Why Do African-American Youth Kill Each Other? The Lack of Cultural Alignment
“A constant diet of hopelessness will ultimately darken their mental skies and make them believe that their future is bleak and they will, therefore, develop the self-destructive behavior patterns so many of our youth currently exhibit.” Na’im Akbar
The headline, “Murders of Young Black Men Rise” by Mike Wilkinson and Santiago Esparza in the Detroit News earlier this month prompted me to pause and think about why we continue to be plagued by this problem. In his Atlanta Post article this month, R.L’Heureux Lewis discusses the recurring exposure to violence students often encounter in their neighborhoods and the lack of resources dedicated to addressing the psychosomatic affects of overexposure to violence. Tony Sewell of the Guardian traces the violent behavior to boys’ over-feminised upbringing—too many single mothers raising boys, and the lack of a male role model to help the boys navigate and suppress the destructive proclivities that are inherent in them. Because the male role model is absent, Sewell believes that boys pursue alternatives in the form of male dominant figures normally found in gangs. The latter premise has a lot of currency among researchers.
Handgun proliferation has also been cited as a cause as to why black youth murder each other at astonishing rates. Family disruption and family support, social disorganization, social control and disorganization, lack of resilience—self-efficacy and peer relationships, and the code of the street are other reasons provided to delineate the self-hatred young black men engage in when they murder each other, as well as substantiates the high homicide rates amongst Blacks. Of all the reasons given for why black youth demonstrate such deprave behavior, I found the cultural alignment framework advanced by Jerome Schiele to be most useful.
The cultural alignment framework asserts that black youth violence can be ascribed to the deculturalization of Blacks, the forced assimilation of Eurocentric values, and the lingering effects of slavery. Cultural oppression facilitates violence among black youth because it devalues the minority groups’ culture and forces its domination on the group. This forced assimilation has the affect of marginalizing the oppressed group. As a result of cultural oppression, a climate is created where black youth feel illegitimate and nonexistent. In Nathan McCall’s book, “Makes Me Want to Holla”, he discusses the power black youth feel with a gun in their hand. The possessor of the gun derives a level of respect, which has evaded him because of cultural oppression—a psychosomatic byproduct.
By degrading the subjugated group and defining the social reality of this group via the institutions that transmit culture and traditions, (e.g., family, school, media, and other recognized organizations) values once transmitted by staple institutions are no longer embraced by black youth. Since the culture of black youth has been co-opted, they are easily seduced by the temporal values glamorized in hip-hop, Hollywood and the media. Most measures of success are portrayed in hip-hop culture and Hollywood is associated with physical and material aggrandizement without regard to their effect on the community and on the individual. Many black professional athletes and entertainers are excellent examples of people who have embraced values contrary to the Afrocentric value system and they promote these flawed images of success to the communities’ detriment. The flawed images of success and the dearth of avenues to achieve success, create a ripe environment for homicide.
As a result of cultural oppression and cultural perversion, the oppressed group begins to exhibit cultural alienation. The culturally alienated have no appreciation for past contribution of their ancestors. Consequently, such alienation manifests into low self-esteem and self hate. Low self-esteem, self hate and pursuit of physical and material success without consequences are factors which have manifested themselves in increased homicide rates amongst black youth. Thus, we continue to witness such stories out of Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, Newark and other urban environments across the country.
Afrocentrists believe that in order to solve the black youth violence crisis, black youth must be aligned culturally. Cultural alignment is achieved by teaching black youth Afrocentric values they assert. Research appears to support their assertions. Researchers have discovered that black children who participate in Afrocentric curricular activities, such as rites of passage programs, are less inclined to retort to violent behavior and think less about violence. The Afrocentric socialization process mitigates the impact cultural oppression has on youth and builds what they term as African self-consciousness. Once African self-consciousness is actualized, youth no longer feel culturally alienated. Unfortunately, many of the custodians of programs geared to assist young people with programs are few and far between.
Byron E. Price is an Associate Professor of Political Science in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and the author of Merchandizing Prisoners: Who Really Pays for Prison Privatization?