[News] Where have all the black men gone?
News at freedomarchives.org
News at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 18 13:31:44 EDT 2005
Where have all the black men gone?
By JONATHAN TILOVE
May 08, 2005, The Star Ledger
Darryl Jeffries, the spokesman for East Orange, calls his
city "the most densely populated community of color in the
United States." The Essex County city covers less than four
square miles, but it is home to more than 70,000 people.
Mostly black. Some Hispanics. A few whites.
But the most salient statistic about East Orange is the
number of black men who are not there. Under the age of 18,
there are more black boys than girls. Among the adult
population, however, there are 37 percent more women than
Where are these missing men? Most are dead. Many others are
locked up. Some are in the military.
Worse yet, the gender imbalance in East Orange is not some
grotesque anomaly. It's a vivid snapshot of a very troubling
reality in black America.
There are nearly two million more black adult women than men
in America, stark testimony to how often black men die before
their time. With nearly another million black men in prison
or the military, the real imbalance is even greater -- a gap
of 2.8 million, according to U.S. Census data for 2002. On
average, then, there are 26 percent more black women than
black men; among whites, women outnumber men by just 8
Perhaps no single statistic so precisely measures the
fateful, often fatal, price of being a black man in America,
or so powerfully conveys how beset black communities are by
the violence and disease that leaves them bereft of brothers,
fathers, husbands and sons, and leaves whole communities
"It just distorts the fabric of African-American life," says
Roland Anglin, executive director of the New Jersey Public
Policy Research Institute, whose mission is research to
improve the quality of life in communities of color. "It's
scandalous for us as a society."
In the March/April issue of Health Affairs, Dr. David
Satcher, surgeon general under former President Bill Clinton
and now the interim president of the Morehouse School of
Medicine in Atlanta, exposes the core of the problem: Between
1960 and 2000, the disparity between mortality rates for
black and white women narrowed while the disparity between
the rates for black and white men grew wider.
Exponentially higher homicide and AIDS rates play their part,
especially among younger black men. Even more deadly through
middle age and beyond are higher rates of cardiovascular
disease and cancer.
"The degree of loss and death that people in those
communities are experiencing at a young age is just
unfathomable," says Arline T. Geronimus of the Population
Studies Center at the University of Michigan. A few years ago
Geronimus led a team of researchers who calculated that in
Harlem and Chicago's South Side, two- thirds of black boys
and one-third of black girls who reach their 15th birthday
would not make 65.
"We live in a society right now where if you turn 25, you're
an old head," says Stanley Edwards, 45, a program developer
with the recreation department in East Orange, where all the
signs of the dilemma are etched in sharp relief and where
three years ago Edwards drew together a small group of young
people to start Teens Against Violence Everywhere. "When I
was growing up, 25, you just started."
Chilling stuff. But, says Satcher, "The real question is,
does the nation really care to solve this problem?"
The imbalance between the numbers of black men and women does
not exist everywhere. There is no gap to speak of in places
with relatively small black populations like Minneapolis,
Minn.; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco and San Diego. And
Seattle actually has more black men than women.
But it is the rule in communities with large concentrated
black populations. There are, for instance, more than 30
percent more black women than men in Baltimore, New Orleans,
Chicago and Cleveland, and in smaller cities like Harrisburg,
Pa. There are 36 percent more black women than men in New
York City, and 37 percent more in Saginaw, Mich., and
Philadelphia. In Newark, the figure is 26 percent.
In East Orange, there were more black males under 18 than
females in 2000. And yet, there were 29 percent more black
women than men in their 20s.
How can that be? Ask Eric Perryman, 23, a first-year teacher
at Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts in East
"The street where I grew up in East Orange, there were about
12 of us. Five of them are dead now," says Perryman, who
coordinates TAVE with Edwards and Christina White, a native
of Portland, Ore., who works at East Orange General Hospital
while pursuing her master's in public health. Of the five,
Perryman says one was a suicide and the other four homicides.
"One got shot by a police officer. Another died in the
hallway where he lived, another was shot in front of his
grandmother's house over a coat, another died on Central
Perryman says that of the surviving members of his crew of
12, "most are in jail."
According to The Sentencing Project in Washington, on any
given day in America, one in eight black males ages 25 to 29
is incarcerated, and nearly a third of all black men in their
20s are behind bars, on probation or on parole.
"It's worse than the Wild West," says Rochelle D. Evans, a
former police commissioner in East Orange and now the city's
interim director for Health and Human Services.
But getting through their teens and 20s is only the first
gantlet black males must run. Evans knows.
She was five when her father, who was 42, was killed on the
job at the former Tappan Range factory in Newark; a machine
fell on him, fracturing his skull. Of her four brothers, two
died of heart attacks in their 40s, the third suffers from
diabetes and kidney failure and lost a leg, and the fourth
has gastrointestinal problems. Her husband, a retired police
officer, was 15 when his father died of a heart attack, and
of his seven brothers, one was shot to death in a dispute
over a woman and three died of heart attacks, all before they
By the time people reach their 60s in East Orange, there are
47 percent more black women than men, and with every
succeeding year, the winnowing continues. Isabelle Fowler,
head of the tenant organization at her senior citizen housing
complex, estimates that the 110 apartments there are home to
"maybe 10 men. And it's not going to get any better for us."
WHAT LIES BENEATH
Geronimus, the University of Michigan researcher, developed
an analytical framework she calls "weathering" to describe
the lifetime of stresses black people face at every turn.
This process wears them down and wears them out, compromising
their health and contributing to early death.
"It can just beat you down," says Haki Madhubuti, the Chicago
poet, publisher, educator and author of books such as "Black
Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous?" and "Tough Notes: A
Healing Call for Creating Exceptional Black Men." He says
that's why he became a vegan and tries to bike 20 to 25 miles
Madhubuti says the stress of being black takes a special toll
on the minds of the men. "Men run the world, and now
understand that you are not one of the men running the world,
and layer on that that men you don't like are always telling
you what to do," says Madhubuti. "Many brothers just drop
These days East Orange -- like other communities across the
nation -- is gamely trying to regain its balance, contending
with issues of infant mortality, lead poisoning, gun violence
If those challenges aren't steep enough, local leaders also
face a perception problem: Many people view the crisis among
black men as a consequence of social forces so large and
intractable as to be beyond reach or repair.
Still, there are glimmers of hope. The gender gap is in part
a reflection of the improved lot of black women, as a
consequence of a long-term national commitment to maternal
and women's health and a Medicaid program that provided
access to care for poor women and children -- access still
denied to many poor men. And despite today's bleak realities,
mortality rates for black men were actually worse in 1990, at
the height of the crack-and-homicide epidemic in America's
The enormous growth of the prison population, meanwhile, is
largely the result of recent mandatory sentencing laws --
laws that could be reformed or reversed. And communities like
East Orange seem astir with mentorship programs and a new
conviction that self-destructive behavior will not be
What's missing, many observers believe, is a national will to
confront the problem in all its difficult dimensions.
"If white men were falling off the grid as rapidly as black
men, it would be considered a national crisis," says Raymond
Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at
Morgan State University in Baltimore and author of "The
Warrior Method: A Program for Rearing Black Boys."
"It would be leading all the network news shows," says
Jeffries, the spokesman for East Orange and formerly a writer
and producer with NBC News in New York. "It would be full-
court, around-the- clock coverage on 'the gap' and all its
[Jonathan Tilove writes about race for the Newhouse News
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