An African-American Newsweek columnist addresses a candid and compassionate open letter to the black men of America.
Cose (The Best Defense, 1998, etc.) scatters in myriad places substantial blame for what he describes—in passionate and often painful prose—as the alarming circumstances of America’s black men. “To be born a black male in America,” he writes, “is to be put into shackles and then challenged to escape.” With his characteristic wide view, Cose argues that black men have placed some of those shackles on their own ankles. He decries, for example, the determination of many black teenagers to emulate in dress and behavior the anti-intellectual (and even criminal) portions of their culture. He urges blacks to reject the new stereotypes that the popular culture promulgates. But he also recognizes that many wounds are not self-inflicted: schools in the inner city are beneath awful, and the legal and penal systems are far more punitive with blacks than whites. He cites evidence that nearly one million black men are currently in jail and that perhaps one-fourth of black men can expect to spend some time behind bars. These are numbers rich in dread and ripe with danger. But Cose also tells success stories. And so we hear about Maurice Ashley, the first (and only) black grand master in US chess history. We learn about Franklin Delano Raines (head of Fannie Mae). And about Mike Gibson, a Morehouse College student who overcame a history of drugs, crime, and prison and transformed his life. Cose also examines the difficult issues of relationships in the black family, excoriating men for their failures as fathers and husbands. But he also explodes some pervasive myths about a “war” between black men and black women. He ends with a sort of self-help list of 12 “hard truths” (some profound, some superfluous)—e.g., “Don’t expect competence and hard work alone to get you the recognition or rewards you deserve.”
A slender volume with a substantial and significant message.