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It is this backdrop that framed the existence of black males well into the 1960’s. They lived in a struggle to find self-identity, while being continuously pushed back into a secondary status.
Over the last forty years entertainment via film, music and sports has created an alternative view of black men. With the early ascension of Sidney Poitier and Muhammad Ali, we saw a new kind of black male image take center stage. Strong, informed and outspoken on the social issues of the day, this was an identity of black men America had not seen in such form. These men of great stature spoke to the social ills of the day and stood front line on issues of civil injustice. With their ascension they paved a path for a new crop of blacks in the media.
It is this new veil of economics that has allowed for a broad swath of America to become not just desensitized to black poverty, but also hypnotized by black celebrity. How could we not? Our channels from ESPN to VH1 are filled with presentations of black Americans being paid a king’s ransom to entertain. As black celebrity has been shown to millions of people, millions of times, the story of real lives has also been lost, and with it the engine that thrust forward the demand for social justice by the masses. The heartbeat of social action is to recognize your mistreatment, and demand better. With each presentation of Kobe Bryant’s 25 million dollar a year contract … a veil of false calm is created within the overall American economic psyche about the immense black wealth disparity. Young black men from ghettos across America that used to dream to make great changes in racial inequity now just dream to be a millionaire and be like Mike and dunk a ball or dance on a stage.
Behind this image working class black men pressured themselves to make it in ways not seen prior. Creating alter egos that could be framed in the light of a superhero. Forming fanciful places where they would one day become rappers, or basketball players, instead of everyday fathers or workers at the corner store. All this while even the corner store wasn’t giving them full-time work. To live in such a world of delusion is so very different than the America experienced by everyone else. That world is full of normal teachers, secretaries and every day people. Instead this is a world where our poorest pressure themselves to become millionaires or bust, ignoring the fact that while money multiples it does not appear out of thin air.
While the few playing on the Milwaukee Bucks make millions in the NBA playoffs and are shown across the globe on TNT, Milwaukee as a city sees its rates of unemployed black males between 16 and 54 at rates over 50%. As the Los Angeles Clippers play at Staples Center on ABC, thousands suffer in its shadow on Skid Row only a few blocks away from the Los Angeles arena. (Skid Row has the highest concentration of homeless in the nation. The population of which is predominately homeless black males).
As the number of incarcerated African American men reached levels unseen, the term black man took on a synonymous meaning with the word prisoner. In the piece “The Black Male Incarceration Problem Is Real and It’s Catastrophic,” I showed that there are more African American men behind bars than the number of people imprisoned by 9 countries that represent over 1.5 billion people. There are only about 18 million black males in total, counting children.
Despite all of this, the imagery of black men on television and media took the from of the rap mogul Luscious Lyon of Empire, or the iconic sports figure LeBron James. Multi-millionaire black males shown so many times that you would think they grew on trees. The irony being numerically in real terms they hardly exist.
But unable to stomach it, America refused to swallow the truth. So it made its own truth, a place where at any given moment you look to the cover of Yahoo and the same few black men in entertainment are shown daily as the top stories. All the while if you Google a common black male name and do an image search, it brings up a string of mug shots of men whose stories don’t make it to that premiere Yahoo news feed unless they are shot down.
This is the conflicted place where African American men exist, from Baltimore to Ferguson and beyond. This economic trap has created a monster of a problem that is bubbling and will burst upon all of our cities if unresolved.
Antonio Moore is a entertainment attorney in Los Angeles. He is also one of the producers of the documentary on the Iran Contra, Crack Cocaine Epidemic and the resulting issues of Mass Incarceration “Freeway: Crack in the System presented by Al Jazeera”. Mr. Moore has contributed pieces to theGrio, Huffington Post and Eurweb on the topics of race, mass incarceration, and economics. Follow Antonio Moore on Twitter
Originally published on Allhiphop.com