Comprehensive Theory for African-American Boys and Men

God Bless the Child Who Got His Own: Toward a
Comprehensive Theory for African-American Boys
and Men
After more than 40 years of study, no comprehensive theory has been developed to analyze the lives of African American boys
and men. Thus, the field of African American male studies is in need of its own theoretical framework. The current article
challenges the dominant usage of Critical race theory (CRT) in studies involving African American boys and men. Additionally,
the authors build on Ecological Systems theory, which is essentially an African way of knowing, to construct a framework
— African American Male theory (AAMT) — that articulates the position and trajectory of African American boys and men in
society drawing on and accounting for pre- and post-enslavement experiences while capturing or accountingfor their spiritual,
psychological, biological, social, educational development, and station.
After more than 40 years of research, no uniform
theory has emerged as a foundation and frame that explains the Uves of African American boys and men. In
fact, a significant number of studies and other scholarly
writings over the aforementioned epoch concerning
African American boys and men can be characterized
as having no explicitly stated theoretical framework.
There have been some attempts at theory, for example.
Majors and Billson’s (1993) cool pose framework,
which has led to an emergent discussion around a theory
of Black masculine literacies (Kirkland & Jackson,
2009; Tatum, 2005). Yet, these efforts have gained little
traction in the area of study and are specifically focused
on groups or segments under certain conditions within
the general population of African American boys.
In recent years, the preponderance of social science literature, particularly in the educational body of
research, has drawn upon Critical race theory (CRT) to
demystify and encapsulate the lives of African American boys and men (Donnor, 2005; Duncan, 2002; Howard, 2008; Lynn, 2006; Singer, 2005; Stinson, 2008).
Additionally, there are even more studies that though
CRT is not cited directly, it is implicit in the frame (Cox
Edmondson, 2009; Fenning & Rose, 2007; Maylor,
2009; Noguera, 2003; Skiba, 2002; Wood & Turner,
2011). While we categorically affirm the necessity of
considering racism, power, and cultural hegemony as a
framework to analyze and situate this population, drawing on CRT as the sole theory offers a myopic viewpoint
and provides a limited foundation on which to build. We
aspire for a more dynamical lens and thereby borrow
liberally from ecological systems theory, which allows
for more fiuid interaction and juxtaposition of abstract
and concrete concepts, environments, time periods, and
other phenomena.
To this end, African American boys and men need
their own theoretical framework that can articulate their
position and trajectory in the world drawing on and
Lawson V. Bush, Ph.D. is Professor and Director
of the CSULA/UCI Joint EdD. Program in Urban
Educational Leadership. In addition his new
book and workbook co-authored with his brother
Dr. Edward Bush and others entitled, The Plan:
A Guide for Women Raising African American
Boys from Conception to College and The Plan
Workbook, he has published over 25 articles
addressing African American educational history.
Dr Edward Bush received his Bachelors of Arts degree
in Political Science from University of California
Riverside, a Master’s Degree in Public Administration
from California State University, San Bernardino and
his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Claremont
Graduate University. Dr. Bush is the co-author of the
book entitled “The Plan: A Guide for Women Raising
African American Boys from Conception to College
and co-founder of the I Have A Plan (
The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2013 1
accounting for pre- and post-enslavement experiences
while capturing spiritual, psychological, social, educational development and station. The task of developing
a comprehensive theory is enormous and will require
the input from a variety of scholars and laymen/women
from a mixture of disciplines and backgrounds. Thus,
it is our aim in this current paper to a) summarize the
development of African American male studies; b)
discuss the problematics of CRT and other attempts at
theorizing lives of African American boys and men; and
c) at minimum, by building on aspects of ecological
systems theory, provide some basic tenets to help situate
and construct a dialogue towards a theory of African
American male development, position, and practice.
While our work is challenging, it is paramount
to note that other historically excluded populations
have constructed theories and frameworks around the
narratives specific to their group. Our work should
be viewed in many respects as a continuation of preceding theories such as Black feminist and womanist
theory (Cannon, 1988; Collins, 1990), Feminist theory
(Kolmar & Bartkowski, 2005), Latino and Latina critical theory (LatCrit) (Bemal, 2001; Fernandez, 2002;
Solórzano & Bemal, 2001), Tribal critical race theory
(TribalCrit) (Brayboy, 2005), African-centered theory
(Asante, 1980/2003, 1990; Asante & Mazama, 2005;
Mazama, 2001 ), and Kawaida theory (Karenga, 1980).
The Study of African American Men and Boys and
Social and Political Movements
The broader field of Adult Development is a recent
occurrence barely in its adolescence. Similarly, the
study of men is in its infancy, beginning in the early
1970s. Men, specifically White males, have always
been highlighted in history for their conquests, but
not until the last 40 years have they been examined in
regard to their sex-role development, masculinities, and
specific male experiences.
