The Plight of Black Men: The Ditch

This topic is inspired by a post of fellow blogger BZ. The quote is from an article written by Jonah Goldberg.

The main cause for this shortcoming is a deep-seated dogma that has prevailed in social science and policy circles since the mid-1960's: the rejection of any explanation that invokes a group's cultural attributes — its distinctive attitudes, values and predispositions, and the resulting behavior of its members — and the relentless preference for relying on structural factors like low incomes, joblessness, poor schools and bad housing.

I think this statement is far too sweeping of black people. There is no predisposition in black people that perpetuate negativity and we certainly don’t have a relentless preference for those things you stated. In fact, if you take the materialism of the hip hop culture, you will find that young black men accept the overall goal of Americanism (fortune, status, fame) and reconfigured it to fit on a pallet that is within their grasp (money, clothes and cars). In the hood we call it ‘the hustle’.

But when dealing with black men the first thing you have to deal with is the hopelessness, racism and something I call the Ditch Disorder. We’ve all heard the cliché, “A man’s home is his castle”. We start off in life trying to acquire the knowledge, tools and materials to build that castle. But black men start life in a ditch. So before we can even work on building the castle we have to acquire the tools to get out of the ditch. There are a myriad of ways of getting out of that hole; education, good work ethics and good decision making are primary. However, the ditch is made up of poor schools, gangs, drugs, racism, fatherless home, fast money and more.

The Ditch Disorder: The Ditch Disorder is a psychotic disorder that occurs in an individual or group after continual exposure to a destructive environment where death, violence and despair is pervasive; coupled with lack of opportunity and means of escaping said environment. An individual or group will eventually adopt or normalize behavior that provided a means of survival but perpetuates the attitudes and actions that further the existence of a destructive environment. Individuals or groups eventually become estranged or detached from the rest of society leading to a state of hopelessness.

Before you can even begin that process, somewhere along the line you have start believing that it is possible to get out of the ditch. When you’re operating in an environment that literally sucks the life out of a person, it is no wonder that many simply learn how to function in the ditch rather than attempt at leaving it. And then the cycle continues and the modus operandi becomes survival rather than overcoming.

Hopelessness is a very destructive force. Persistent hopelessness causes one to devalue not only their life but also the lives around them. It numbs the senses to point where everything objectified and devalued. It then become easy to associate a pimp or a drug dealer with status because success is devalued to the point where it acquisition is possible.


Whenever the discussion about the state of black men comes up, inevitably someone will toss in the cliché about overcoming racism, poverty or the ‘victim mentality’. It is a valid discussion but it does not get to the meat of the issue and that is the despair, hopelessness and low self-esteem that plague man young black males. The only way to overcome this is to inspire young brothers to build self-worth. People are not responsible for things they do not value. So personal responsibility is a mute point to someone that does not value their person or the people around them.

The only way to accomplish this is to grind it out with them. I have personal experience with young men that were on the fence when it came to which path they would take with their lives. When I first met them, many of them wrote off what I was saying as nagging. But I was there for them, year after year. I listened to them. I talked with them. I shared my own experiences – and I let them know that I would never accept the idea that they were less than because of the environment.

Once you establish a relationship, then you can start setting boundaries and expectations. I expected my young men to do well in school because I tutored them and knew how well they could do in school if they applied themselves. I expected them to not hang out in the streets because we volunteered and the center to provide them a place to go. I expected them to act like men and not thugs because we told and showed them what manhood was about. This is what I call shining a light down in the ditch. Providing guidance and direction.

Providing Tools

A fact of life with most black men is that racism, poor education, job skills and access to jobs is a serious problem. Liberals and Conservatives, white and black people debate solutions to this and everyone has an opinion. Is Affirmative Action good or bad? What about school choice? Tougher jail sentences? We can go back and forth all day. The fact of the matter is that there is no ONE solution and no magic wand exist to deal with all of the different ways to deal with structural problems in the black community.

The problem is that this area is where many start the discussion with the plight of black men and completely skip over the fact that until a person believes he can climb out of the ditch, he is not going to utilize any tools to assist getting out of said ditch. But we’ve come to the point in the debate where catch phrases, clichés and rhetoric are the order of the day.


I honestly believe that this debate is academic for most people and I believe most Conservatives use this issue as a means to generate votes and polarize their constituents. After all, do you really want your tax dollars going to help a bunch of unappreciative, lazy, shiftless blacks when they should be happy their not in Africa? Liberals are no better. They go into the black community with their “Captain Save-Ah-Spook” mentality thinking, ‘if we can just get the primitives to think like white people, they’ll be better off.’ I’m not hopeful this conversation will ever get beyond ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ unless black men take the lead.

