Man Pourri

Incidental Masculinity

I came across the phrase “incidental masculinity” in a true story about the attraction to a man from a gay women.  She was breaking up with a girlfriend and simultaneously developing a platonic love for a man she met while performing in a college play.  What intrigued me was that despite her sexual attraction to women, there was something about male energy that was so appealing to her. The fact that the attraction wasn’t sexual is of interest.  His manliness fit a need that could not be fulfilled by a women.  In the story she did not elaborate on exactly what characteristics or traits of manliness that attracted her but my guess was his projection of quiet strength, confidence and emotional protection.  Score one for positive masculinity.

Fantasy Sports

The author of the article on the attraction of a fantasy sports league answered his own question,”Why was I there?  The straightforward answer is because my friends were, and I wanted to be with them. The actual draft was secondary to the event’s social function — an excuse to stay in touch, which has become increasingly difficult since I moved to the East Coast in 2012.” A survey quoted by the author found that 81% of fantasy participants were men in the peak of so called friendship collecting years – 18 to 34.  After 34 men become more attentive to work, family and consequently do not have the time and energy necessary to maintain friendships.

This is a process that many people experience and that a body of literature gives anecdotal and statistical credence to the notion that male friendships start to evaporate. “Men Have No Friends,” reads the headline of a 2019 Harper’s Bazaar article by Melanie Hamlett,  “Last year, the Survey Center on American Life found that the number of American adults with three or fewer close friends leaped from 27 percent in 1990 to 49 percent in 2021, with 15%of men having no close friendships at all, a fivefold increase since 1990.  In addition, men are significantly less likely than women to discuss personal matters with the friends they do have.  Frankly, there is no shortage of data to support the myriad of health risks sustained by loneliness. 

“Loneliness can kill you,” reads one especially bleak subhead on a 2020 article from the University of Miami Health System. A November Psychology Today article claims that loneliness can shorten your life, describing side effects that include cardiovascular disease and stroke — even suicide. “Loneliness is as much of a health risk for men as smoking or being overweight,” reads a 2021 article at UCLA Health, citing Psychiatry Research. It “increases cancer risk by 10 percent, regardless of age, socioeconomic status, lifestyle, and other risk factors.”

Fantasy sports can be a partial antidote to increasing male friendships but there is a downside.  On one hand meeting with your league partners- especially if can happen face to face – does offer a satisfying sense of camaraderie but without intimacy.   Better than loneliness but insufficient to make up for the friendships of an earlier stage of life.  Unfortunately, if the particular league goes virtual there is no chance for intimacy and in fact the online occupation with the fantasy world could easily divert men from the time and energy to form close friendships.   A better and more sustainable road to friendships is joining an on-going men’s group.

Aspirational Masculinity

A new way of talking to boys about being boys is being promoted as aspirational masculinity.  The idea is that we need to talk to boys about their gender without focusing on the negative qualities that men have been associated with – toxic masculinity and the rigid man code. According to former professional football player Don McPherson — who is now a writer, activist, educator and the founder of the aspirational approach – is that previous efforts in communicating about masculinity to boys has failed.  A big reason for this failure is inadequate vocabulary. Parents and caregivers to girls can rely on the word “feminism” should they want to frame girlhood as both positive and dynamic. Calling one’s daughter a “feminist” allows for change and progress without limiting girls or criticizing femininity. With boys, there was no such term.  McPherson explains the concept as follows, “We need to stop only asking boys and men to make space for others and instead ask men to make new spaces for themselves that aren’t confined to the narrow definitions of masculinity.”  Sounds good but nowhere in the description of his program does he address the notion of pride in being a boy/man that doesn’t simply mean making boys more aware of feminine needs and characteristics.  The assumption seems to be that fighting against patriarchal behaviors will automatically make better men.   What about defining for boys the virtues of being a man in the light rather than simply being an apologist for men in the shadow.

Hegemonic Masculinity

The authors of new research on masculinity have previously found that the endorsement of “hegemonic masculinity” – an idealized form of masculinity – was associated with support for Donald Trump.

