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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: October 2, 1999
Latest update: June 23, 2004
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Index of Topics on Site Summary Lecture on Race, Black Men, and the Law

October 22, 1999

This lecture jumps to Chapter 6 of Images of Color, Images of Crime of Mann and Zatz: "Reflections on Black Manhood," by William Oliver, starting on p. 81.

William Oliver, whose work we will return to in The Violent Social World of Black Men, focuses in this section of Mann and Katz on the damage done to black identity by the image of black people that was socially constructed out of slavery. "One of the great tragedies associated with prejudice and racial discrimination against black people is the negative effect it has had on how black people view their worth as human beings." (at p. 81.) Oliver describes the Million Man March on October 16, 1995, as a political and social statement by black men that they are going to assume the responsibility of caring for themselves, their community, their family, and undoing the social harm that has befallen them and their community, acknowledging that "an increasing number of black people have lost faith in the belief tht the white majority will ever commit themselvesto the ideals of justice and equality for all." (At p. 82.)

I would like to review that concept: that individuals can take on personal responsibility and take charge of their own lives when the infrastructure reflects bad faith and fails to maintain legitimacy through a good faith consideration of their validity claims. That perspective assumes that the American values of self realization are in fact available to all. But that is not true. It wasn't in the Old West, and it isn't in the New West. If you were going to shape your own reality with the help of a six shooter, you had to be a darned good shot, lucky (so other gunfighters didn't get you first, and preferably charismatic enough to hold a group of fellow westerners together to support your efforts. And if someone with faster and/or more guns came along your social reality would still fall to the sovereignty of whoever had the most power (guns and people who could shoot straight).

Yes, by standing united, as our labor movement made so clear in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, those without power can alter dominant discourse, and alter the outcomes of power. But it's minimal. The Million Man March provided an important visual opposition to the dominant discourse vision of the black male. But such a single instance of cognitive dissonance does not alter the dominant discourse in any meaningful way. The urban ghetto, with its lack of jobs, lack of respect for the young male, lack of opportunity and access, is more likely to be changed when we collectively accept our complicity in labelling the black male, and actively attempt to make good faith changes to our assumptions - all of us - and hold each other to that commitment to listen and look in good faith for the first time in the history of the black male.

The social construction of dominant discourse includes all of us; not just those who are open to listening in good faith as a component of governance discourse and social justice. The concept of standing together in acceptance of our individual and group responsbility to eliminate false labelling from our dominant discourse is strange to us. For we have never thought of our dominant discourse as the product of our individual interrelationships. We need to learn from the efforts of the labor movement how hard it is to charismatically lead individuals distracted by their daily lives to dynamic social change. It was hard for the labor movement. It will be hard for us. But change happens at the level of dominant discourse.

William Oliver is trapped in the same dominant discourse in which we all find ourselves dysfunctioning. So I understand that in his doctoral research he found his subjects in local bars in the inner city. Local bars are one of the few place young black men have to hang out. He had come from the neighborhood, and saw himself as one of them, albeit one of them who had escaped the maws of the inner city.