Topic of Discussion

1. What do you attribute to the plight of black men?
2. What are some things we can do to assist black youth?
3. What part does racism play in the plight of black men?
4. Do you believe Conservatives actually care about this issue or using it as an extension of the "Southern Strategy"?
5. What role has Liberal policies played in the state of black men?
6. What would you do to alleviate the hopelessness that plague man young black men?


18 Responses to The Plight of Black Men: The Ditch

  1. Naro% Says:
    Captain save a spook!!!!! You crazy!! I am glad you slapped both sides, because the concept of CRT (Critical Race Theory) needs some deep examination. Your points on mentorship, and the need to examine the cultural architecture in place around large numbers of our society is just what we need. The establishment of a "learning organization" within our community is long over due. We arent asking for a hand out, just stop the hinderance... (Y'all know what the Hell I'm talking bout!)
    James this is almost as good as your "walking boots" joint! becoming quite the prolific one, stay up!
  2. Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden Says:
    04 10 06

    1. What do you attribute to the plight of black men? As you and I both said on BZ' site, a sense of nihilism and lack of purpose is the biggest obstacle to the success of Black men. Many Black men don't understand the gifts that God gave them. So many dudes I see out in the streets, where I spent time for a while, could be excellent real estate agents, brokers or whatever but they sell drugs because they cannot think that far ahead. They do not know the extent to which they have gifts. And whenever someone who has gifts never is able to apply those gifts legitimately, only bad can come of it.
    2. What are some things we can do to assist black youth?
    More community and familial involvement. As a kid, I recall having neighbors and play aunties and play cousins etc. These play relatives weren't biologically related, but they were family. Feeling a sense of connectiveness and purpose is one of the biggest things we can do to foster a sense of self worth and productivity. I say focus on appreciating academics AND focus on identifying the gifts that these young people have and developing them. It happens far too little in the ghetto. I once tutored a dyslexic gal who had grown up in the foster care sytem in Oakland. She was functionally illiterate. However, she was a mathematical genius!!! She knew how to do complex operations in her head and on paper and no one had told her that everyone else doesn't have the capacity to do that. She didn't understand that she had special gifts, nor that she was special as one of God's creations. Last I saw, she was eighteen with two small children. The system failed her and she couldn't find the time or energy to love herself.
    3. What part does racism play in the plight of black men?
    Institutionalized racism has bred a lot of strife in our communities. I think the legacy of institutionalized racism is far worse than overt racism. In institutions, it was like: "You aren't welcome here because you aren't capable." And I recall running into that attitude when we moved to Modesto from Oakland, CA. I was in G&T classes in Oakland, and then when we moved to Modesto they didn't want me to be in those classes and made me take the STANDARDIZED IQ tests AGAIN. I did and made it into the programme but got very little support. My math teacher was an asshole who told me to visit early in the morning for help, yet would ignore me to play chess when I would show up. He was cold and never called me the N word, but I could tell he didn't want me there. At some point, the confidence of Black students gets eroded by Institutional racism. It took me a long time to get my confidence up in math and now, I bet I have taken more classes than that asshole teacher, but if he would've had his way, I never would have been in his class in the first place!
    4. Do you believe Conservatives actually care about this issue or using it as an extension of the "Southern Strategy"?
    Yes, and your question implies an unfair dichotomy. This is a human issue. It isn't about lib or con, but about the condition of fellow human beings. Cons and libs alike care about this, but are at a standstill in terms of policy to combat it.
    5. What role has Liberal policies played in the state of black men?
    On the negative side: Lowered expectations via reducing test score requirements, reduced the amount of people who take responsibility for their actions because they can take a pill or get rid of it, and the creation of an environment where folks walk on eggshells and are afraid to disclipline their kids for want of being called an abuser, racist or whatever else non PC insult you can think of. On the positive side, some of the lessons on tolerance and inclusion that liberals have brought to the table are very important. We cannot sweep differences under the rug and I know that many liberals try to discuss differences in perspective and appearance. I think their intentions are not bad, but their way of applying their intentions into policy are quite bad.
    6. What would you do to alleviate the hopelessness that plague man young black men?
    Well, it is a matter of what I have done and what I will continue to do. Tutor and share knowledge. For me, as a Black woman it is difficult to relate to the men when they get to be about thirteen or fourteen and I have found that Black boys deal best with men at those ages due to disciplinary issues or whatever else. But I mentor Black girls sometimes and I think it is a start. Ultimately I have always tried to show them that they can do ANYTHING!