They wrote,  “In collaboration with my advisor, Dr. Theresa Vescio, we found that the endorsement of hegemonic masculinity, or the belief that men should be high in power/status, should be tough, and should be nothing like women, was related to support for Donald Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 U.S. Presidential elections.”

In addition, the participants who completed the Male Role Norms Scale and who scored high on this measure of hegemonic masculinity were more likely, in general, to vote for conservative candidates.   

I must confess that this is the first time I have come across the term “Hegemonic Masculinity.”  It seems that this descriptor is similar to “toxic masculinity and hyper masculinity” but it appears to be used exclusively with the Male Role Norms Scale (MRNS).  Another term used to validate the MRNS results is “TMI – traditional male ideology” which has been used in research articles that report an association of high scores with an adverse effect on a man’s mental health. 

I was obviously prompted to explore the MRNS items to see not only how I would score but to form my own opinion as to its validity in attempting to define masculinity.  The scale has several forms with the 21 item short form deemed most useful to mental health professionals.  Each item is to be scored from 1 – 7 with 7 meaning strong agreement.

I will share some items from the scale with my comments.

1. Success in his work has to be a man’s central goal in this life.

(Does the word work mean one’s overall purpose or occupation?  If I interpret work in the broader sense I would rate it a 7.  If strictly an occupation I might be a 4.  Could we substitute person instead of man and get the same response? If a stay at home mom saw child rearing has her work she would rate this as a 7.)


2. The best way for a young man to get the respect of other people is to get a job, take it seriously, and do it well.

( Why is doing your job, whatever it might be, seriously and with excellence a hegemonic notion?  Not taking you job seriously is a sign of weak character not non-masculine behavior.)

5. A man always deserves the respect of his wife and children.

(The ambiguity is how we interpret deserve.  If we are a good mother or father we always deserve respect.   If we are lousy parents then we don’t.  Again I do not see the link with hegemonic masculinity)

7. A man should never back down in the face of trouble.

( If one interprets back down as being physical it has an aggressive feel.  However, if back down means not dealing or not confronting trouble it is an entirely different interpretation and in my opinion equally unappealing for a man and for a women.)

13. Nobody respects a man very much who frequently talks about his worries, fears, and problems.

(Frequent whining and complaining is equally unattractive regardless of gender and has little to do with masculinity.)

I could analyze a bunch more of the questionnaire items with a similar conclusion that the items are skewed to favor a knee jerk response about masculine stereotypes.  The fact that there are higher scores among conservatives may simply mean that these men have a positive reaction to a more traditional belief system – the definition of a conservative  – rather than a true reflection of masculine behavior.

Gender Politics

I am dismayed but not surprised that masculinity has become so politicized.   On the right, Tucker Carlson and others have decried the “snowflake” man and found positive role models in authoritarian leaders and our former president’s tough talking approach.  A recent article in a local newspaper did a great job in illustrating how the theme of weakened masculinity has considerable historic precedence. 

“In the early years of the 20th century, Europe experienced something of a masculinity crisis. Popular writers….began to fret that many young Englishmen, Frenchmen and Germans had become soft after so many uninterrupted years of peace.  …..Margaret MacMillan traced the currents that coursed through European society in the years before the Great War.  Francis Coppee, a French nationalist, worried that “Frenchmen are degenerating…too absorbed in the race for enjoyment and luxury.  In Great Britain, General Robert Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scouts in part because he feared the emasculation of England’s youth.”

Today we have Vladimir Putin attempting to showcase his masculinity by launching an invasion of a sovereign nation and China banning “effeminate men” from TV.  Is hyper masculinity the only response to the changes in women’s status?  Men and boys who have seen the rise in girl and women power often feel left behind.  However, calling out men as sissies and looking for ways for men to engage in  old school macho behaviors is not the way we can help boys and men meet the challenges of a gender equal world.  Pride in practicing the best of masculinity is what needs to be taught and reinforced.

