As the life of a Black man was viewed unequal to that of a white person, the U.S. Department of Public Health initiated the experimentation of 399 Black men [most of whom were illiterate sharecroppers] in what is known as the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment. Between 1932 and 1972, these men in the late stages of syphilis, were “used as laboratory animals in a long and inefficient study on how long it takes syphilis to kill someone” (Jones, 1993). It was never the intent of the DPH to neither inform the men of the seriousness of their disease nor cure them. They were denied treatment and many died as a result.
The dawning of the Civil Rights era would breathe hope into the tyrannized Black man. Characterized by social revolution, the consciousness of the age reflected the disdain of Black people towards racism, which for over 400 years left them in the revolving door of oppression, subjugation, and depression. Black men were still being literally and symbolically castrated and had failed to operate with full citizenship. 1964 would appear to be the turning point with passing of the Civil Rights Act that prohibited discrimination of all kinds on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. 1965, Congress would pass the Voting Rights Act, overturning the institution of the “black codes”. However, this same year, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), was assassinated. Shabazz, as many other Black men, was an outspoken activists and advocate against racism [white supremacy]. What Black men began to realize as the Civil Rights era came to a close and the Black Power movement took up the torch, was freedom only existed on paper, but the cultural reality of America told a different story.
In an effort to demonized and destroy the attempt of Black men to obtain freedom and equality, J. Edgar Hoover, Director of FBI initiated the Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO). This program was designed to disrupt and dismantle Black resistance in ideology and practice and ultimately led to increased violenceincluding death to many Black male leaders. One of the programs primary aims was to “prevent the rise of a black messiah”. The rise of a messiah is a precursor to the progression of a people; as he is one whose aim is to liberate the masses from the oppression of white supremacy [racism]. As white fear of “losing control over the black gaze” heightened due to the cultural changes of the 1960s and 70s which eroded traditional forms of authority and loosened governmental and corporate control over people’s lives, the destruction of militancy, resistance, and revolutionary thought became more imminent. The system of white male patriarchy had to ensure that amongst Black people; no more messiahs [Black men] would be raised, thus serving as the motivation for the crack crisis.
The author would argue that the Crack era destroyed the fabric of Black civility and Black life. It ushered in a new form of enslavement, corporate slavery, which flourished and garnered mass dividends, off the subjugation and oppression of Black people, primarily Black men. It began with cocaine as, Reeves and Campbell (1994) highlight in Coloring the Crack Crisis, and transformed into crack as Reagan began doing CIA operative mission and CONTRA scandals in South America in an attempt to destroy the Sandinistas. Cocaine, was a white drug, for those celebrities, rock stars, and other whites, and was not a crisis, but a socially acceptable form of pleasure. However, as cocaine transitioned to crack, the color of the drug changed as well.
Sentencing laws, such as the 1984 Anti-Drug Act, provided harsher penalties for Blacks than whites and the prisons became disproportionately filled with Black males. The neighborhoods of Black America were no longer embedded in social change and progression, but rather became victims of terrorization from an American culture rooted in racism. Black men were demonized for selling crack to black women who the media portrayed as cracks primary users; and then the family structure declines. Crack babies, are sociologists new trend and terms such as “crack-head”, “crack-house”, urbanized, ghetto, all are listed attributes under Black. The demonization of the black man was a way to discredit and destroy him in the eyes of not only theworld, but more importantly the black woman and the black child. What this leaves is a perpetuated cycle of victimization and reenactment of violence and patriarchy.
Modern-day discrimination manifests itself through institutional racism i.e. criminal justice system, the educational system, the healthcare system and the workplace. Black men have shifted from the institution of chattel slavery, to the institution of the prison industrial complex. Harvey & Allard (2008) assert “perhaps in no other institution are there more blatant examples of institutional racism than in law enforcement and the criminal justice system” (p. 51). “Of the 2.3 million inmates in custody, 2.1 million are men of that Black male represent 35.4%, the largest percentage. Across all age categories, black males are incarcerated at higher rates than white or Hispanic males” (Sabol, 2007).
