Black Male Privilege: Valid or Void?
Editor’s Note: Have a listen to L’Heureux Lewis’ concept of Black Male Privilege and read Stephanie Jones’ commentary below:
By Stephanie Jones
Black men are the most studied, observed, talked about, emulated, researched and “programmed” group in our current culture. Hip Hop culture, defined by Black men but co-opted by many, touches every one of our lives. The Black male face is the icon of the criminal justice system. As soon as you hear the word “criminal” – it is a Black male face in your head. You can’t deny it, you can’t even justify it. On the news, in the press, on Facebook, it’s all over the place. The most researched group of those incarcerated is Black males. So, how is this privilege?
The result of these studies is programs that benefit these men. Now, don’t get me wrong, these programs are needed and are paramount in the success of men leaving prison and regaining a life on the “outside.” But, are Black men REALLY that unique?
In the last ten years, the numbers of Black and Latina women going to prison has grown at a rate of over 400%. Let me say that again – women of color being incarcerated has grown over 400% in ten years. The rate for men of color has grown over that same period at a rate of around 200%. Still an astounding number and something needs to be done, but we are leaving our Black and Latina sisters out and they are being arrested, convicted and locked up TWICE as fast as men. Male privilege trumps the need to look at the impact on families, community and society as a whole when we choose to ignore the women – mothers – going to prison. The highest increase in women going to prison is found among Black females ages 35 – 39. These women are mothers – often the sole provider for their families – with the average number of children being 2.5. We’re talking about millions of children impacted by “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” mandatory minimum policies.
Latinas comprise about 17% of the population, but 41% of the dropout rates among high school students. Between 1990 – 2002 teen pregnancy rates among Black females and white females decreased by 40% and 34% respectively, but Latina youth saw an increase by a slight percentage. Black and Latina females are being targeted – oh, that’s too strong of language? Really? Because for years we’ve been saying that our Black male youth have been targeted and no one thinks that’s too strong.
Our young brown and black females are more sexualized, more objectified, called “hos” “bitches” and “tramps” as a normal part of our language. Black male privilege paints young men as brawny athletes, leaders, gangsters (which, unfortunately, is a compliment) while completely objectifying and/or ignoring the females getting caught up in the game. A 1993 University of Washington study found that 1 in 5 children had a MOTHER in jail and/or prison – and that study was done prior to the huge upsweep in female incarceration. 2.5 million children in the United States today have a parent in jail or prison.
Black males are definitely targeted by the criminal justice system. The system is definitely racist and built on the ideology of white supremacy. The piece being ignored is male privilege. Women are being left out of the studies, out of the conversations, out of the solutions. Black and Latina women are suffering a double punch – racism and sexism.
Black Male Privilege? You decide.
About the Author: Stephanie Jones is a wife, mother, social activist, conscientious agitator, social worker and writer in Seattle. She holds degrees in accounting, contract administration, sociology and organizational systems. Stephanie’s focus is on homelessness and incarceration with emphasis on systemic white supremacy within those institutions. Translation: she knows what she’s talking about.