I found some personally alarming statistics in a Sunday New York Times article about the new LGBT culture war.  Almost 21% of Generation Z identifies as LGBT compared to 3% of baby boomers.   Some would applaud this as a sign of acceptance of LGBT folks, and there is probably some truth to this.   However, with the rise in anxiety, depression and suicide among adolescents and young adults I wonder if gender confusion has contributed to this phenomenon.  Coping with so called gender fluidity and the myriad non-binary labels now in use is a frightening prospect for youth trying to establish an identity separate from their parents.  Parents choosing to have their children choose their gender and the practice of administering puberty delaying hormones represent the extreme in fostering gender confusion that is more based on social engineering than science.  As I articulated in an earlier blog, except for a very small number of truly intersex babies, boys are born with a penis and girls are born with a vagina and the hormones that produced these body parts.  A girl can be aggressive and enjoy playing in the mud without being labeled anything different than a girl.  Boys can hate sports and prefer creative arts and still be boys.   Why do we need more labels to add to the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood?  Again I am not talking about sexual orientation which is different from gender roles. 

Unfortunately, gender identification has also become politicized.   The left seems to be endorsing gender issues that are not supported by many otherwise liberal folks while the right is passing legislation in many states that can easily be interpreted as an attack on the LBGT community.  Let’s have a common sense dialogue without undue labeling and use science and history as guidelines for rational discussion and the formulation of public policy which promotes gender equality not gender neutrality.        

Will Smith – Real Man?

I wasn’t eager to discuss the Will Smith Chris Rock altercation because of all of the media attention it has received during a time when there are far more important issues facing us – Ukraine, Pandemic, inflation, etc.  In addition, there is a fine line between disapproval and understanding and any attempt to explain Smith’s behavior might be wrongly interpreted as an excuse.

Let me be clear, Smith’s behavior was wrong.  Resorting to violence as a response to anger is not the best of masculinity.  Furthermore, his behavior was public and disrupted an event that was of importance to many of the participants and to the audience at large.  Subsequently, after all of the negative press, Smith has apologized and has resigned from the Academy.  Further consequences are coming and there is speculation that the Will Smith brand has been seriously tarnished.

Got it.  He made a serious error in judgment.  But why?  I think there is a teachable moment about masculinity that can be explored.  Protection is an important component of masculinity and when expressed appropriately we admire men for this trait.  My sense is that Smith on a gut level experienced Rock’s comments as an attack on his wife.  There is a context for this since Rock has made negative comments about Jada Pinkett-Smith on previous occasions.  Some have written that she didn’t need his protection since she is an intelligent capable woman.  True, but that misses the point that a man will, on a visceral level, attempt to protect his wife no matter how capable she is.  In fact a recent poll quoted on a news show indicated that 56% of women felt that Rock was more wrong than Smith.

I do not believe that Chris Rock acted any better than Will Smith in the context of the best of masculinity.   He used his position of power as a presenter and a comedian to deliberately disrespect Jada with full knowledge that this was a sensitive subject for her and her husband.   He essentially baited Will to act.  Interestingly, Smith did not punch Rock but chose to slap him instead.  I find this a significant choice that expresses a sentiment beyond just blind violence.  Rock essentially challenged Smith’s manhood and Smith responded with a “bitch slap” – which the  Urban Dictionary defines as, “to open handedley slap someone.  Denotes disrespect for the person being bitch slapped as they are not worthy of a man sized punch.” There remains no question that Will Smith could have made a better choice.  If he confronted Chris Rock privately and let him know how he felt about he and his wife being disrespected that would have been the most rational choice.  However, we know that when anger boils up we often to not make rational choices.  This is especially true when a man’s protective instinct is challenged.  The fact that Smith slapped Rock instead of punching him demonstrates that on some level a choice was made to disrespect Rock not physically harm him.   Therefore, when all is said I choose to give Will somewhat of a pass and acknowledge that although flawed he acted like a real man.

Incel

Rather disturbing of late is the media attention to the so called incel world.  First let me offer how the  media is defining incel. An incel, an abbreviation of “involuntary celibate,” is a member of an online subculture of people who define themselves as unable to get a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one. Discussions on incel forums are often characterized by resentment and hatred, misogynymisanthropy, self-pity and self-loathing, racism, a sense of entitlement to sex, and the endorsement of violence against women and sexually active people. The American Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) described the subculture as “part of the online male supremacist ecosystem” that is included in their list of hate groups. Incels are mostly male and heterosexual, and are often white.  Estimates of the overall size of the subculture vary greatly, ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands of individuals.

