Thursday, May 15, 2008

Welcome to the Jungle. Now Die.

I like to read Christina Springer's blog fairly regularly because I like her writing style and her anecdotes about life as a home-schoolin', peace-pushing, England transplant trying to raise children.

It's a slice of life I would never get if it wasn't for the internet; she's not the type of person that I would probably ever meet in my regular life. Getting the chance to view the world through her eyes, and eyes of the many denizens of the web, benefits me as a human.

The other day, that point was reinforced for me when I read this post that she wrote. The source material for that post came from here.

For those of you who despise clicking links, Springer's post discussed the startling similarities between the actions of certain young African elephants and many young black males. The passage she excerpted from the article is mind-boggling when you substitute "black people" for "elephants." Here's the excerpt:

Since the early 1990’s, for example, young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa have been raping and killing rhinoceroses; this abnormal behavior, according to a 2001 study in the journal Pachyderm, has been reported in ‘‘a number of reserves’’ in the region. In July of last year, officials in Pilanesberg shot three young male elephants who were responsible for the killings of 63 rhinos, as well as attacks on people in safari vehicles. In Addo Elephant National Park, also in South Africa, up to 90 percent of male elephant deaths are now attributable to other male elephants, compared with a rate of 6 percent in more stable elephant communities.
But in ‘‘Elephant Breakdown,’’ a 2005 essay in the journal Nature, Bradshaw and several colleagues argued that today’s elephant populations are suffering from a form of chronic stress, a kind of species-wide trauma. Decades of poaching and culling and habitat loss, they claim, have so disrupted the intricate web of familial and societal relations by which young elephants have traditionally been raised in the wild, and by which established elephant herds are governed, that what we are now witnessing is nothing less than a precipitous collapse of elephant culture.

The number of older matriarchs and female caregivers (or ‘‘allomothers’’) had drastically fallen, as had the number of elder bulls, who play a significant role in keeping younger males in line. In parts of Zambia and Tanzania, a number of the elephant groups studied contained no adult females whatsoever. In Uganda, herds were often found to be ‘‘semipermanent aggregations,’’ as a paper written by Bradshaw describes them, with many females between the ages of 15 and 25 having no familial associations.

As a result of such social upheaval, calves are now being born to and raised by ever younger and inexperienced mothers. Young orphaned elephants, meanwhile, that have witnessed the death of a parent at the hands of poachers are coming of age in the absence of the support system that defines traditional elephant life. ‘‘The loss of elephant elders,’’ Bradshaw told me, ‘‘and the traumatic experience of witnessing the massacres of their family, impairs normal brain and behavior development in young elephants.’’

I pointed out this post because it got me thinking about just how much of an impact environment has on individuals' lives. We've all heard about the nature versus nurture debate and judging by the comments on this blog, I'm sure most of y'all would attribute the pathologies within certain segments of the black community to the nurture model. I agree with that concept and think anyone who believes that black people are just pre-disposed to certain actions is an idiot. That's it, just an idiot.

But, what that article did was really expose just how deeply a person's environment can impact their psyches. It reminded me of a post on Racialicious from a book written by Joan Morgan about black women and feminism. Here is the quotation:

As a black woman and a feminist I listen to the music with a willingness to see past the machismo in order to be clear about what I’m really dealing with. What I hear frightens me. On booming track after booming track, I hear brothers talking about spending each day high as hell on malt liquor and Chronic. Don’t sleep. What passes for “40 and a blunt” good times in most of hip-hop is really alcoholism, substance abuse, and chemical dependency. When brothers can talk so cavalierly about killing each other and then reveal that they have no expectation to see their twenty-first birthday, that is straight up depression masquerading as machismo. […]

This is crystal clear to me when I’m listening to hip-hop. Yeah, sistas are hurt when we hear brothers calling us bitches and hos. But the real crime isn’t the name-calling, it’s their failure to love us - to be our brothers in the way that we commit ourselves to being their sistas. But recognize: Any man who doesn’t truly love himself is incapable of loving us in the healthy way we need to be loved. It’s extremely telling that men who can only refer to us as “bitches” and “hos” refer to themselves only as “niggas.”

It's amazing how those two posts by two different people seem to line up so magnificently in my mind.

Look, I think every American understands on a certain level that things are difficult in this country for young black males. Some folks deny it and point to affirmative action and the NBA, but those people are dishonest losers who are trying to drown out their inner voice of truth with a constant stream of belligerent nonsense. I don't need to post the stats, we all know that shit ain't cool for young black dudes.

Now, I'm not trying to excuse the actions of my brothers because right is right and wrong is wrong. There is nothing right about drug dealing, raping, thieving or killing. Every human is responsible for his or her own actions, you cannot pawn off your responsibility on society. Nor am I trying to ignore the plight of my young sisters whose struggles is difficult in so many ways.

Yet, when I read Springer's blog post, and read Morgan's excerpt, I couldn't help but feel some serious pain at the path being laid out for young brothers. I feel the same pain when I drive down an inner-city street or visit a crime scene. If your eyes are open there is no escaping the pain that so many brothers are trying to conceal behind bravado and opiates. It's there in every jaunty step and every hard glare.

Like those African elephants it's easy to feel like black men are part of some horrible, unnatural experiment that was designed to benefit anybody but them. It's as if we're on display and our every action is being documented and cataloged to serve some outside purpose. Just like with the elephants, moves are made to try to contain the pathology, but the core problems that are really causing the distress are largely ignored. Nobody is talking about dismantling animal reserves and nobody is talking about a complete overhaul of America.

And the cycle of violence continues unabated in cities like Detroit, Philadelphia and my hometown of New Orleans. Every day brings death to another urban elephant, just one more pistol-packing pachyderm dead because he couldn't adapt.

