The Problem of Missing Black Men

The idea of missing black males was first introduced to me by Keeanga – Yamahtta Taylor in “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation”. It came back up in another class and the numbers were shocking. The term “missing” refers to those who should be in a community but are not due to either incarceration or early mortality. Taylor presents the issue like this:

“When Obama talks about absentee Black fathers, he never mentions the disparity in arrests and sentencing that is responsible for for the disproportionate number of missing black men. Few media discussions about Obama’s candidacy mentioned curbing the nation’s voracious appetite for Black bodies, but the scars of “law and order” were all over the Black body politic: a million African Americans are incarcerated; 10 percent of the Black formerly incarcerated prevented from voting; and one in four Black men (in the age group twenty to twenty- nine) are under control of the criminal justice system.”

In “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration”, Ta- Nehesi Coates of The Atlantic reports “by 2000, more than 1 million black children had a father in jail or prison—and roughly half of those fathers were living in the same household as their kids when they were locked up.” These statistics paint a picture of broken families torn apart by inequality in our criminal justice system. Mass incarceration disproportionately affects the black community and black families. The New York Times reports that Ferguson, Missouri is the worst case. In Ferguson there are 40 missing black men for every 100 black women. These numbers do not compare to those of the white community. On average, there is 1 white man missing for every 100 white women.

Behind the numbers, you can see what missing black men can do to the black population in an area. It translates to there being less black officers in a police department, thus rendering the task force’s recommendation for more minority officers ineffective. This completely ruins the chance for descriptive representation, where the racial makeup police department would ideally mirror the racial makeup of the population being policed. One can see how this would lead to distrust and a strain in police – community relations. These numbers also reflect a depletion in the black voting population. Missing African Americans means missing African American voters. This further decreases the chance of black electoral success. As well as felony disenfranchisement, which takes away a felon’s voting power, the formerly incarcerated struggle to find employment and the cycle of poverty, incarceration, and crime continues.

It seems, however that Obama ignored this phenomenon. His rhetoric called on black people to take charge of their own destiny and pick themselves up out of the pit they had fallen into. He used his presidency multiple times for this purpose. He furthered the idea that since he could make it to a place of political success, those black people that remained in situations of poverty and incarceration must not desire enough to get out. I do not believe that he did this with malicious intent, but more according to the ideas that Taylor presents in the “Black Faces in High Places” chapter of “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.

One thought on “The Problem of Missing Black Men

  • May 5, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    This is a really important issue for politics, society, and economics. But incarceration alone isn’t enough: although all black people suffer from higher risks of premature death–either through violence or poor health outcomes, the risk for black males is proportionately greater vis-a-vis white males.


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