“Systemic Racism is Real. Be One Another’s Church.”
20 years ago, I joined a church-affiliated golfing group of about fifteen African American men. Over the years, our group has morphed into a support group where we share our blessings and burdens with one another. Every third Thursday of the month, we still meet via Zoom and use the time together to laugh, occasionally cry, and always pray. We pray together for each other.
This group of men has become vital in keeping one another alive and living more fully. We have counseled each other personally and professionally: Sharing grief and offering support for those who have lost spouses, and helping guys fight battles with cancer and substance abuse. We have sought advice from one another on raising children and caring for aging parents. To each member of our group, we have been church.
I am acutely aware of how privileged I am to be a part of such a group. Indeed, each member is privileged because of it. By and large, the men in this group have fared better than most Black men when it comes to education, financial earnings, and health. Yet, not one of us has been immune to the vicissitudes of systemic racism in our own personal and professional journeys. Neither this group nor I are blind to the general plight of Black men in this society. So, in addition to our monthly gathering, we tutor youth, we eat with and feed those experiencing homelessness, we visit the incarcerated, we provide scholarships, we volunteer. We step up.
Camille Busette of the Brookings Institution writes that “To be male, poor and African American is to confront, on a daily basis, a deeply held racism that exists in every social institution. No other demographic group has fared as badly, so persistently and for so long.”
She and the Brookings Institution then go on to provide some revealing data. Here are some of the highlights of that research:
Black men have lower educational attainment levels – In 2019, 28% of Black men ages 25-29 had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 30% of Black women, over 40% of white men, and nearly half of white women in 2019. The gap is greater still at higher education levels: only half as many Black men have a Master’s degree (4%) as Black women (9%), white men (8%) and white women (13%)
Black men earn less money – Black workers—regardless of gender—earn less than white workers, and white men have substantially out-earned white women and Black workers since 1980. For both Black and white workers, men earn more; but the gender gap is much smaller for Black workers. The weekly earnings of full-time workers (hourly and non-hourly) for Black and white workers by gender since 1980 are striking: Black men earn $378 less per week than white men and $125 less than white women. Overall white women have seen the biggest increase in earnings, overtaking Black men in the 1990s.
Black men are disproportionally incarcerated – Black men face a much higher chance of being incarcerated, according to Bureau of Justice data. Black men are overrepresented among prisoners by a factor of five (32% v. 6%) when viewed from the perspective of the proportion of state and federal prisoners of each race and gender, compared to the share of the U.S. adult population
Black men die four years earlier than white men – Life expectancy is lowest for Black men compared to other groups both at birth and at age 65. “For white men life expectancy at birth is about 6 years lower than at age 65. But for Black men, that gap is over 9 years—showing that Black men are more likely to die prematurely.”
Breaking the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage for Black boys and men will not be accomplished by individual Black men and boys pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. The challenges are far too systemic and complicated to break the cycle that way. But crucial to overcoming obstacles and decreasing gaps is Black men turning towards each other in gatherings like my Third Thursday group. It doesn’t require amazing men to start this journey. But to do something amazing, it does require stepping up and making a start.