A longitudinal study conducted by Johnson and Johnson (2006) revealed that the impact of incarceration on wages is most severe for Black males and that regardless of their former incarceration status, Black men earn significantly less (3). A Princeton University workplace study had similar conclusions; their study showed that white males with a criminal record had a slightly better chance of getting a job than a Black male with no criminal record (Harvey et al.). Research studies have conferred Johnson’s findings that suggest that white men with the same education are more likely than Black men to be promoted in organizations (Harvey et al.). Despite the efforts of Affirmative Action to diversity the workplace, Black men continue to have difficulties in the labor market “in good times and in bad, the unemployment rates for this population tends to be about double that of whites. The marginal and faltering ties they [black men] have to the labor market are devastating entire families and communities.
Rising unemployment adds to the difficulties already affecting vulnerable families that live in communities plagued by poor educational outcomes, declining neighborhood quality, and high rates of incarceration” (Cawthorne, 2009). The legacy of racism’s historic and contemporary effects on the ability of the Black male to fully function as a citizen of equal status in America, serves as the catalyst for the complex identity formation characterized by oedipal conflict, double consciousness, and a peculiar affinity for white male patriarchy.
Formation of Identity, Issues, and Challenges
Psychoanalytic theory postulates that the structural component of identity exist in three levels: conscious, pre-conscious, and unconscious. In a careful analysis of Black male identity formation through observation and research, the author will argue that they [Black men] are conscious of the abusive and oppressive nature of the society in which they live. They often reflect a duality of consciousness in understanding that their experience in America historically have not meet their basic needs (love, nurture, belongingness, acceptance) and have instead produced a diverse group of men in modernity, often homogenized into boxed identities [stereotypes] in American culture. The obtaining of power and the ability to enact traditional masculine roles is the striving for every male child. However, as the Black male transitions from childhood to adolescence, and unresolved conflicts related to psychosocial development are retarded due to insubstantial access to masculine status and the historical continuance of social, cultural, and economic disadvantages, it become increasingly evident that academic, career, and social prosperity in the later stages of development have the potential for negative outcomes.
The process by which Black men have formulated their identities is rooted in trauma. Because trauma is often too painful to confront or deal with, it becomes a psychological mechanism of defense for one to utilize various tactics to shield themselves from the reality of their situation. Initially, such avoidance maybe conscious, but later it becomes automatic and unconscious (Pervin, Cervone & Oliver, 2005). A primary or psychologically primitive form of defense mechanisms is that of denial. For Black males, denial of their powerlessness and childlike functioning is existent in the multitude of contemporary issues that are exhibited within their dysfunctional behavior.
Harris (1995) asserts that in order to compensate for feelings of powerlessness, guilt, and shame, some Black males of lower socio-economic status have redefined masculinity to emphasize sexual promiscuity, toughness, thrill seeking, and the use of violence in interpersonal interactions. Observable mannerisms characteristic of this set of alternative masculine behaviors include physical posture, style of clothing, content and rhythm of speech, walking style, standing, form of greeting, and overall demeanor (280). In addition to denial, perhaps the most prevalent of all defense mechanisms in Black males is repression. Repression in the author opinions is the root cause of violence, exhibited by Black males , coupled with misogyny, and the difficulty in developing and maintaining healthy relationships especially with Black females. Operating out of both denial and repression, it can only be assumed that the correlation between dysfunctional behavior not be consciously tied to social oppression, but rather acted out towards other victims of the same phenomenon.
According to Erikson, up to the stage of adolescence, development mostly depends on what is done to us. From here on out, development depends primarily on what we do. And while adolescence is a stage at which we are neither a child nor an adult, life is definitely getting more complex as we attempt to find our own identity, struggle with social interactions, and grapple with moral issues (Harder, 2005). The psychosocial crisis of identity versus role confusion formulates the beginnings of unconscious desire of the Black male to emulate white male patriarchy. hooks (2004) defines patriarchy as “political-social system that insist that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain the dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence” (p. 18).