Addressing African American Adolescent & Young Adult Male Violence
I have endeavored on more than one occasion to advance the cause of addressing the enigmatic issues surrounding the prevalence of violence as it pertains to Black males, especially adolescent and young adult Black males. When you examine the occurrence of violence in Black neighborhoods in cities across the United States, the numbers are staggering. In Chicago, there have been weekends recorded in which there were more than 50 shootings in that short time span. By the end February of this year, the city had already logged 100 murders (Williams-Harris, Crepeau, & Malagon, 2017) In the small city of Wilmington, Delaware, with murder rate of 1,638 per 100,000 people, with a population just over 71,000, the city has a murder rate more than four times the national average, with the vast majority of these violent crimes being committed in Black communities (Jones, 2014).
While the numbers associated with the murders and violent crimes in Chicago and Wilmington have been sensationalized, cities around the country are facing similar problems in varying numbers and varying degrees of impact. There is definitely an epidemic of violence being perpetuated in Black neighborhoods. What is important is that we gain a lucid perspicacity of causality for the purpose of direct engagement. One of the problems that plague the Black collective is the failure to develop the knowledge of how things work.
Moving forward, it is important to understand that the Law of Cause and Effect is always at play, every situation is the result of an underlying cause. Absolutely nothing takes place in a vacuum, even the most minute of occurrences have a cause. When you are not aware of the Law of Cause and Effect, you tend to become the effect of causes you are completely unaware of. I have invested more than 60,000 hours into conducting scientific research associated with the current dilemmas that Blacks face on a consistent basis. There are multitudinous enigmatic issues that are highly pervasive in the Black cultural reality, and these issues must be systematically addressed if we ever intend on rising out of the quicksand of social ineptitude.
In my latest book, Born in Captivity: Psychopathology as a Legacy of Slavery, I point to the fact that there are numerous pathological behaviors that are so pervasive within the Black collective that we tend to embrace them as a part of our inherent culture. Things like childhood sexual abuse, incest, the epidemic of single-parent households, rape, self-hatred, colorism, internal distrust, consumerism, distorted views of property and money, inferiority complexes, the devaluation of the Black family nucleus, African American adolescent and young adult male violence, and so much more are all a part of a collective pathology that has placed the Black collective in a suspended position in which progression is not feasible.
We must be willing to confront these pathologies with an inexorable intent to achieve measured change in the areas of ideology, thought and behavior.
Addressing the Black-on-Black Crime Myth
Before moving on to addressing African American adolescent and young adult male violence, it is imperative that we address a common myth that is consistently perpetuated throughout American culture — Black-on-Black crime. On the surface, this term seems innocent enough, and visually reflects the reality of so many in our communities; however, the subtle nuances of the idea of Black-on-Black crime create a nefarious supposition that distinguishes the intraracial violence in Black communities from all other forms of interracial violence committed by non-black racial groups. It creates the impression that Blacks are somehow predisposed to violence and it discounts the gravity and impact of environment, poverty, and history.
The truth is that Blacks killing other Blacks is not some form of an exclusive phenomenon. The vast majority of homicide victims are killed by someone from their race (Cella & Neuhauser, 2016). For instance, at their peak, the number of whites killed by other whites reached 84.2 percent of all homicides in which the victim was white and the assailant was known (Cella & Neuhauser, 2016). Currently, the percentage of white homicide victims that are killed by other whites is at 81.3 percent (Cella & Neuhauser, 2016). In other words, people kill people who they spend the most time around, which is normally defined by race and socioeconomic status. Therefore, the fact that Blacks are killing other Blacks should not come as a surprise.
The most nefarious impact of the concept of Black-on-Black crime is that there is no mention of White-on-White crime or Asian-on-Asian crime. The isolation of the Black race in the examination of intraracial homicide leads to the postulation that Blacks are naturally more prone to violent impulses without considering all the variables that influence the current statistics. These type of postulations is what leads to the disproportionate and unsubstantiated fear associated with how society views Black men. It also impacts how we perceive ourselves and it impacts the development of the social norms and standards that govern our collective behavior toward one another.
At the Core of African American Adolescent and Young Adult Male Violence
If we consider the Law of Cause and Effect, we are immediately challenged to identify the cause of the hypermasculinity and false bravado exuded by young Black males. I have invested a substantial amount of research hours into understanding the social dynamics that influence African American adolescent and young adult male violence. In 2016, I published a brief paper entitled Addressing African American Inner-City Violence through Racial Socialization that outlined the cause and introduced a solution.
During my research, I converged with Dr. Howard Stevenson from the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Joy DeGruy (recognized for her phenomenal work: Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome). During the 1990s, Dr. Stevens had set the foundation on which Dr. DeGruy would follow and on which I would build. Dr. Stevenson identified five primary factors that directly impacted the risk of young Black males resorting to violence (Stevenson H. C., 2015).
Dr. Stevenson identified five core social realities that influence the risk of Black males resorting to violence, including:
- The feeling of being disrespected
- The lack of proper racial socialization
- Being a victim of violence
- Witnessing violence
- Urban Hassle.
What we now know is that numbers (3-5) are almost a given in the settings in which most intraracial violence involving Black males takes place. While numbers three and four are self-explanatory, urban hassle may need to be defined here for the sake of clarity. “Urban” hassle is defined as the common day-to-day challenges that people who live within the parameters of the inner-city must face, including navigating through drug activity and gang activity to get to and from school, hearing gunshots and sirens throughout the night, disruptive classroom environments and more. All of these things influence the proclivity to perpetrate violence.
