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Reaching Up For Manhood Essay, Research Paper

Under-privileged, African-American boys are more prevalent in today’s society than the typical person would like to recognize or admit. These boys seem to be faced with an ideal in which they need to follow or conform to as any and all cultures have. However, the problem is that for these boys, this ideal or way of living is believed to be met. Black boys growing up in Harlem are expected to act tough, not take any crap from anybody, and always seem to be strong no matter what they may be faced with. Along with this pressure to not express emotion and feeling, people wonder why they take this aggression out on their loved ones. Even though it may seem sexist it is a known fact that males are more likely to partake in violence than the average female. In order to prevent violence, it needs to stop before it starts. To do this, we start at childhood. The social, family, and educational environment must change for the better. This is not an easy task and no one is saying that it is going to take place over night. However, it is known that what we are, what we know, and how we act all reflects on the way in which we grow up and develop.

Not to state the obvious, but I was raised very different from what the novel describes as an African-American male. Considering I am a Caucasian female, I was not raised with the attitude that I need to fend for myself. I did not need to learn self-defense in order to stay safe on the playground. My mother did not coach me on which ways to walk home from school. I didn’t have to worry about it since the schools were well equipped with buses and money was not a problem for any of the school districts in the area I call home. I could not imagine telling a child not to go to the playground and play after school because it wasn’t safe. If put in this type of culture, I would feel like I’d have to shield my child from everything when the reality of it would be that I am not the educator. The “tough” boys on that playground are the educators in a younger boy’s eyes and the older boys come from homes that are either struggling or non-existing.

Canada tells an eye-opening story about a little boy, Ronaldo, who was constantly told by his mother never to go to this certain street to play football with most of his classmates. Ronaldo wanted so much to be a part of the group that one day he and his close friend snuck over to that “forbidden” street and started playing football with the other boys. Ronaldo was having so much fun, felt so much apart of a group, and almost forgot that he wasn’t supposed to be there. That is, he almost forgot until he experienced the most horrifying incident that had taken place right before his very eyes. The boys were laughing and running when they suddenly heard an old beat up Buick come screeching down the street. There were four adolescent boys with their bodies half way out of the windows. Thinking that they possibly could be on a harmless joy ride, the boys playing stepped to the side of the street to let the car pass. Just as the car was passing, Ronaldo saw one of the boys pull out a gun. Being drilled about what to do in this kind of situation, Ronaldo automatically dropped to the ground. He turned his head to look at his friend and saw something he will never speak of. His friend had been shot and was lying on the street with no movement whatsoever.

At such a young age, Ronaldo had already learned from his culture and society around him that he was not allowed to cry for emotion. This child had already learned, at age 7, that there is always a chance for someone to get shot at any moment. It happens all the time and this boy has been trained to take it and stride. He feels as though he is not allowed to take time to think about it, not allowed to talk about it, and definitely not allowed to get upset about it. This child has already been programmed to not show emotion. If this happens at such a young age, then why are we shocked when this boy shows no emotion when a loved one is hurt.

This story was mind boggling to me. I could never imagine having to not only learn, but accept the fact that all my loved ones and myself are in danger at all times. There is no way a child could be happy and carefree knowing that at any moment they might have to protect themselves from something I only see in the news. However, for kids like Ronaldo, it is just second nature. All kids run and play games outside after school and all kids are given restrictions, by someone whether it be a teacher, parent, friend, guardian, or society in general, on where to go and how long to be out. However, the restrictions vary depending on location, time, gender, culture, and other specifications. These rules and regulations (or lack there of) are what make the children who they become in later life.

Similar to Ronaldo, I too was not allowed to follow most of my friends after school. My mother would never even think of permitting me to leave my neighborhood when playing outside. I couldn’t ride my bike down the street to the United Dairy Farmers to get ice cream on a hot summer’s day like a lot of the other kids got to do. I, like Ronaldo, watched as my friends cheerfully ran in the other direction I was forbidden to go. I could never understand why mom would be so forceful about a rule I saw as ridiculous. I felt as though she was trying to keep me from having friends. It was probably the first day I really appreciated my mom when I heard about a girl a couple years older than I who had been hit by a car going to the U.D.F. It was not until then that I finally realized why my mom had been so strict about reinforcing rules. Being that it was not my close friend, the girl did not die, and my mother had different reasons for prohibiting me from following the crowd, but maybe, just possibly, Ronaldo had a little more understanding towards his mother after that day.

There have not been too many people I can name that have had a child before the age of twenty-two. I can name even fewer that were not married when conceiving a child. I am surrounded by people who want to have children, are trying to have children, and are spending obscene amounts of money attempting to have children. There are so many good people who can’t seem to get pregnant when they want to. My sister just had a baby two months ago and had been trying for a year before she conceived. Most of what I know is how enough good, wholesome and decent people can’t become parents. I see the struggle around me all the time. For the most part, abortion is shunned in the culture in which I live in. I cannot name more than one person I know that has chosen abortion. It’s just not what I know.

