Being a Black Man: At the Corner of Progress and Peril

Being a Black Man: At the Corner of Progress and Peril
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Are you curious about what it means to be a Black man?
Over the course of the past year, The Washington Post has run a series of reports to explore what it means to be a Black man in today’s society. Black men often feel caught between individual achievements and collective failures, defined more by their images in popular culture than their lived experiences. Now collected in one volume, these poignant and provocative articles let readers see and read the thoughts of black men like they’ve never experienced before. Now these stories are published in a book — Being a Black Man: At the Corner of Progress and Peril.

What does it mean to be a black man?
This question lies at the center of the inquiry. For me, being a black man means living every day with the notion of “struggle.” Even amidst achievement and material success, I am reminded every day that I am a black man when I see the devastated lives of my brothers who have crumbled under the oppressive struggle for self-identity, self-respect, for fair treatment, and acceptance as an equal. My black brothers challenge me to “be real” and my white colleagues deny the reality of my struggle, as if the struggle is over for me and 18 million other black brothers in this country. For me, there is no melting pot. I don’t blend in, nor can I be hidden from view. I am free, but I seem to pay a higher cost for my freedom. I face an endless struggle being a black man, yet I am not defeated by the struggle. Until most of us achieve “victory over the legacy of oppression,” all of us struggle. So being a Black man means never giving up the struggle. It means helping, mentoring, being a role model, and remembering always that there is strength in unity. There is no rest until brothers across the Diaspora can declare “Victory!” Until then, our cry is . . . Amandla!

Poll Reveals a Contradictory Portrait Shaded With Promise and Doubt
Black men in America today are deeply divided over the way they see themselves and their country.Black men report the same ambitions as most Americans — for career success, a loving marriage, children, respect. And yet most are harshly critical of other black men, associating the group with irresponsibility and crime.

Black men describe a society rife with opportunities for advancement and models for success. But they also express a deep fear that their hold on the good life is fragile, in part because of discrimination they continue to experience in their daily lives.

This portrait of the divided black man emerges from a survey conducted by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University. The survey of 2,864 people, including a sample of 1,328 black men, aimed to capture the experiences and perceptions of black men at a time marked by increasing debate about how to build on their achievements and address the failures that endure decades after the civil rights movement.

In many ways, the outward and inward struggles of black men appear to reflect where the nation is on its journey toward racial equality — unquestionably further along and, yet, at risk of moving backward.

As a young man, one of my mentors admonished me, “Don’t you ever forget how hard it is to be a successful black man in this country.” As I reflect on the 60 years of my life, I can now share that wisdom with younger black men. While there are many signs of progress, life for a black man is still filled with complex challenges that are unique to those of us grappling with our identity as black men.This series, and the book, captures a wide range of perspectives through interviews and video portrayals.

Roger Madison

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