At least eight mass murders, resulting in a total of 61 deaths, have been committed since 2014 by men who have either self-identified as incels or who had mentioned incel-related tropes in their private writings or social media postings.

What occurs to me is to what degree incel thinking and behavior existed before the label incel and are we looking at something on the rise or just an existing phenomenon that has been enhanced by the internet?  Thinking about my coming of age sexually and the stories I have heard facilitating men’s groups many men have had non-violent incel periods in their lives.

I remember a time between 13 – 16 where I was desiring a girl friend and meeting little success.  I had a difficult time talking to girls and started feeling self conscious about my appearance. I was not alone with these feelings and except for a few of my peers most of us were terrified of rejection and therefore did not cross the room and ask a girl to dance at a social function.  If there were an internet I might have felt some affinity towards incel postings.  Often men going through divorce will voice dislike of women and feel that there is a gender conspiracy against men when dealing with the legal aspects of divorce. Subsequently,  even though they are desirous of a sexual relationship they avoid post divorce dating and could be labeled as having an incel moment in their lives. 

My point is that if we remove the strong hatred and desire to be violent aspects of being an incel,  many men will attest to having incel feelings at some point in their lives.  Frankly, given the sense that women are more open about their sexuality and more likely to reject previous norms about casual sex, I wonder if  the incel movement is really growing?   My take is that instead of focusing on incel as a phenomenon we should focus on the best ways to deal with violence against women and enhancing the importance of men’s work to assist men in gaining the self confidence to seek female companionship in a respectful and healthy manner. 

Albert, Willie, Vito & Rick

On the wall of my study, over my desk, I hung pictures of four men.  They were not acquired at the same time nor was there any significant forethought about their selection.  Yet, I have come to realize that collectively they convey to me the unique and disparate qualities of masculinity.  Somehow, subconsciously, I have chosen representations of the elements which constitute, for the most part, my gestalt of manliness in its most actualized forms.

          On the upper left, no particular thought went into their placement, is Albert Einstein.  The photograph is a head shot of the Einstein of later years with the unruly mane of white hair, the bushy mustache and the large doe eyes. Despite the fact that the name Einstein has become synonymous with genius to the point of cliché, I can not think of another man who so clearly embodies creative intelligence and rationality especially when mediated by a powerful dose of humanity.  The power of pure reason, with its reliance on empiricism for seeking truth, is an essential aspect of a man’s dedication to problem solving as a primary strategy in meeting the challenges of life.

          Next to Albert is Willie Mays in the follow through stage of an apparent home run swing.  The bat is held only in his powerful left hand while his head is raised, peering at the flight of the ball as it heads over the center field fence.  Willie’s greatness came before the mega-buck contract environment of today’s athletic world.  Unlike our current generation of “prima donna” sports figures, Willie played his game with an unparalleled exuberance while simultaneously realizing the full achievement of his enormous natural ability.  To me, Willie exemplifies a man’s pure and joyous expression of energy.  Willie perfectly symbolizes the unfettered yet directed physical force that is one of the core ingredients forming the male identity. 

          Under Willie is a fictional man.  Don Vito Corleone of  “Godfather” fame.  The photo shows Marlon Brando in a tuxedo holding a small cat which he is stroking.  There is a telling contrast between his right hand gently petting the animal and the hardness of his face.  Deep set eyes hidden in shadow peering unwaveringly.  The lips are slightly parted and the head is tilted to the left.  Overall, it is an expression of absolute resolve.  A countenance which communicates certainty of decision tempered with the wisdom of knowing that every choice has its consequences both positive and negative.  Unlike Hamlet, trapped in indecision because of his hyper-awareness of consequences, Don Corleone understood that one must act and then deal with the outcomes of that choice in order to assert control in the world.  He wielded his power with purpose and honor.  Not an honor which conforms to conventional morality, but rather one that adheres to a more primitive ethic that accepts the fundamental truth that some men are naturally more dominant than others.  Therefore, it is implicit that the ability to assert ones will over others carries a concomitant responsibility.  If they remain loyal, those who yield to the hierarchy will be protected.  Brute force is only utilized when other alternatives fail to achieve the desired goal.  Family always comes first and protection of its interests transcends political or other externally imposed values.  The character of Don Corleone, as constructed by Coppola and Brando, is my archetypal representation of a man’s assertion of power as he attempts to control his environment.

