Alford A. Young, Jr. Young highlights the importance of reframing more traditional sociological approaches to the study of Black men. Rather than focusing on behavior, Young strives to understand the varied ways in which Black men construct social meanings, and how those constructs impact their social conditions. He discusses how his own experience of growing up in East Harlem informs
What is new about my approach is that I move from looking at the behavior of Black men (a common point of attention for many cultural sociologists), and norms and values (which are commonly deduced from such behavior) to looking at how men construct meaning about various aspects of the social world (what is a good job, whether racial equality is a viable outcome in American society, what role does belief in a higher being have on one’s sense
of his life chances, etc.). Th e objective in looking at such seemingly mundane questions is that it allows for Black men to be viewed as practical theorists of the social world and of their own existence in it. By situating men in such a way, they can be regarded as more complex beings than has been the case in considerations of them that focus on presumably fl awed behaviors or normative value systems. Furthermore, as I argue that norms and values are rooted in the basic schema of beliefs that people hold about how the world and its inhabitants operate, a better grasp of why and how such men commit to the norms and values that they do comes from a more focused consideration of their beliefs and worldviews. If such men fail to see certain things in their outlooks on society (like why a liberal arts education may matter for accessing extreme socio-economic mobility) then why such men may not value that kind of education, or otherwise regard education in diff erent ways than other people becomes much clearer. In this case, the value of education is rooted in a system of beliefs about what education does and does not deliver to people, and how those mechanisms of deliverance are read as pertaining to one’s life. My focus on beliefs and worldviews is aimed at broadening the terrain of cultural analysis of Black men and marginalized people more generally. Th is contributes to the modern project in cultural sociology of using cultural analysis as a tool to unpack the complexity of people’s lives rather than trying to document some airtight and systematic notion of the culture of a group of people. When Black men are viewed as practical theorists in their own right, they can begin to be regarded as complex people in the same ways that others are, and not simply as culturally backward or undeveloped beings.