chapter  1
there’s a new black man in america today
Pages 30

The Black Man is in crisis. And thus the theme of hundreds of newspaper, magazine and journal articles, and conferences over the last twenty years. This theme was perhaps best articulated in the article, “Who Will Help the Black Man?” the cover feature in the December 4, 1994 edition of The New York Times Magazine. The article featured a cross-generational roundtable discussion moderated by journalist Bob Herbert, who was joined by several prominent black men including then National Urban League President Hugh Price, talk-show host Ken Hamblin, filmmaker John Singleton, and scholar William Julius Wilson, who penned the hugely influential books The Declining Significance of Race (1980) and The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass and Public Policy (1987). Herbert sets the tone of the discussion in his introduction where he suggests that the “plight of the black men in the

nation’s inner cities has been widely reported” but adds that it is the crisis of the black male underclass that “remains the preoccupation of many Americans, none more so than successful black men in America.”1 And on cue, much of the discussion focused on the disaffected and demonized hip-hop generation that we’ve all come to know quite well via MTV, Black Entertainment Television (BET), ESPN, Fox News, and daily newspapers such as the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Though the roundtable discussants disagreed often about responses to the crisis of the hip-hop thug and his various incarnations and even disagreed to the extent that such figures should be viewed with scorn or sympathy, no one captured America’s sense of young black men better than Ken Hamblin’s quip that they were “black trash . . . people who prey on us and then turn around and encourage us to sit here as intellectual wizards, film makers, columnists, talk show hosts, members of black organizations and talk about what whitey did to us.”2