          To the right of Don Corleone is a photograph of a scene from he movie “Casablanca.” Rick and Ilsa are standing next to the piano while Sam is seated by the keyboard.  Rick is pouring drinks with his eyes focused on Ilsa.  Ilsa has her head down, seemingly unable to meet Rick’s eyes.  Rick, as portrayed by Bogart, is the consummate “man of the world.”  He is masterful, but not in the same way as Don Corleone.  Mastery is different than control and power, because it involves an amalgam of characteristics that is driven by the ability to make one’s way even when power is not in one’s grasp.  Rick is savvy, sensual, courageous and world wise with an underlying vulnerability that protects him from arrogance.  He navigates his way through life with the belief that he will find a way to get what he needs.  He is a realist and a survivor but still open to sentiment.  Not always honorable, sometimes cynical yet still possessing a strong personal sense of right or wrong.

          What have I concluded?  Manliness is a strong positive value for me that is measured by benchmarks which I have constructed from four real and fictitious images of men.  Reason, physicality, power and mastery tempered by wisdom, sensuality and vulnerability form the package.   I know there are unanswered questions.  Can women possess these qualities and to what degree?  How can we best encourage pride in masculinity that doees not impede gender equality. Important stuff for the next chapter.  For now, “Here’s looking at you kid.”

Toxic Masculinity

The label “Toxic Masculinity” has become a descriptor of men displaying masculinity which is perceived by some to be somehow harmful to women or fitting negative masculine stereotypes.   Of course there is some truth to the fact that toxic masculinity does exist.  In “incel” forums, for example, rather than working through the pain of being sexually rejected, men lash out at the women they feel they deserve — occasionally resulting in horrific violence. In a recent interview, the actor and activist Sean Penn is quoted, ” I don’t think that being a brute or having insensitivity or disrespect for women is anything to do with masculinity, or ever did. But I don’t think that [in order] to be fair to women, we should become them, he also said.” Unfortunately, Penn was not asked how he defines masculinity other than not being feminine.   Not real helpful in understanding when it is appropriate to classify an incident as toxic masculinity.

The problem of course is the attributions we place on labels.  Often this leads to over simplification which inhibits thoughtful discussion.  Even though our brains are hard wired to put our experiences into categories or boxes which helps us make sense of the chaos of our lives, the downside is that we over label and do not do enough to refine our boxes. 

As an example, a review of the movie “Power of the Dog” labeled non physical bullying behavior by a group of men as toxic masculinity.  Does this mean that verbal or social media bullying by women is toxic femininity?  Never heard of toxic being applied to a women’s behavior even though it is the same action exhibited by both genders.  Bullying is obnoxious and harmful but it has little to do with toxic masculinity.

Bad behavior – gratuitous violence, lack of empathy, insensitivity – is bad behavior.  Statistically, probably more men than women behave this way, but is not an attribute of masculinity.   Rather it is a minority of men who have distorted the archetypes of masculinity and have consequently earned the label Toxic Masculinity. 

Gender Confusion

It’s difficult to get an exact number but the media has highlighted numerous instances of parents allowing their children to choose their gender.   Being a long standing critic of the concept of gender neutrality while still strongly advocating gender equality I am appalled at the notion of gender choice.  Let’s get real.  Except for a very small percentage ( 0.02% to 0.05% ) of individuals who are born intersex most of us are born with a penis or a vagina.  By definition those with a penis and the hormones that created that organ are called male. Those with a vagina and the hormones that created that part of the anatomy are called female. That is not a choice or subject to parental decision making. The non-binary and the myriad of other politically correct identifiers for those with intact sex organs is meaningless.  You are born either a male or female and that doesn’t change unless you have participated in a surgical and hormonal sex change process.