It became a little bit of a shock to me of how much un-protected sex, pregnancy and abortions were discussed in this book. Apparently it is an every day occurrence for under-privileged African-American boys. I don’t mean to say I haven’t heard or read about it in other places, just not in this context. These were real life stories, just like the one about Ronaldo. Canada took real people and put their stories into words that I could comprehend and therefore felt apart of the story and left me feeling as though I was a close friend of these kids struggling. Canada explains the difficulties of sex issues in his time period as well. He informed us that he and all his friends wanted sex at the time they were thirteen years old but none of them did for at least six more years. He explained that the reason more of his friends didn’t become teen parents had little to do with values about family and marriage. They simply didn’t know a lot about sex and couldn’t find willing partners. I think that says a lot about the times during Canada’s childhood and the times now. With the sexual revolution right after Canada’s childhood he now sees an endless weakening family with fewer fathers present in the household and many only marginally involved with their children’s lives. He states a very good point by saying that we have created a culture for boys that on the one hand makes it too easy for them to become fathers and, on the other hand, teaches them nothing about what fatherhood means. Drugs are a lot easier to get a hold of in the world that under-privileged African-American boys live in. This alarming rate of consumption of various drugs by these teenagers also contributes to earlier and more frequent sex. If these boys are high or drunk, children are less likely to care about the warnings that their parents and teachers have issued about risky behavior.

We see some of this displayed by young adults right here on this campus. However, I do not see as many drugs and much capability of getting a hold of drugs. I definitely do not see as much teen pregnancy either. Since that is not what I see every day, it is not what I know. Since it is not what I know, it is not my every day occurrence to become involved in it and I would not know how to help someone who had a problem, unlike most of the boys growing up in the Bronx.

Another characteristic of this culture in which I thought I was more familiar with than this novel proved me to be was learning how to save a buck. I was so sure I could somewhat relate to the boys talked about in the novel in having to save. However, these boys didn’t learn the value of a buck like I did. They learned the value of a penny. Canada tells another heart felt story about a young boy Raymond. Raymond anxiously awaited his mother’s arrival home on a Friday evening when she would bring home a paycheck. He was so excited to show the hole in the bottom of his shoes signifying that he needed a new pair. His mother told him that they couldn’t afford it at the time and he would have to put cardboard in the bottom of his shoes so he wouldn’t get hurt for the next week. The cardboard held for a couple more weeks when Raymond’s mother came home with three dollars and fifty cents to give him for a brand new pair of shoes. Not three dollars and fifty cents to go towards a pair of shoes, the money was to buy him a pair of shoes from “Johnny’s Bargain Store.” This did not excite Raymond as she had anticipated it would. He looked worried, confused and upset. She asked him what was wrong and he was hesitant to tell her. He then began to tell her how he would so much like to have a pair of converse shoes. Raymond gave every possible persuasion he could, even telling her he would not buy another pair of shoes for another two years. He didn’t even care if his feet grew. He was a little shocked to see her grow a little sympathetic to his plea when she asked him how much they were. Raymond responded with twenty dollars, but said that he would walk ten blocks further to another store selling them for seventeen. At this his mother blew up in furry. This was the first time he had heard her so furious since he could remember. It was obvious there was not enough money for such frivolous things, but Raymond could only hope. The next day, he walked onto the playground with a brand new pair of bright white tennis shoes from “Johnny’s Bargain Store” and headed straight for the dirt in order to make them dirty so nobody noticed he got a new pair of shoes that were not converse. Raymond went home that day with a black eye. Raymond had fought with a child making fun of him for his whole sale shoes. His mother had no sympathy for him. She had worked very hard for that money and believed that she taught her son better than to fight over something she gave to him for his benefit. She had also taught him to defend himself just in case the ways to prevent a fight that she also taught him did not work.

How could I ever relate to a story like that. There was no way I could ever imagine having to completely wear a whole in my shoes before I got a new pair. I do remember however trying to make my shoes and clothes look older and tighter than they actually were in order to get something new. I was never given a budget of three dollars and fifty cents. I thought it was rough on me that I was not able to go to cheerleading camp with all the other girls one summer because my sister needed surgery instead and there just wasn’t enough money in savings to do both at the same time. I thought that was so devastating and so humiliating. I made up a story that my family and I were taking a big frivolous family vacation and I couldn’t go. I now feel like I have no reason to gripe and complain. My parents would never have to teach me self defense as a child to stay safe. I’ve never even thought of fighting or having to think of ways to get out of fighting. In today’s society the only reason I would stereotypically be forced to defend myself is from a stereotypical male trying to assault me.

Obviously, there are so many stereotypes and generalizations in both my culture and that of the under-privileged African-American boys whom I read about in Reaching Up for Manhood. All of these stereotypes can be proven wrong in some case and right in others. The same stereotypes that are proven wrong can also be proven right with another story or case. That is the whole problem with stereotypes. They do not leave for exceptions. Everyone chooses to train and socialize their children in different ways. The under-privileged African American boys in the novel were taught self-defense for the playground, safe sex tips at age twelve, what drugs were and why to stay away from them at age seven, and good and bad streets to walk home from school. They were trained to drop to the ground when they hear a loud noise and to never watch out for whose neighborhood they are stepping into. I, on the other hand, was taught self-defense at age sixteen in case of stalkers, that sex was forbidden before marriage, and that drugs were bad at age fourteen. I was trained to respect people’s property, but not trained to be careful of where I walk. I was trained to be careful of trusting everyone I come in contact with, but not trained to drop to the ground at any given moment. My parents were forceful of when I got home at night because I needed the proper amount of rest, not because the neighborhood got more dangerous at a certain time of night. I had always been taught to never take rides from strangers, but always treat my elder’s with respect, not to stay away from strangers and elders for they might do me harm. Kinship all depends on location, times, gender and culture.

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