The following is excerpted from the forthcoming book Whose Future is it? Social Control and the Health of African American Boys and Men, due in December 2012 by Imhotep Publications (3358 Adeline Street, Berkeley, California 94703; 510-450-1095).
While much of our attention has deservedly turned to the appending water shortage, oil crisis, pending climate change and seemingly unending ecological disasters, we often neglect the indigenous societies and grassroots communities of people who are directly affected by them. And if the late great thinker and activist James Boggs is sadly correct when he says, "the city is the Black man's nature," one such threatened group is African Americans, particularly its boys and men. Michelle Alexander brings this observation into staggeringly clear focus in her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. As impressive a work as it is, and it is truly an impressive piece, although much of this analysis has been made before. Radical scholars like Sidney M. Willhelm, Huey P. Newton, George Jackson, Angela Y. Davis, Haki Madhubuti, Dylan Rodriguez and Loic Wacquant, as well as prison and grassroots activists, community members and so-called felons themselves have understood and articulated many of these insights and have therefore proposed radical and transformative solutions. What is unique however is the clear historical argument presented through legal case studies, the forcefulness in which it is presented, as she explains:
"I reached the conclusions presented in this book reluctantly. Ten years ago I would have argued strenuously against the central claim made here-namely, that something akin to a racial caste system currently exists in the United States." (Alexander 2010, p.2)
With an undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University and a law degree from Stanford University, both predominantly white and extremely conservative institutions, Ms. Alexander was poised to take her place among the highly paid, yet largely invisible world of corporate attorneys. And by her admission, that is what she partly did for several years. But when she took a job for the ACLU as director of the Racial Justice Project for Northern California, and encountered young African American boys and men who had been profiled, harassed, and in the example of "the Rider's case" in Oakland, California, people were framed and railroaded into prison by corrupt police officers, Ms. Alexander took notice, had the courage to look at the facts and got involved. Here, the facts speak volumes in her clear theme that this situation did not occur over night, and that it is not by accident, and while not conspiratorial per se', it constitutes systematic structural racism that affects not only freedom, but also the health of families and communities for generations.
Therefore, we start from that premise with a look into the past and future. We look into the past to place today's health status and its relationship to social control in its proper context and into the future because if Alexander's premise is correct, and the visions of futuristic and scientific prognosticators are any indication, the future health and actual survival of African American boys and men are not guaranteed. And to reiterate, if the situation is as dire as it appears, with more African American boys and men in prison than in college and even more on parole and probation with many robbed of voting rights, job opportunities and ways to advance themselves, they are increasingly killed by police and pitted against each other and unwitting participants in the so-called "war on drugs," then the question of survival is not an original question and obviously legitimate. Furthermore, if scientific and technological projections do not include them in their prognostications, the question: "whose future is it?" and others are warranted, hence the focus of this presentation.
Current Health Status of African American Boys and Men
African American boys and men have the lowest life expectancy and some of the highest rates of acute and chronic disease in America. Their homicide rate is the highest in America, and their prison, parole, and probation rates are the highest in the country, and even with cancers, they do not have the highest rate, however, they have the highest death rate. And if dental, mental health, lack of health insurance, employment and "happiness," is put into the overall health quotient, which if looked at holistically, the health status of African American boys and men is indeed bleak.
The socio-political realities of America is such and have been historically, that along with Native American boys and men, African American boys and men, when it comes to total functionality and health in a holistic sense, could almost be considered an "endangered" species. African American and Native American women have many of the same health issues and face their own horrors of physical and sexual abuse, and even forced labor.
But the men of these two groups, and in this case, African American boys and men face the current threat of actual survival. The anxiety, stress, and tension created by constantly looking over their shoulder for the police, dodging bullets in senseless drive-by shootings, trying to keep or seek out low paying jobs, being viewed as thieves, vagrants or murderers by the media, or being constantly criticized at home makes them increasingly vulnerable to disease and illness.
In the age group of 18-35, homicide is the number one health threat. According to Brendan O'Flaherty and Rajiv Sethi in their comprehensive study, "Homicide in Black and White", they state that:
"African-Americans are six times as likely as white Americans to die at the hands of a murderer, and roughly seven times...