If you watch American popular culture and media, it is easy to come away with a rather depressing story about the lives and experiences of black men. News media tend to overrepresent black men as criminal, and movies like Paid in Full, State Property, and Get Rich or Die Trying do their part to portray black men as victims and/or survivors of an urban ghetto defined by violence, poverty, neglect, and drug use. At the other end of the spectrum, extremely visible, successful black men like Bill Cosby and Barack Obama suggest hard work, staying in school, and good behavior are surefire routes to success.
Both accounts offer a very two-dimensional picture of black men’s lives in the U.S. today. They give the impression that nearly all black men are facing the dire threats of un- or underemployment, failing schools, urban neglect, and jail time. Those who do not fit this categorization may seem to be on another end of a continuum—part of an extremely well off, highly visible minority who point to their own accomplishments as proof that properly channeled ambition leads to success. The story media and current research tell is usually that black men’s lives generally exist only on these two ends of a spectrum.
In my book No More Invisible Man: Race and Gender in Men’s Work, I try to draw attention to black men who do not fit either of these categorizations—everyday professional, middle class black men who work in white-collar jobs.