Writing Beyond Stereotypes in Black and White was prompted by my experiences in community-based health programming for the past 25 years and realizing that African American boys and men were missing from health services though according to all health disparity studies they are sicker sooner and die earlier than any other group in the United States. My goal became one of finding these missing boys and men and, to my chagrin, I found far too many, in numbers wildly disproportionate to their representation in the American population, entangled in the criminal justice system, particularly if they were from poor backgrounds and with limited educational opportunity and achievement. At 12 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans are over 40% of the incarcerated in prison or detention populations among adolescents.
But, the task, driving force, and opportunity with the book was and is to enable people to do more than simply understand intellectually the issue of African American male marginalization as a number of articles and books have described the problem. In sum, the book is designed to stimulate the reader to pose the question “Where Are The Men?” and to then take meaningful steps, to ACT, to improve not only the health status but also access to health care and full economic and social opportunity in this nation.
The research to provide the intellectual underpinnings for the advocacy that will be required to eliminate the stereotyping and subsequent marginalization of African American boys and men revealed, to my surprise, that the plight of this population has significantly worsened over the years. I came to understand even more fully that these men are ‘marked’, even scarred by race and poverty. Their pathway into low wage employment and no health care benefits and into adolescent detention and jail and prison has been paved for them as a result of exclusive public policy (viz., no health insurance for poor men/single adults) and social exclusion. And I have a painful awareness that this unique segment of the U.S. population is now increasingly stigmatized by having a felony conviction if they have been incarcerated, even for a victimless, non-violent offense. This silent epidemic of marginalization and mass incarceration, followed by the evolution of even harsher stereotypes make it harder for the boys to transition to successful manhood and for the men to take their rightful place as fathers, brothers, providers for their family, as leaders, as husbands.
I find that people are very surprised when they learn of the health status and of the rates of incarceration. These readers are also motivated as they read the stories of the lives of those profiled in the book who are working against the odds to foster change. These same readers are also perplexed by the evident blind eye and dismissive attitude that public policy leaders have demonstrated even in the midst of social turmoil and compromised lives. Most people become a bit angry initially. Others are convinced that they must act in some way to improve the opportunities for these fragile boys and men. Some pose the question of ‘who benefits?’ from the systems built to maintain a status quo that certainly harms not only the African American community but all of us.
I have been gratified to see that people who read the book appear to actually come to a realization that they themselves must act and not wait for some savior to appear and right the travesties visited upon this group of poor men of color. My belief is that the journey is just beginning. What is next for me is to help people see that ‘Beyond Stereotypes..’ is a toolbox. The reader has the expository data in the form of the ‘reality checks’ throughout the book that they need to verify for themselves and their audiences the size and scope of the issue. The book also gives them an opportunity to gaze into a ‘mirror’ and analyze their own complicity in a marginalization epidemic that has resulted from their silence in the face of massive social disintegration and displacement. My job, my next steps are to continue to advocate, to blog, to teach, to offer workshops, to speak up, to act out until we all wake up and insure that social justice will become the balm that heals and eliminates educational and economic marginalization, unnecessary illness and death and criminal injustice, conditions that linger because of the stereotyping of individuals based on race, skin color, and gender.
Beyond Stereotypes in Black and White: How Everyday Leaders Can Build Healthier Opportunities for African American Boys and Men by Henrie M. Treadwell; Praeger, January, 2013 $48.00; ISBN 978-1-4408-0399-4