I have no problem with a boy wanting to be a ballet dancer or a boy who wants to dress up a girl doll or a girl wanting to play in the mud and participate in contact sports.  They can still call themselves he or she.  Certainly there are social and cultural norms that effect how we express our genders.  Telling your son that not wearing a pink dress to school is not going to harm his self esteem as long as you simply explain that boys wear certain types of clothing in our society and that conforming to a dress standard does not inhibit his choices about interests and activities.  Conversely, if a girl prefers short hair and a flannel shirt she can still be a girl pursuing her interests without shame or redirection.   It is possible, and we are getting better, to expand gender roles without the confusing myriad of “woke” gender labels.   Let me be clear.  I am not talking about sexual orientation.  Being gay does not change the fact that you are a male or female.

I believe that the labels to describe one’s sexual identity are causing a great deal of stress especially for adolescents who are trying to come to terms with their sexuality.  In my opinion gender confusion is one of the many factors to explain the sharp increase in mental health issues among adolescents and young adults.  Parents, please understand that you are not going to do psychological damage to your children by maintaining the gender identity they were born with. Instead, give them the freedom to pursue their interests without adding the demands of confronting the non-restrictive social norms associated with gender.   I will repeat my mantra, you do not have to be gender neutral to be gender equal.   

King Richard

Disclaimer – I am not King Richard.  The blog’s focus is the messaging about masculinity in the recent movie “King Richard.”  The biopic about the father of Venus & Serena Williams, played extraordinarily well by Will Smith, raised a number of issues about fathering and masculine behavior.  I’ll begin with fathering.  Fathering five girls while living in a high crime environment is an enormous challenge.  The need to protect and provide is a strong motivator for men seeking to live in the best of masculinity.  Richard did an admirable job in protecting and providing for the girls.  He constantly sought to instill  success values – education, hard work, deferred gratification – and worked night shifts while coaching the girls during the day.  He attempted to shield the girls from the local gang members while suffering several beat downs in the process.  His fathering style also validated the self-worth of his girls which correlates with their personal success and mature attitudes about their sexuality.  In addition, he was always present both physically and emotionally.  He talked the love talk and earned the love in return from the girls.

He so strongly lived the archetype “King” that at times his planning for the tennis futures of Venus and Serena felt stifling and rigid and did result in family conflict between Richard and his wife.  Richard’s “Warrior” was also strongly in play.  In his obsessive desire to carry out his plan he at times acted like a bully and ignored the support and contributions of his wife and the girls’ coach.  However, he did confront the local toughs and was fortunate that when he went after them with a gun, someone shot at them before Richard fired his weapon.   He left the shooting scene as an observer rather than as an active participant.  His greatest strength was his “Lover.”  He demonstrated his love for his children through affirmations and behavior.  There seemed to be no doubt on his daughter’s minds that they were loved and supported by their father even when his plan ran contradictory to their wishes.  A bit less successful as a lover with his wife where his patriarchal behavior did at times diminish his acknowledgement of her role in raising the children. 

Given the athletic, financial and life style success of Venus and Serena it is difficult to find fault with his parenting and hyper-focused behavior.  The question is whether or not his approach to parenting can serve as a model for raising high achieving children?   We do not often hear the stories of families who have followed a similar path to the Williams family and wound up with dysfunctional family life and  burned out children. 

Middle Class Privilege

Let me clear from the onset. I am not attempting to discount the notion of white privilege which has become a foundational principle of the Black Lives Matter movement. I know it exists but it is far too simplistic to attribute racial and economic inequality solely to white privilege.  The dictionary definition of privilege is, “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor .”  Considering the trajectory of my life and that of my older sibling the peculiar benefit or advantage that we had was not about being white but being raised in a home with a value structure that is commonly referred to as middle class values.   