    The other day when I showed my girlfried some stuff on loop quantum gravity, she understood it because of HOW I explained it. I think knowledge should be more accessible and placed in languages that we can understand. Good post, sorry for rambling.
  3. James Manning Says:
    Very well put folks. Mahn, you hit it right on the head. I think once we connect with our youth we can then compensate for a lot of inequalities whether they be parental, educational or anything else.

    But I will disagree with you on the conservative part. I think a lot of them don't care at all but use this is for one or two purposes: 1) To reinforce their white supremacist mindset or 2) To provide a wedge issue on race with a means of deflecting the racist label with the use of statistics. I won't blanket the entire conservative movement with that because it would not be fair nor would it be accurate. But in general, I think it fits.

    Now, I'm not giving white liberals a past because I think a lot of them have that white supremacist mindset too.

    But even with that, I think man men are more that capable of overcoming any odds when shown that the opportunity exist and then supported in taking advantage of those opportunities.
  4. Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden Says:
    04 10 06

    James, I think you have to more clearly define what you mean by conservative then. If you are talking about a general White conservatism rooted in populism, academic conservatism or whatever else. You also have to make the distinction between Black capitalists and conservatives. There are many Black capitalists who are nationalists as well, who don't fall under the umbrella of conservative. And there are some conservative Blacks who are more capitalist than anything else.

    Elizabeth Wright from Issues and Views is an example of a Black capitalist nationalist. Walter Williams is more like that in his economics views as well. I think they are sort of outside of the usual con and lib rubrics anyway. And to be honest, I still think that many Blacks have a lot of conventional lib and con within them. Thanks for the response. Whatever the case, we both agree that once a person sees that they have opportunities and options, they can succeed. Part of overcoming the nihilism is capitalizing on opportunities.
  5. Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden Says:
    04 10 06

    Say, Dell Gines should be commenting on this post! This is right up his alley!
  6. James Manning Says:

    I'd need a new post to figure all of that out. I'll just define conservatives as anyone that watches the 700 Club and not think their quacks, Folks that think support Bob Jones University and folks who have no clue as to why ole Ronnie started his campaign in Paris Mississippi.
  7. Dell Gines Says:
    1. What do you attribute to the plight of black men?

    Less people like me, and more people like Jay-Z. Our individuals who seek to profit off our condition instead of make a legitimate change in our condition from the street level to the corporate level. That is first and foremost. Secondly, a system based upon racism, and the unwillingness by the majority in the system to correct the effects of past racism. I put our responsibility to ourselves first because if we don't handle our own businesses why would others want to?

    2. What are some things we can do to assist black youth?

    It is simple, 1) You show love, which is active participation in the creation of positive outcomes. 2) You provide a sense of purpose and possibility thinking by creating role models who don't bend and demonstrate unwavering commitment to the ideology of black elevation. 3) You provide economic opportunities that encourage ownership and self-determinism. 4) You demand excellence.

    3. What part does racism play in the plight of black men?

    The rippling effects of past racism imposed upon modern materialism play most of the role. That being said, men need to be responsible for their man hood.

    4. Do you believe Conservatives actually care about this issue or using it as an extension of the "Southern Strategy"?

    WHITES conservative or liberal as a general rule care first and foremost about whites as a general rule. Therefore the question should be reframed into more of a philosophical one. Is conservatism an effective philosophy that if embraced will materially enhance the condition of black men in America. My answer is yes.

    5. What role has Liberal policies played in the state of black men?

    Liberal paternalism has neutered the black man by keeping him perpetually reliant on the white master as opposed to providng him the tools to acquire independence and ownership of his communities and control of his families. Liberal paternalism is the most insidious form of racism as at least when conservatives do it it is fairly recognizable and therefore more easy to combat.

    6. What would you do to alleviate the hopelessness that plague man young black men?

    Be someone who provides them with hope, faith, love and high expectations.
  8. James Manning Says:
    I think we're all saying the same thing here. so now I'm interested in what white people have to say about this subject.

    Dell, I understand what you mean about conservatism as it applies to spirituality and biblical principles, but the political conservatism is aligned with political policies (Republican Agenda) that are not in the best interest of black people.

