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The Great Recession and the New Urban Black Man

Posted by Laurel on 08/11/2011

The Great Recession hit everybody hard, but African Americans have lost more than most. Just as it was finally looking like a large portion of the American middle class would be African American the rug got pulled out and thirty years of progress was suddenly erased. According to a Pew Research Centre report released last week about 50% of the wealth of African Americans has been wiped out since 2008. The reason? The housing crisis, of course.

Like poor White and Hispanic families, Black families saw home ownership as a way to enter the middle class and establish financial security. Unlike other groups, however, African Americans did not have much in the way of other wealth. Decent jobs have only recently come open to the Black community and there hasn’t been enough time to fund 401k plans, earn stock options, or build wealth in small businesses. When the house lost its value there wasn’t anything at all left.   

So what is the Urban Black Male to do? Jobs won’t be coming back any time soon, most state governments are tottering on bankruptcy, and the recent budget deal in Washington seems to focus on cutting social spending not for the next year, but for the next decade. The world of the future is very different from the past. Each of us faces an awfully long rough road, filled with despair, setbacks and the very real possibility of failure. Not of us will make it. We must take stock of ourselves, decide what we stand for, and live each day as a testament to our future.

That future will not include huge sport bikes, grills instead of teeth and McMansions. A steady means of income, a wife, and a place to call home may be considered success in the future. But that should not sound depressing. Recent research shows these simple things are what really make us happy, but are the hardest to achieve.

Arthur Brooks is a professor at Syracuse University and for the last twenty years studied what makes us happy. It’s not big houses, big cars and a bevy of beautiful women. All of that is short term entertainment. People who rate themselves happiest over a lifetime dedicate themselves to marriage and family, maintaining a circle of close friends, building a career or business they like, and a religious or spiritual belief system. We don’t need power and excitement to be happy. We need unchanging values and long term goals.

That is very different form where we’ve been, and it will take effort to change our values and expectations to get there.    

We have to get tough. Not physically, not in that worn out macho gansta bling filled way. We have to get mentally and spiritually tough.  Martin Luther King said, “A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.”

Like it or not history and economics have thrust leadership upon the Urban Black Man. Raising strong children is easier than fixing broken men. Our younger brothers look to us to show them the way forward. They will follow our example, no matter how good or bad that example may be. Doing what we want is no longer acceptable. We have to do what is right. The choices we make for ourselves will likely be the choices our brothers make for themselves.

For some of us becoming a leader might mean reading books or going to church. Maybe it means finishing high school or college or joining the military. For all of us it means disciplining ourselves to be the best that we can be, even when it’s not popular with others. Fredrick Douglass said, “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

There will be risks and setbacks. Sometimes we will make the wrong decision, and when we do we should expect to suffer remorse and guilt. Painful as they are, those emotions are good things because they remind us to stay true to our values. It takes courage to admit our mistakes and accept guilt for them. Not the kind of physical courage the Tuskegee Airmen displayed in the skies over Germany, but the kind of moral courage it takes to keep us on the path that leads to living our dreams.

We no longer have the luxury of living for ourselves. Those days are over. Now we have the responsibility to live for our brothers, our children and our community.        

By, Vic Napier

Bio about Vic Napier

Vic Napier has been a factory worker, mental health professional, full time skydiver and college instructor.  He earned an MBA in 2004 and is currently completing a PhD in Psychology. He makes his living as an entrepreneur in Tucson Arizona.