by Drs. Dwight and Dolly Mullen –
An estimated 25,000 African Americans have died in the last three months from COVID-19.
Over 60% have been men, most of whom were Elders. In the last month, cities across the United States experienced civil disturbances sparked by the highly visible murders of black people at the hands of police. After days of demonstrations and nights of violence it has become evident that the murders sparked explosions of frustrations deeply rooted in inequities in criminal justice, health care, education, housing, employment, and economic opportunities.
The prospects for fundamental changes appear to be bleak. The apparent nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties for the presidency, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, offer, respectively, hostile and overly moderate responses to the present state of Black America.
Trump’s brutishness typically uses inflammatory rhetoric that includes quotes from 1960s and ’70s racists in his responses to civil disturbances. He threatened protestors in Washington, DC with “snarling dogs”comment, reminiscent of Bull Connor in Birmingham. He also tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” an echo of Miami’s racist police chief’s orders to shoot-to-kill black resisters.
Biden, on the other hand, has appeared as the temperate senior statesman. His calm and reasoned approach provides America with an opportunity to return to normality in the White House. He has condemned police murders. But he has not offered any tangible and longterm policies that fully address the causes that lead to such violence.
Confronting two crises successfully at the national level is not likely any time soon. States and localities have, though, responded with varying effectiveness across the nation. Urban politics is when local power is used to address neighborhood needs. In the African American community this often means using severely limited resources to address inequities that have existed as far back as can be documented.
In western North Carolina whites used local policies to produce discriminatory outcomes in criminal justice, health care, education, housing, and any other public policy area that can be imagined. African Americans during the same time frame consistently worked to counter Jim Crow with various self improvement projects. Simultaneously African Americans worked to limit humiliations and degradations promoted by the city and county.
Racism characterized the normal, everyday operations of urban politics. black men have responded by following two paths—one at the institutional level and the other at the individual, personal level. Human beings living together share mutually held interests. These include the rules that are enforced to assure safety and prosperity and the health standards that are practiced in the care of our bodies and minds.
The quality of these experiences has depended on race, gender and wealth. The folk getting the least and poorest quality are darker in color than those receiving the best and highest quality of goods and services. Men have expected to use their strengths for the benefit of their families’ health, wealth, and happiness. In urban politics, though, it does not matter how strong a black man is. At any moment he can be denied justice, health care, housing, or employment. He can be arrested or even murdered. He can develop chronic illnesses that weaken and kill.
Being Black and Male in Asheville
Based on 2020 statistics, an African American man living in Asheville would not own a home or a car. He would not have a job or be on a career path or own a business. African American unemployment in Buncombe is usually triple the rate for whites. White businesses in Buncombe County earn ten times that of black businesses. While black infant and maternal mortality rates continue to resemble those found in the developing world. African Americans who defy these medians still earn less, suffer from more illnesses, and have a lower standard of living than their white counterparts regardless of the levels of education attained.
Just look around. How many African American men in Asheville and Buncombe County are visibly empowered by ANY educational, financial, social, or governmental institutions? Twenty? Ten? Five? Remember the city’s total population is approaching 100,000.
As important as it is to recognize the reality of current circumstances, it is also important to remember origins. Life chances have always been bleak for black men. Enslavement, Jim Crow segregation, the “War on Drugs,” and now the pandemic have each in turn threatened and harmed.
Nationally, black responses to these terrors have ranged from petitions and litigation to insurrections and urban rebellions. Churches, neighborhood associations, entrepreneurial enterprises, newspapers, and sororities and fraternities are samples of organized efforts to channel black individual energies to counter negative racial urban policies.
Asheville has had more than a fair share of its own black self-help endeavors. A few standouts include E.W. Pearson and west Asheville , the business and cultural district centered by the Young Men’s Institute /YMI Cultural Center, the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality (ASCORE), the alumni association of Stephens-Lee High School, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the residents associations of several public housing communities, and neighborhoods such as East End, Southside/East Riverside, Shiloh, Stumptown, and Hill Street that have acted as civic anchors.
African American men worked in partnership with African American women to challenge local discriminatory policies and practices. Recently, The Chosen, My Daddy Taught Me That, and Black Men Uknighted have joined the long list of organizations of black men that recognized the challenge that must be met.
Urban politics for African Americans in Asheville embody resistance and resilience in the face of racism. Whether or not it is measured in the disparate outcomes produced by police or pandemics, schools, or financial institutions, African American men have and will continue to respond accordingly.
Lastly, the costs of being an African American man must be considered. The expectations and needs of their families, wives/partners, mothers, children, and siblings are serious challenges to fulfill. Much depends on these men as the wellbeing of their loved ones is determined by the extent to which they succeed or fail.
Black men often and unconsciously take it upon themselves to personally work to close disparities caused by systemic racism. The rewards too frequently include shortened life spans, negative encounters with hostile institutions, and limited, if not absent, representation in the corridors of local power. But history has shown that Asheville’s black men keep moving forward. The brothers deserve acknowledgement and equity.