Young Black Men


Black Men

It's not safe to be any kind of black man in America. And widespread awareness of the fact is overdue and now widespread.

Ideals In the wake of this new reality, next generation civil rights organizations like #BlackLivesMatter and Dream Defenders are arguing forcefully for the full humanity of Black men and their right to embody manhood on their own terms, whether or nor it conforms to middle-class White ideals.

Solution, what is needed now is to work on two fronts simultaneously:

  1. Need to have a true national conversation about manhood ideals and the fiction that more respectable versions of masculinity will somehow protect Black men and boys from oppression.

  2. Although the promise of "respectability politics" stands revealed as empty, we need to also interrogate the ways that buying into rigid codes of masculinity still lead to lower life outcomes among young men, including young men of color.


In addressing the impact of harsh ideals of manhood, we need to beat in mind that these are not "street codes" of manhood peculiar to the Black community, but rather frontier codes of American manhood that have a long history. They include injunctions to not show feelings, never back down, and always meet force with force. These codes of masculinity inform the behavior police officers involved in unjustified shootings display every but as much as they impact the choices of the young men in their crosshairs.

While decades of studies suggest that addressing rigid codes of masculinity can lead to better life outcomes in areas like education, health, or economic security, they cannot and will not protect young men from racism, or fulfill the now-epty vision of "respectability politics." Addressing rigid norms can improve health and well-being among young Black men and boys.


Categories such as race and gender do not act independently of one another, but instead interact, are bound together and influenced by one another. Intersectionality seeks to examine the ways in which these categories interact on multiple levels. While there are decades of scholarship, which has theoretically examined the concept of intersectionality, unfortunately the empirical research in this area is limited.

Impact The continuing impact of structural racism and the effects of state-sanctioned racial subjugation (and extermination), the special challenges of poverty, and chronic life stress can combine to create vulnerabilities for young Black men and boys:

  • Become exposed to higher rates of disease and lowered levels of health and well-being.

  • Avoid seeking medical help until their bodies are in crisis from treatable or untreatable diseases.

  • Have lower sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

  • More likely to engage in substance abuse to lower their inhibitions and provide deniability for encounters

  • Start having a strong system of self-justification for abuse.

  • Demonstrating toughness and a willingness to use violence can become central elements of masculinity.


Young Black men face many challenges, including having to navigate gender norms and race-based experiences that place them at risk for negative life outcomes. Despite those risks, young Black men have shown significant levels of resilience in overcoming, surviving and in many instances thriving.