    So how do we incorporate those values into a political movement, creating political policies that are in the best interest of the black community? And doing it without aligning it with political conservatives (Republicans)?
  9. Pure Egotism Says:
    The “Conservative” movement has no regard for the Black community. For people who are constantly harping about what’s good for Black folks, they really have little to no interactions with Black people, aside from what they see on TV or hear of Talk Radio. I mean, come on, why are they always talking about Jesse Jackson , Al Sharpton and now Rep. McKinney??? It seems to me that by using these three names they have an excuse to appear as if they’ve listened to the “other side of the debate.”

    For instant, tonight on Hannity & Combs they had a terribly inarticulate man who claimed to be a representative from “The New Black Panthers.” The program also conveniently neglected to mention that “The New Black Panthers” is a tiny fringe organization which is in no way affiliated with the well-known group founded in the 1960’s. Conservatives love to race-bait, but we need to do a better job of not giving those people legitimate and well-founded ammunition.

    However, I do agree wholeheartedly that as Black men, it is our mindset that is our greatest impediment. The fatherless homes, the gangs, the drugs and the other detriments are being promulgated by Black men, to young Black men and young Black boys; we grow up thinking this non-sense is normal. For instance, I’m sure you hear people talking about how they’re out “creepin” on their lady, which is how some of us wind up with a bunch of kids. It’s all normal to us.

    The greatest impediment to our success as a community is egotism and arrogance. Personally, I see it manifested in people like Cynthia McKinney and her outrageous self-aggrandizement, much to the detriment of Black leaders in Congress. For instance, I’m sure you’ve been to a club where someone is willing to die or go to prison because someone SAID something they didn’t like. That’s pure egotism, it’s a self-important delusion.

    The ghettos all across America are terribly arrogant places. To speak of things beyond the hood is an insult to people. We can talk about what we’ve seen, as long as it’s negative. Nobody has a problem if you talk about your cousin in prison, or if you talk about how YOU did time, but talk about practical accomplishments, and that’s somehow disingenuous. When we’re in the hood, we see everything negative as normal and “real,” even to the point where we ostracize the educated and intelligent from our own community. Although, I would say that the “acting White” phenomenon is not the cause, but a consequence of egotism and arrogance.

    Ultimately, like you James, I’ve been there. And I’ve worked with young people. All I can do is share what expertise I have, and if I don’t have any to share, I try and find someone who does. Some will listen, others will not. Either way, all I can do is my small part.

    As always, you have an excellent way of framing a discussion.
  10. Roderick Says:
    Excellent post, James, it was well worth the wait. I'm a bit under the weather so I'll have to wait until I give a thoughtful reply.
  11. Cobb Says:
    Asked and answered.
  12. Rell Says:
    everything can be traced back to slavery -- i know that's the easy answer but it's true.
  13. Nika Laqui Says:
    Rell is right, we as African americans, still suffer pychological effects of slavery which still hinder us, and our mindstates.....
    We are all guilty of some form of self hate...belive it or not
  14. Cynthia Says:
    Everything can be traced to the policies of this country especially when the "White Man” penalized the black households if the man was around. In essence, this society marginalized or trivialized the roles of Black Men and the sanctity of marriage for black people. Now, many Black men literally don't have a place in this society not even with the Black woman.

    Once the policies change, things will change. One can’t even make the argument that it is the Democrats fault because if the Republicans wanted to get the Black vote, they would have corrected the error the Democrats implement by including everybody in the policies that helped advanced the white middle class. The policies have been geared in such a way that they have automatically made criminals out of Black Men and marginalized or reduced the Black family into oblivion.

    As a group, in order for the Black man's plight to change, we all must understand what has happened to reverse this trend and whining to the white man for jobs and education will not work because we have been doing that since we have been in this country. This is why we are in the predicament we are in.

    Sorry, I didn't follow your format, sometimes I find it a little to restrictive in expressing my thoughts.
  15. Diane S. Says:
    Nothing makes me more angry than the use of buzz words like "victim mentality." If someone is victimized, it is normal to have a victim mentality. It would be pathalogical not to.

    Nothing seems to please a Neo-Con so much as blaming the victim, victims of racial discrimination, of domestic violence, of rape, of poverty, of circumstance, or disease (e.g. HIV).

    Since you have actually solicited white people's input, I shall venture in, though experience has taught me that these are issues where angels fear to tread.