It's just one big fucking zoo.

So the question becomes, what do we as a community do about this problem, how do we step in and combat a toxic environment?

It's a daunting task. How do you perform therapy when most of your subjects lack interest in change, and most of society is directly opposed to assisting you? At least with elephants the animals' actions are at odds with their natural instincts which makes them much more willing to change. Unfortunately, the evil that men do seems much more in line with our basic instincts.

Yet, I believe that we can pull ourselves and each other out of this psychic morass. That through small steps in our immediate communities (being less willing to judge, more willing to help) we can make small changes that create big changes. We can hold our elected officials and our so-called leaders responsible for not doing more or saying more about the plight of young men. We can challenge unfair laws and horrible prison conditions.

Each of us has this power, each of us can do our part.


Unknown said...

I had read the elephant info before and found it sad and disturbing. This comparison brings it into ever more stark relief. Papa G (a lifelong educator) says that the school system as it stands now is designed to feed poor black boys into the jails. He's been saying it, and fighting it and building alternative schools for years while people (a lot of black people) wanted to do everything except completely overhaul the system.
What we each need to do is fight to overhaul whatever part of the system we know best, your church, your kid's school, your office, even just your family or your group of friends. We can put our bodies, our money and our votes where our mouth is.
We can change this.
We must change this.

Big Man said...

My parents fought really hard to make sure my brother and I didn't get caught in the school to jail cycle. But, you're right, most schools give up on boys much too early and are not designed to help them succeed.

Plus, society as a whole just doesn't take into account the serious mental issues that black men and often black women have. It's amazing how it is so easy to see that there is a problem in these elephants and to take action, but the same conditions have existed for centuries with black men and nobody in power really does anything substantial..

Anonymous said...

What's saddest to me is how many Americans probably would weep to hear the story with the word "elephant" in it...but who would simply shrug if the word were changed to "young black man."

Truthiz said...

A painfully Honest, post_Big Man!

And WNG clearly states the solution in its most simplistic, yet, most complex form:

“We can change this. We must change this.”

The key words being_ “WE can”_and _ “We MUST”_!

In my line of work, finding an effective solution to the problem (whatever the problem) begins with that most critical question _where do I begin?

As it relates to this discussion _and to Us as people_ the question becomes_where do We begin?

At the beginning.

We must not only increase Awareness of the critical issues that are killing us in a variety of ways. But we MUST, as individuals, and as families, be HONEST in acknowledging our own sh*t; what’s hidden within.

Simply put, I'm no good to you or anybody else if I'm mucked up inside!

As a people, We can’t fix what we can’t measure _and we can’t measure what we’re NOT even willing to admit exist _and THAT, more than anything else, has led to the devesating effects prevalent within Black-America today:

Major Depression, Major Depression w/Psychosis, Suicidal and Homicidal ideations, PTSD, Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, Chronic Anxiety, Intermittent Explosive Anger, frequent and erratic mood swings, insomnia, chronic fatigue, etc….

Those “issues” belong to that dreaded group, known in the Black community as “Taboo” subjects_shssssh…(whispering)...“we mustn’t talk about it”_“it’s a sign of weakness.”

Well that response will NOT do anymore!

As WNG already stated:

“We can change this. We MUST change this.”

Unknown said...

Here's how I break it down personally:
Do the best you can for your family
Help your community (pick something, anything and volunteer)
Educate yourself and VOTE
Educate others
Ask for help when you need it

I think that the more people we can get to focus on these things instead of material posessions and status symbols the stronger we will be and the more change we can affect. To me there are no excuses - everyone can do SOMETHING.

ps - thanks, truthiz!

Lenoxave said...

Depression and Mental Illness are serious factors in our community and like truthiz staes, we are unwilling to talk about these matters.

I lost an uncle, mother and grandmother to depression which lead to self destructive behavior that killed them all.

We have to recognize that the violence that we visit upon one another is not just due to external factors. It's the impact on the psyche and the spirit that is doing the most damage.

Truthiz said...

"Ask for help when you need it"

WNG states the most important determining factor in whether We (Black-Americans) will be able to really "overcome" much of what we've been through at the hands of others, _and much of what we've put ourselves through_ "ASK FOR HELP"_!

Unfortunately, We are our own worst enemy in this regard.

For a Black person to seek much needed psycho-social Help is to risk being ostracized by the Black community and our own family!

So, as Danielle has articualted, We continue to Suffer UNpspeakable and UNbearable pain....



Hello there everyone! {waves}

Thank you for this post!

A week ago, I led an online discussion on my blog about "REDEFINING BLACK MASCULINITY" and a few brothas came into the discussion that the sistas were having. Both the men and the women agreed that we MUST examine the prevailing concept of black masculinity.

I am not a feminist or a womanist. I believe that a black man needs to lead his ladies...I did not say CO-LEAD his family. I said: "LEAD HIS FAMILY!" I grew up in a household where both parents were degreed professionals but the household did NOT have two chiefs. My father was large and in charge. I know that it can work in the black family.

Please understand...I am not promulgating the hetero-nuclear family construct as THEE ONLY family structure for black pepole to wholly embrace, but I am saying that it is being abandoned in the black community and we need to address that quickly.

I believe that the black man is becoming irrelevant in the infrastructure of the black family - and a pariah to many black women in the black community. We must understand the roots of this and work diligently to correct this.

Thanks for letting me blow my trumpet!

You are welcome to visit:

Big Man said...

Hey again Lisa

That's a good topic, the one about the role of the black man in a Christian family. That may be something I write about over here or submit to Deacon for consideration.

Raving Black Lunatic