Last year, 5,538 Black men were murdered in the United States. One in every three Black men is expected to spend time in jail. Fourteen percent of Black men—almost 1.2 million of us over age 20—are unemployed, according to the latest government data. A report issued last year found that barely more than half, 52 percent of us, graduate from high school on time.
Together, the data becomes the ink that paint a stark portrait characterizing Black, male life in America, a dark tapestry is unavoidable. Media coverage of the social condition of Black men is mostly focused on our pathologies—even CNN’s “Black In America” series, concocted to give a nuanced take on the African-American experience, separated Black men from Black women and families, instead giving us our own two hours–mostly about prison and unemployment. In fact, it’s often difficult to tell whether our own discussions about ourselves are primarily informed by our own observations, or the negativity we so often hear spoken about us.
But the numbers, while irrefutable, won’t be of any consequence in this space. You see, this column is about presenting Black men’s lives from where we actually live them: between the rigid lines and margins that are thought to constrict our achievement, limit our options and dismiss our lived experiences. Our lives are too gradient to be represented by any data set, even when it accurately describes a serious problem, or by any one tragedy, even when it highlights a real-life challenge we stare down every day. We’re more than the sum of seasonally-adjusted employment data and racial-profiling incidents. And as such, this column a place is where we'll take license to be entirely dismissive of such notions.
As I’ll use my own life as a proxy a lot, it’s worth introducing myself here, by way of illustrating how the data about Black men’s problems can at once be central to a man’s identity and entirely irrelevant to how he chooses to live: I grew up without my father’s involvement, but became a single father raising both my boys under my own roof. I went to a poor, urban high school but became one of few Black men in the country with my job title. I’m the nephew of uncles who have spent most of their adult lives in prison, but I’ve never spent a single night in a jail cell (though I have been handcuffed, more than once). I grew up in communities where most people, including my own family, had little-to-no financial means, yet I’ve ascended to a lofty salary and a comfortable life.
Those contrasts and the tensions of existing between them, are what have defined Black manhood for myself and many others, while millions of other Black men have entirely different experiences. This column—whether it’s funny, snarky, rage-inducing, loved or loathed (over time, I hope you’ll experience the entire range) is about what it means to live inside those margins while continually forcing them further outward. I hope you’ll enjoy.
Righteous Black manhood’s a tough act with incredible dialogue. There are rules to this 'ish. We wrote you a manual. Check out “The Black Man’s Guide to Life,” a comprehensive reference guide which appears in the November issue of EBONY—on newsstands now and read the column weekly at EBONY.com.
Keith Reed is a senior editor at ESPN The Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @k_dot_re