in the realm of physiological issues, the fact that men are so impacted by weapons/substances brings me to the next challenge.

Black-on-Black Violence & Crime

This one has been around in public discussion since I was a child. And, depending on where you look – you’ll see stories about this either getting worse or getting better (meaning “lessening”).

Seeing weapon-related deaths and substance abuse hit in the top 10 causes of death for Black men was jarring (again, see the numbers in the PDF above). I say that because, from my perspective (qualifying with that), things were never THAT bad. Yes, Black People rob and kill people who look like them, but so does every other racial group in America. White People are more likely to harm other White People, same for Hispanic People and everyone else.

A lot of people still look at this one with suspicion as just another recirculation of an old racist stereotype, but after seeing the CDC numbers, it at least got me a little concerned. The CDC numbers don’t go into whether or not the weapon/substance-related deaths were Black-on-Black or not – so I’ll leave that for others to investigate further.

As I looked into that one, I did come across an interesting read in The Washington Post‘s “What the ‘black-on-black crime’ fallacy misses about race and gun deaths” from July 2020. I won’t spoil it for you, but it takes an interesting turn on what types of gun deaths get reported.

Young Black man being threatened with gun in the street by a robber or gang.

What I will say about my firsthand experience is this: I lost an older brother to gun violence at an early age. They never found his killer, so I don’t know if the shooter was Black – but I’d assume they were. I have seen Black People attack each other my entire life, so I don’t doubt the validity of this one. BUT — I’ve also heard of White People killing each other and seen them attacking each other my entire life.

I would need to see researched numbers from a credible source to actually believe that this one is REALLY a bigger issue for Black People than it is for anyone else – but it doesn’t negate the fact that it’s still a major issue for Black People. (I hope that makes sense.)

Family Structure

Another one that blurs the line between stereotype and fact, Black families have been a topic of social debate for a while now. I can attest that nearly all of my friends around my age who have kids are also happily married and raising their children with their significant other. I can also say that the majority of my family members fall in that boat. But… I grew up in a household with just my mom and me after she and my dad divorced when I was 10. A number of my good friends have similar stories.

I see single Black mothers all the time. Whether it’s total strangers out and about, or high school acquaintances (on Social Media) who I haven’t talked to in years. I can’t say that it’s the worst thing for a child to grow up in a single parent home (after all, I turned out fine) – but I partly feel it’s a little better if that kid does grow up seeing a solid family structure with two loving parents (I genuinely don’t if it’s same-sex parents or not — just putting that out there because I know that distinction matters for some).

Couple having an argument in the kitchen in front of their kids (who look disappointed and hurt).

I’ve seen stories here and there about the impacts of growing up in a single-parent home vs. not, but I didn’t bother to look t up for this one because of my own personal bias and experience. I can say that it would likely be EASIER financially on the single parent with a partner, but that’s as far as I’m willing to wade into those waters aside from recognizing this one.

K-12 Academic Performance

You can find a number of sources for figures about points of Black education in the U.S. – whether you’re talking K-12 or higher forms of education. Specifically, you’ll see a number of things about performance gaps between Black students and their White peers.

I want to focus on K-12 specifically because I feel like that’s where things start. Considering that is the foundation level that determines a lot – I think it’s worth exploring. To do so, I came across some “K-12 Disparity Facts and Statistics” reported by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). A number of them feel more “situational” in nature and don’t really blame performance on the students (e.g. Black students don’t have access to “x”, etc.) – but I’ve cherry-picked the ones that felt a little more semi-directed toward the student’s realm of control.

STATISTIC #5:

African American students are less likely to be college-ready. In fact, 61 percent of ACT-tested black students in the 2015 high school graduating class met none of the four ACT college readiness benchmarks, nearly twice the 31 percent rate for all students.

I understand that the purpose of Statistic #5 is to show that schools aren’t preparing Black students – but, as someone who was a Black high schooler who attended a predominately Black school at some point in time: I feel like at some point you, the student, have to take on the duty of putting in the hard work and striving to learn and prep for those standardized tests.

STATISTIC #6:

Black students spend less time in the classroom due to discipline, which further hinders their access to a quality education. Black students are nearly two times as likely to be suspended without educational services as white students. Black students are also 3.8 times as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as white students. In addition, black children represent 19 percent of the nation’s pre-school population, yet 47 percent of those receiving more than one out-of-school suspension. In comparison, white students represent 41 percent of pre-school enrollment but only 28 percent of those receiving more than one out-of-school suspension. Even more troubling, black students are 2.3 times as likely to receive a referral to law enforcement or be subject to a school-related arrest as white students.

I realize that the point of Statistic #6 is to show evidence of disproportionately enforcing disciplinary policies, but then I think about all of the bad kids that I went to school with. I also think about how on some occasions, I WAS THAT BAD KID. I look back on some points of my old classroom behavior and I just feel bad. Like – I’d apologize to some of those teachers if I actually still knew how to contact them.

Laughing bully teenage boy laughing on dark background.

There’s a lot in this one. Does the disproportionate application of discipline exist? Likely, yes. Does some bit of self-control need to come into place here? Yes. Should the parents take on a little bit more duty to raise their kids to not be the bad kid that I was at times (sorry, Mom)? Yes. Still – the student isn’t blameless in these scenarios.

