Pervasive and persistent racial profiling of African-American men is only part of their reality. When Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson entered a Philly Starbucks for a business meeting, it took all of two minutes for the police to come and arrest them for trespassing. (It took Cleveland police two seconds to murder 12-year-old Tamir Rice.) The Starbucks incident took me back to the recent study by the Equality of Opportunity Project that re-iterated a troublesome fact: Black men are trapped in a vicious cycle, a no-win situation.
Researchers from Harvard and Stanford universities, along with the U.S. Census Bureau, tracked 20 million children born between 1978-1983. The take-aways in The Equality of Opportunity Report are depressing. The anxiety of black parents and guardians raising black boys surely skyrocketed. Blood pressures probably went up.
“How am I supposed to raise my son?” asked one exasperated mother I talked to about the report. Hers is a family of two parents with abundant resources. Despite good parenting and a stable lifestyle, it doesn’t appear that it will make a damn bit of difference in the life outcomes for her black son.
The report basically exploded the myths of why black males don’t/can’t succeed. The worst places for poor white children are almost all better than the best places for poor black children. Black boys growing up in wealthy families were more likely than their white peers to live in poverty as adults. Income gaps are worse for black boys than any other demographic except for Native Americans. Black families are painfully familiar with all these scenarios.
Family characteristics – parental marriage rates, education, wealth – were not big influencers for reducing the wealth gap. Eliminating single-mother households, working hard and getting a good education are not enough to overcome the soaring apex of racism. New York Times created a dramatic, interactive graph showing how fast black boys from wealthy families fall into the lower rungs of the economic ladder.
The Opportunity Report (or No Opportunity Report) was a powerful reality check for this nation, especially for the African-American community, especially for middle-class African-American families who thought they had a leg up on the poor black families.
The video of the two young men’s incident at the trendy franchise coffee shop quickly went viral. They were put in double-lock handcuffs (same cuffs used on murder suspects), were not read their rights and were not told why they were being arrested. Nelson and Robinson said they feared for their life, and well they should. Rarely does anything good come out of young, black men being taken into police custody.
The young, wanna-be entrepreneurs in Starbucks were treated no different than the Pookies in the hood – handcuffed and humiliated. The common thread between the two is the color of their skin.
We should not be impressed by the shallow action of Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson. The viral video inside one of his stores that has been viewed by over 11 million people prompted Johnson to shut down his 8,000 stores to do a few hours of anti-bias training.
Racism and white supremacy have blocked the doors to the so-called American Dream. It’s past time to face the ugly truth of how high and wide racism is. We gotta go deep and dirty to get to the roots of the systems that choke the opportunity branches in the Black Tree of Life.
Protest of the racist incidents by the boys in blue or the boys in the corporate board rooms is not enough. We need coordinated, strategic actions that cut at the policies, laws, attitudes and practices that thwart the potential of black males. And the change in attitudes and practices – fear, contempt-- - towards black males needs to happen at home, in our own community.
Dante Robinson encouraged us to get past words. Accept his challenge to move to action.