All four of our grandparents and our father were immigrants who arrived in the US with nothing but their ambition and the clothes on their backs.  Our grandparents got by, raised their children but did not pass on any wealth or property to their offspring. Their legacy was middle class values. Those values that were instilled and modeled included a two parent family. We had a mother and a father who were always present in our lives and basically got along with each other.  Mom was a stay at home mom until our teen years and Dad went to work every day trying to earn enough to support his family. We lived modestly in rented apartments with my sister and I sharing a bedroom until she got married. The first apartment I lived in until I was seven years old had one bedroom which I shared with my sister while my parents slept on a pull-out in the living room.  Getting a good education was the mantra that we constantly heard.  Despite the fact that neither of our parents attended college, going to college was instilled as a basic requirement to secure our future. We were made keenly aware that education was the springboard to success no matter what career we intended to pursue.  There were books in the house that our parents read and our school grades were carefully monitored.   Mom became active in the PTA and one year was elected  president of our elementary school PTA.  

Structure was an essential value for Mom.  We ate dinner at the same time every evening, often without Dad who worked later than Mom’s definition of when children should have their dinner.  TV time was limited and bedtimes were enforced.  Dad, who worked six days a week, insisted that Sunday was family day and up to our teen years we did something together as a family almost every Sunday. We were assigned household chores and did them with little complaint. We were expected to save money, a modest allowance and earnings when we were old enough to find jobs in the neighborhood.  When I wanted a new bike my father decided that I should pay for half the cost of the bike from my savings.  Religious studies for both of us was required up to the age of 13 and then it was left to our own choosing.  Discipline was rarely physical and we were permitted to at least plead our case before consequences were determined. I do not want to give the impression that I was a perfect child.  A few times I shoplifted toy soldiers from the local Woolworths, started smoking at 15, and I constantly stretched the boundaries my parents set in my desire for freedom and independence.   However, there was always that little voice that would keep me from doing anything really stupid.  The voice said don’t disappoint your parents or risk your future.  The voice and good luck in not getting caught got me through my adolescent rebellion without any long lasting damage.

Our parents did not have enough income to save for college tuition.  Therefore, the only choice we had was to live at home and attend a branch of the New York City University System where tuition was free.   High school grades combined with SAT scores determined which college you could attend.  If we did not choose to attend college full time we were told we could remain living at home as long as we had a job and attended night school.   

Eventually my sister and I both earned doctorate degrees and achieved some degree of professional success.  I attribute much of our resilience and achievement as a product of middle class values not white privilege.  We were not unique. In addition to friends with similar stories to our own Colin Powell’s story comes to mind.  Colin, an African -American, had an equivalent pathway to success. Powell’s parents were immigrants and he lived in an apartment in the south Bronx and attended public schools graduating from CCNY, my alma mater, before embarking on his military and political  career.  Powell’s upbringing was reflective of middle class values obviously not of white privilege.

Unfortunately, the black pride movement of the 60’s labeled middle class values as white values therefore disparaging some of the fundamental values that regardless of race or socio-economic status are essential to achieve a productive and fulfilling lifestyle.  We hear stories of Black students putting down high academic achieving peers ascribing their behavior  to acting white.  The message that taking education seriously is somehow a betrayal of Black culture.  Maybe if we rename middle class values and call them values for success it would gain less resistance.

It is not difficult to summarize values for success. They include a reasonably stable and supportive family life, an appreciation and reinforcement of the value of education, the ability to defer gratification and work hard toward long range goals, spiritual exploration, financial literacy and a belief in one’s ability to succeed. 

I am not naive.  I understand that poverty and discrimination breeds  hopelessness which kills ambition and the motivation to sacrifice, plan for a future and defer gratification.  Free tuition has gone and hopefully will make a comeback at least on the community college level, affording availability and success to those that persevere.  I also know that wealth alone is clearly not a unique path to practicing success values.  There are numerous examples of people of means not living success values.  The recent college admission scandal orchestrated by the super rich highlighted how people of considerable means feel they can cheat and model to their children immoral behavior.  However,  those individuals, other than elite athletes and celebrities, who do break the cycle of poverty do so by adopting success values. The difficult message that needs to emerge from the Black Lives Matter movement is that much needed structural change in eliminating the scourge of racism is not sufficient.  The Black community must also look inward and foster and encourage the success values that will help create the just society that we desperately need.