    1. What do I attribute to the plight of black men?

    Racism, Racism, and Racism. Also a lack of role models (which is the result of generations of racism), and a prevailing culture which portrays black people as only existing in relationship to white people. (Hollywood is esecially guilty of the former).

    2. What are some of the things we can do to assist black youth?

    I'm not sure it's really for me to say, but given that, what springs to mind is a need for mentoring by those who have gotten out of the ditch, the passing on of skills that are essential to escaping the ditch (computer skills, investment skills, small business skills, etc.) And most importantly vision. I don't think the power of vision can possibly be overestimated.

    3) What part does racism play in the plight of black men?

    The central part. The part that is so pervasive it's like oxygen. I say its like oxygen because it's so ubiquitous that lots of folks whose lives are not circumscribed by it and who are not actively looking for it, can't even see it. Yet it defines everything.

    I read on a comment on another blog recently where a well-to-do white man ventured to say that racism was a dead issue in America. I about choked. Where does this guy live? Is he frickin' blind? I guess it is an easy thing to tell yourself; if you are rich, white, and male to look around and be at peace with your world.

    4. Do you believe Conservatives actually care about this issue or using it as an extension of the "Southern Strategy"?

    I don't think Conservatives give a rats ass about anything but making sure the wealthy stay wealthy. Everything else is window dressing and lip service.

    Okay, I just read Mahndisa's answer, and I'm willing to conceed that I see this from a skewed angle. What I see exists, but it may not be the whole of what exists.

    I am no more able to speak to the intentions and hearts of all conservatives than I am to the intentions and hearts of all liberals.

    5. What role has Liberal policies played in the state of black men?

    There's no denying that some liberal policies (decades of a humiliating free lunch program, a well intentioned, but poorly instituted affirmative action program, and putlic housing that has become a nightmare and a trap) have done little to address the real problems of racism.

    Conversely, I think Liberals have struggled to bring all races into the political process, to try to stop a culture of racism, to demand cultural diversity at our nation's universities. These are important contributions. Are they enough? No. But they are something.

    Perhaps I'm naive, but I don't think most Liberals carry a white supremacist agenda. Or at least the liberals with whom I associate do not. But both Cynthia and Dell's comments about the liberal creation of a system where Black communities are dependent upon white communities are points well taken.

    I am also reminded of a woman I used to work with who was as determinedly political as I was. She used to share her Ebony magazines for me, and I would share my MS. magazines with her. What I saw in Ebony was the sexism; what she saw in MS. was the racism. "A bunch of rich white ladies trying to be sure they can remain rich white ladies." So on some level, I can dig that.

    Speaking for myself, as a liberal, I genuinely want America to be a party to which everyone is invited, and invited to participate in their own way, not in a way dictated by anyone else. I do not think I am unique in that. I believe many people share that hope and that vision.

    6. What would you do to alleviate the hopelessness that plague man young black men?

    I'm going to step way out on a limb here, and say that I think real hope comes from a belief in a kind and loving God, that faith is an essential part of that equation. (Ducking rocks.)

    However, beyond that, I return to the idea of vision. As a child, I was taught that I could be whatever I wanted to be. I think every child deserves that. I think every child deserves to get to believe they could be President if they wanted to be. What made that experience real for me was being surrounded by people who had been given actual choices about their lives and adults who were what they wanted to be as children. Role models are tremendously important. Especially if they are role models with a map out.

    However, I think to effect a broader solution, a real solution, we really, really, need to have a national discussion on racism. I believe this because I believe more and more that institutionalized racism has become the machine that drives America. Maybe it always has and I'm just becoming more aware of it. But I am persuaded to believe that it is THE issue in contemporary American politics, that until we address and fix this, nothing will really move forward.

    The sheer fact that there exist idiots who are willing to venture that racism is dead in America leads me to believe that we cannot have this dialogue too soon or vest too much of ourselves in it.

    I know that many of you, I'm thinking specifically of you James, and Cynthia, must be tired beyond words at screaming about racism to a world which chooses to be deaf. I don't know how to fix this. I can only extend my admiration at your tenacity.

    Finally, I believe in the power of love to change everything. Not the sticky, gooey, romantic kind of love, or the hippy stary-eyed kind of love. I mean the Christian sort of love which demands of me that I recognize that violence and oppression against anyone of us is violence and oppression against all of us; that human beings exist as a family; that we must all look into each other's eyes and see ourselves.

    I aplogize for the length of this post. You posed a lot of questions, and I talk too frickin' much.
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