STATISTIC #9:

In 2015, the average reading score for white students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 4th and 8th grade exam was 26 points higher than black students. Similar gaps are apparent in math. The 12th grade assessment also show alarming disparities as well, with only seven percent of black students performing at or above proficient on the math exam in 2015, compared to 32 percent white students.

Lastly, Statistic #9 is tied to some other stats in the source (numbers 3 & 4) that points out how students are located in schools with less qualified teachers and/or teachers with bias lower expectations for Black students. This sucks, and it may be true — but I also don’t see students as blameless here.

I am not bringing up any of this as an outsider.

I am not finger-wagging and saying these kids need to tighten up.

But, I am saying that I know what it’s like to be a student. I went to a predominately Black school, but it was also considered a GOOD school for Black students to attend (Lincoln College Preparatory Academy). It wasn’t a private school or anything, but I was lucky to attend that school. Still, I had friends who attended other schools and they owned their learning experience the same as I eventually learned to do. Students will come from all kinds of circumstances and be exposed to any variation of resources, but I just don’t think a human can entirely blame those factors on WHY they aren’t learning the subject matter.

That is just my opinion. I could be ENTIRELY incorrect. Smarter people than me would know.

Perceptions

My take on this one is weird because I did expressly say that this post isn’t about external things, but internal issues. Well, my take on this is that we get to choose whether or not we reinforce negative stereotypes about our race as Black People. We can’t control how people see us out in the world, but we’ve all been raised with a certain understanding of what some negative perceptions of Black People are… and we can guide ourselves in whether or not we prove those stereotypes true.

I have been the loud Black man (everyone can speak louder when they’re having a good time – not just Black People).

I have been the angry Black man (everyone gets angry, not just Black People).

I have punched a few people in my life (we all can engage in a fight every now and then – but for me, that lends itself to being the violent/dangerous Black man).

I can curse like a sailor when I want & used to regularly say the N-word in my younger years (people cuss — but it makes me the uneducated or ill-spoken Black man).

I enjoy eating fried chicken and watermelon from time-to-time, although I try to cut back on fried foods and sugars (see my comments about “health” earlier — these are human foods enjoyed by people the world over, but it brands me the Black man with a bad race-based diet).

Pause… I have legit hung out with Black People who are low-key terrified to eat fried chicken or watermelon in front of non-Black People.

African American young guy eats fast food, chicken leg and a whole bucket in his hands. Emotions of condemnation and constraint. Yellow background.

But… I have also grown as a person over the years and realized that I can choose when I do the things above (if at all), and who I do them in front of. I am not perfect, but I have grown.

I don’t know if I’ve ever told this story on this blog before (I probably have), but I’ll never forget when I was out at an IHOP one evening with a group of friends (all of us Black) plus a Black dude I didn’t really know all that well. We were all just college kids having a good time, but this dude was loud. It was part of his charm – sure – but he also just kept very loudly shouting the N-word over and over again. I just kind of tapped him on the shoulder and leaned over to him and asked him if he could chill with slingin’ that word around in public spaces while we’re all just sitting and eating. He looked bothered by the request, but he complied with it and we didn’t have any friction or anything.

Say what you want, about my request, but I was PAINFULLY aware of how he was making us come off to the wait staff and everyone else around us eating at the restaurant, and I didn’t like that.

And you can’t say that he was, “making us look Black,” because that’s not my kind of Black. I haven’t said it in a few posts, but Black People are not a monolith.

I always think of that singular moment as it relates to the point I’m trying to make here.

That exchange wasn’t some moment of me being ashamed of the Black person I was (I don’t use that word anymore), that was a moment of me standing up for the Black person I was in the presence of another Black male. That is all it was. Still… I know people will have different feelings about that moment, and some people may have experienced similar things in their past.

Many Black People KNOW the negative stereotypes cast against our people, and dammit – we can choose whether or not to reinforce them. If it’s genuinely you, cool. But don’t feel shamed into NOT standing up for who you are.

Who I am didn’t want that perception cast on me, so I course-corrected the only way I could in the situation.

That is as much as I care to share in this list after giving it some serious contemplation and trying to peck away at this keyboard throughout the day intermittently as I had time through the workday on breaks (which is HARD — the stops in fluid and focused thought process are the worst — but I didn’t a have a choice today). I could mention things like poverty and racism, but I don’t really feel like those are things Black People can change on their own – and a lot of those overriding factors are externally-sourced.

Whatever the problems, and wherever they’re from – these are things that WE have to address before things get better for Black America. We must be honest about our social ills and boldly face them head-on. No one else can address these things for us (at least, probably not in a way we’d be satisfied with).

Financial Problems. Upset Black Couple Managing Family Budget Together At Home, Counting Remaining Money, Suffering From Crisis.

I barely used the word “should” in this entire post, by the way (Yay!).

I am rambling now, so I’ll end this moment of “staring into the mirror” here.

Peace, and thanks for reading.

 

The soundtrack for this post provided by…

Image Credits:
– Cover Image © Motortion Films (Shutterstock)
– Body Image 1 © Johnnie Weathersby III
– Body Image 2 © Kzenon (Shutterstock)

– Body Image 3 © wavebreakmedia (Shutterstock)
– Body Image 4 © Pixel-Shot (Shutterstock)
– Body Image 5 © Navistock (Shutterstock)

– Body Image 6 © Prostock-studio (Shutterstock)

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