The first two factors are extremely prevalent influencing variables that must be effectively engaged if there are to be any changes to the current reality within the Black community.
What we know is that the life of the average African American male youth in inundated by a host of economic, political and social pressures that include racial intolerance, unemployment or underemployment, economic inequalities, lack of education and the threat of violence (Dwyer, 1994; Fitzpatrick & Boldizar, 1993; Leary, 2001).
One thing that we must do in our attempt to understand and deal with this dilemma is to develop a lucid perspicacity of the importance of respect to African American youth, especially the males. The existence of debilitating experiences suffered by African American youth and members of their immediate family lead to frustration with the grander social system, which is perceived as the force that marginalizes and mistreats them on a consistent basis (DeGruy, 2009; Gilder, 1995).
There is also a resentment of the rejection they experience at the hands of their family, community and society at large (DeGruy, 2009). In a response to their frustrations and resentment, young Black males often resort to violence — using violence as a retaliatory function that provides what can be understood as pseudo-power (Bourgois, 2003). Conversely, those male youth who feel respected, tend to confront their frustrations and opposition in alternative ways. So basically, violence can be viewed as an artificial symbol of dominance as a means of reinforcing cognitive distortions and unworkable images of respect and success.
While I could spend significantly longer breaking this down from a sociological and psychological perspective, I would rather spend the remainder of this treatise focusing on the solution. In 2000, Dr, Joy DeGruy developed the only existing African American Adolescent Respect Scale — designed to help clinicians, social workers, and other behavioral specialist identify the risk of violence as it is associated with the feeling of being disrespected.
It is worth noting that the feeling of being disrespected is almost always present when young Black males commit violent crimes. At the core of every man’s existence is the burning desire to be respected. While the respect scale has been immensely effective in predicting violence, it has not answered the challenge to produce a method of intervention that will reduce the occurrence of violence. I have determined that the best way to reduce the occurrence of violence perpetrated by African American men is to create a mechanism through which Black men can be properly racially socialized at an early enough age for the ideology of the elevated existence of the Black man to be inculcated into their psyche. I created the Black Man Lead rite of passage program. The program is designed to work with Black males through a total of three phases.
The first phase is the most important phase because it will have the greatest and most lasting impact. This is where we work with young Black males who are going through their developmental years (4-12). This is a time when they should still have much of their innocence intact, and their thinking and perception of themselves will not have yet been fully corrupted by society, the public-school system, and media-driven propaganda. We will teach them what it means to be a Black man — what will be expected of them. We will teach them to respect the Black woman at all cost, understanding that their first priority is the protection of the Black woman. We will teach them how to understand and manage the changes they will experience as they move into their adolescent years, so that they will understand that their increases in strength, size and aggression are actually designed for them to become protectors of their families, communities, as well as Black women and children — not to terrorize them. We will teach the importance of ownership above employment and the responsibility to build generational wealth. Finally, when these young Black males reach the age of 13, we will have a rite of passage celebration, much in line in what we see with the Jewish bar mitzvah.
The next phase will involve working with adolescent and young adult Black males. These will be males who will likely have already experienced a certain level of social compromise in the way of understanding who they are and what is expected of them. They will likely already be prone to violence or display violent tendencies. They will lack trust in authority figures because authority figures have historically failed them. Nevertheless, we will engage them with an alternative to their current existence. We will introduce them to the possibilities associated with the promise of their potential. We will reveal ways that they can experience the type of dominance that comes through superior thinking and exceptional performance — not requiring violence to get others to acquiesce to their leadership. The goal will be to rescue as many as possible.
Finally, we will work with the maturing Black males to train and teach them how to engage our youth in a manner that produces efficacious results in the way of creating an entire generation of Black men who respect and protect Black women, consistently engage their progeny and perform phenomenally in society.
While we have been successful in implementing the program on a small scale, this program must become a universal standard for Black males across this country, and that will take work and resources. I have already committed myself to scaling out the program to a national initiative. Now I need your help. The time of empty dialogue has passed us by. We must engage the enigmatic issues that plague our community, and without strong Black men to lead and protect our communities we don’t stand a chance of ever experiencing true liberation and empowerment in this country. The Black Men Lead rite of passage program is an integral part of a much larger blueprint and strategy, but it is definitely a starting point.
I consistently hear Blacks complaining about the violence in the inner-city and saying that something needs to be done. The problem is that the same people are not willing to invest in programs and activities that are designed to meet this problem head on. We cannot engage this social struggle from a position of comfort and outside the furnace of sacrifice. If we are going to climb up, it will take a concerted effort. What I am asking is for 100 Black people who are committed to supporting change and growth in our communities to lead the charge by committing to donate $50.00 per month over the next 12 months. This will not cover all of the expenses, but it will take some of the load off of my back. For those who cannot make the $50.00 per month commitment, give what you can, but we need you to give. With 100 people committing, we can start a movement that actually makes a difference and pushes us forward. So, join me in being the change we desire. ~ Rick Wallace, Ph.D., Psy.D.
For those of you who do not want GoFundMe taking a cut, you can donate directly through The Odyssey Project Site and earmark your donation for the Black Men Lead rite of passage program! Click here to donate directly!