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Is the Character Assassination of the Young Black Male Now Being Perpetuated With Good Intentions?

08/01/2014 14:56 GMT | Updated 09/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Such a bold and controversial question has been plaguing my mind over the last three years due to a number of events. Each time I do my best to repress it, however on this occasion the strength of it overtook me and I found myself here; documenting my thoughts hoping that this article will be thought provoking especially for those that have never questioned this before.

Let's jump backwards to March 2011, a younger inquisitive me conquering my first book, knee deep in research. A typical commute on a train led my eyes to an advert pleading for mentors for 'troubled' young black men in London. Splashed across this insistent call was the face of Arsenal legend; Ian Wright. A well-known black man to promote this campaign hoping to recruit a thousand men willing to volunteer for this vital work.

Contextually this was when I was working on the chapter of my book on broken homes. I was intrigued by this advert, desperate for more information on the process and agenda of this campaign. I saw it as a golden opportunity to dig deeper and potentially use my skills to equip other young men for their future. I had experience; Team leader for The Crib Youth Project in Hoxton, Hackney I was accustomed to mentoring young people, building positive relationships and assisting them to reach their potential.

Although I was already embedded in mentoring a number of young people I wanted to make a change in other young people and as such I enthusiastically signed up to Boris Johnson's mentoring scheme. A few months later I attended the launch of the scheme at the Epicentre in Leyton, East London. It was led by Ray Lewis, ambassador for the program and also Head of Eastside Academy (focused on helping young boys who have been excluded from mainstream education). I was unsettled. It became quickly apparent that the event was publicity centred; set to benefit the 'founders' more than the boys they claimed to help. Fingers were pointed, recognition was given, applause erupted, cameras flashed; what a 'success'. The tokenistic nature of the event captured beautifully in the prize shot of Boris Johnson surrounded by 12 black boys. I was slightly irritated by this.

For two long years there was hardly any progression or forward movement of the scheme, no volunteers were being placed with at risk black boys. What a 'success'!

Fast-forward to the present day; Hackney has decided to have a workshop dedicated to young black males. My inbox celebrated with an invitation to participate in this 'new' initiative and my soul responded with the burning repetitive inquiry:

Is the character assassination of the young black male now being perpetuated with good intentions?

It wouldn't be subdued, the heat of the flames continued to rise and I could no longer ignore it. I decided I would find out what their objectives are and hopes of their outcomes. These are the key areas they want to address:

• Primary and secondary education transition

• Incidents in secondary school and subsequent experience

• Family, friendship groups and other support systems

• Relationships with police, council and health services

• Trying to get work

The correlation of this 'new' program and Boris Johnson's 'new' mentoring scheme was highlighted in their ultimate aims "saving the black male" and I wondered if I was alone in my interpretation. So I took it to the general public and asked them the focus of this article. Responses were varied and opinions interesting. Some didn't understand the question so I rephrased it; Are these good intentions (i.e. mentoring scheme), which exclusively target young black males doing more bad than good?

Initially 62% said yes and 38% said no. While my own opinions were strong I did not want to influence answers however through conversations the number of 'no' responses changed significantly.

Media representation of black males continues to reflect negative stereotypes on international scales. Newspapers are always quick to report criminal activities when related to black men, the large press coverage on incidences identified as 'black on black' crime. Praise seems limited to achievements in music or sport yet this is counter-attacked by the modern day coon caricatures black musicians are painted as. Even in film, Denzel Washington had to play a negative role in training day to win an Oscar; the same can be said for Forest Whittaker who played and Idi Amin to get his glory. We are all aware of this type of character assassination but in this article I am talking specifically about how concentration on a specific group can perpetuate negative stereotypes.

Of those who felt that the intentions were good their reasoning centred on their opinions that black boys need extra help because they are failing in schools and are killing each other on the streets. While I accept and agree that there are numerous social issues these involve all ethnic groups and are not limited to black boys. The root of the issue is deeper than the rotten fruit and as such simply blaming the black male for all the social issues he faces is unproductive. This however is not an excuse or condoning negative behaviour. We are all responsible for our actions.

Mentoring is a powerful tool, one I use and have seen the outcomes associated with it. However only pin-pointing black boys may change a young person's life but ultimately reinforces the idea that black boys are the problem and they need to be fixed. This approach renders all other potential factors innocent; school, prison and social inequality leading to no permanent change at crucial levels for future generations.

Eleanor, 26 from Gispy Hill said "Black boys are seen as something of a menace to society and therefore treated as a disease that needs to be treated before it corrupts the good elements in society. In doing this however the black boys are made to feel worthless and this affects their self-esteem. They are made to feel different and are singled out as special cases and then some of them begin to behave as such; self fulfilling prophesy"

She also went on to say " Having funding exclusive to young black boys can generate resentment to other ethnic groups that may feel they need that funding for something they deem to be just as important in their own communities".

Channel 4's hit drama series Top Boy is an example of fulfilling the negative aspects of minority of black males on television. For those who haven't seen it; the plot involves young black males selling drugs, making bad decisions, having no respect for others and getting involved in violence and other criminal activities. Glorified gangster living. In a discussion with a white middle aged man I questioned his perception of black boys after watching Top Boy and then viewing an advert in the Evening Standard of London mayor Boris Johnson investing 1.2 million in a mentor scheme for young black boys. He replied " I am old enough to not take what is on television seriously as it is fiction, but after reading that article, I am inclined to think that maybe all I watched was true that they might all be like this, if they need separate organisations like this, something must be wrong with them"

Asking the question again after discussions around my opinions the results had changed significantly. On reflection 84% said yes and only 16% said no.

Victor, 23 from Hackney said, "It shouldn't be specifically aimed at black boys or anyone, and instead it should be for people that live within similar conditions"

I agree with Victor's comments. Mentoring is helping for all individuals from a variety of different backgrounds and shouldn't be limited to a particular race. Poverty, crime, low educational achievements affect a vast majority of young people who all deserve extra assistance. Repetitive focus on black boy's factors out those that are achieving continues to affect the struggle black boy's face in society by having to overcome society's perception of their abilities based on their skin colour.

Is the character assassination of the young black male now being perpetuated with good intentions?

You tell me.