Last week, the New York Times reported on the deepening plight of African American men, detailing a list of afflictions including lack of employment, education and high incarceration rates.
"Black men in the United States face a far more dire situation than is portrayed by common employment and education statistics," the article said. "Finishing high school is the exception, legal work is scarcer than ever and prison is almost routine."
Coincidentally,lastMarch, Reuters news service reported on a similar "crisis among Black men in the United Sates" and detailed a similar list of ailments. I tell you, we have to stop meeting like this.
Contrary to the provocative headlines, the crisis to which both articles allude is not among all Black men. A closer reading reveals the "deepening plight" is specific to a particular group of Black men, namely poorly educated Black men living on the margins of criminality, many running from child care responsibilities and — this is key — not looking for work.
Most Black men have not been involved in the criminal justice system, do not drop out of school and the majority of Black men are not dodging state authorities because of back child support payments. Are we really surprised when men who do not "take care of TCB," as Aretha sang, suffer disproportionately from those that make better choices?
Of course, some will find the notion that the overriding determinant in the "plight of Black men" today is behavior unrestrained by moral codes of conduct distasteful, even lacking in compassion.
However, let us consider the irony that as we engage in this discussion the nation is also in the midst of heated debate about the influx of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border and their impact on our economy. With Brown skins, few skills and little education (at least no formal English education; most don't even speak the language), immigrants are flocking to cities all over the country.
It is one thing to say, "Rather than dig ditches, I prefer to look for work in my chosen profession." It is something else altogether to say, "I am a high school dropout with a prison record, no skills and kids in need of support, but I will not dig ditches."
There are admittedly many factors that contribute to the reasons (not excuses) we make the choices we do, and I do not wish to oversimplify. I also do not imagine we will all sit down over beer and chips and solve the problem. However, I would submit that any solution must include a return to traditional moral doctrines, formerly taught in the public school system in addition to the home and the church.
Sure, jobs programs can offer a helping hand, but ultimately it is up to individuals to change their individual lives, and a racial framework cannot guide that change — it must be driven by a spiritual framework. The changes necessary to improve lives are supported by values that are neither Afrocentric nor Eurocentric, but are universal principles of moral conduct.
No, righteous living does not make one immune from "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." However, lest we plan to meet here each April and sing the same ol' sad songs, we might consider it as a first step on the road to recovery.
Joseph C. Phillips is an actor and writer based in Los Angeles.