There were several major contributors to the early
general study of men (see Brod, 1987; Connell, 1995;
Franklin, 1984; Kimmel, 1987, 1995; Pleck & Pleck,
1980;Pleck, 1981). Yet, perhaps of greater influence on
this particular field, was the political and social milieu of
the early epoch of male studies. Pleck and Pleck ( 1980)
have contended that there were three social movements
that engendered the study of male sex-roles and altered
definitions of manhood and masculinity: the women’s
movement, the gay liberation movement, and the men’s
movement. However, Franklin (1984) added the moral
majority movement as a fourth. The current authors
add, specifically in the case of African American men,
the Black Power and Civil Rights Movements as a
fifth. We also add as a more recent impact on African
American male studies and issues, the African-centered
Movement as a sixth, and as an ongoing and current,
impact, hip-hop culture as a seventh.
Not unlike many Black women’s discontent with
the women’s movement (see hooks, 1981; Cannon,
1988), African American males have not been largely
involved in the men’s movement and others such as gay
liberation movement and moral majority movements
because many feel that they have little or no relevance
for the lives of African American men (Franklin, 1994).
This is not saying that African American men’s masculinity is not in some ways similar to White men’s
masculinity in the United States. However, there are
some distinctive constructs that were and are produced
by very different political, historical, social, spiritual,
and economic experiences (Bush, 1999; Connor, 1995;
Jackson, 1997).
Some scholars argue that African American men
have been collectively emasculated because: (a) slavery
caused a situation where many African American men
could not protect themselves or their families; (b) a
“matriarchal system” within African American communities, caused by an absent father or an “overpowering
African American woman” emerged within the context
of a patriarchal U.S. society that expects men to be the
heads of households; and (c) economic oppression rendered African American men unable to provide for their
families in a society where manhood and the provider
role are inextricable (see Bush, 1999; Staples 1978;
also see hooks, 1981 for a counterargument). Thus,
Poussaint (1982) and Franklin (1984) maintain that
African American males were not recognized as men
by wider society until the late 1960s. They asserted that
Malcohn X and the Black Power Movement created a
more assertive and self-confident African American
male. This notion was articulated by Ossie Davis in
his eulogy of Malcolm X saying that Malcolm X was
the embodiment Black manhood. Consequently and
logically, men cannot be studied as men until they reach
manhood. Therefore, if Afiican American males did not
become recognized as men until the mid to late 1960s,
then the Black Power Movement along with the Civil
Rights Movement, that also produced more assertive
African American men, must be seen by scholars as
one of the major modem movements influencing definitions of Black masculinity and the study of African
The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2013
American men.
The African-centered movement that emerged during the early 1980s reached an apex around 1995 with
the Million Man March, which also influenced Black
masculinity and the study of African American boys
and men. Baker-Fletcher (1996) credits the Africancentered Movement for engendering a new male or what
he calls an Xodus male. “An Xodus man is one who
closely contributes educational, spiritual, and material
resources to the community. He values the outer community he lives in because he is so attuned to the inner
Community of Self (p. 25).”
Studies published during this epoch (see Hunter
& Davis, 1992; Roberts, 1994; Watts, 1993) found that
African American males perceived themselves as not
fitting the traditional or Western paradigm of masculinity (i.e., aggressiveness, competitiveness, adventurer,
provider, and superiority to females notion). Roberts
(1994) concluded from his interviews that African
American males are not comfortable with the socially
defined traditional masculine ideal. Hunter and Davis
(1992) found that African American men’s definitions
of masculinity clustered around self-determination
and accountability, family, pride, and spirituality and
humanism. In short, the conclusions drawn from these
studies are symmetrical with the African-centered
notions of men and women that recognize the “duality or the interrelationship of masculine and feminine
experiences in both men and women. African American
males are expected to contain in their sex-role identities
a masculine and feminine self (Roberts, 1994, p. 385)
(see also Akbar, 1991 ; Karenga, 1980; Nobles, 1980).
Whether the influence of hip hop on African
American boys and men is pejorative or positive is
contested terrain. Nevertheless, the influence of hip hop
worldwide is undeniable (Alim, Ibrahim, & Pennycook,
2009). Certainly, its impact on the lives of African
American men and boys is far reaching, influencing the
speech, vocabulary, dress, and the overall disposition,
personality, pose, or swagga of many African American
boys and men, which in most cases depicts a brash assertiveness and self-confidence (Duncan, 2010)
Though hip hop has been around for over 35 years,
the study of hip hop is virtually new, taking firm root
over the last 10 to 15 years. Thus, our perspective on
this major social and political movement on African
American boys and men in terms of scholarly inquiry
is a fragmented picture at best and must be developed
and thoroughly investigated in the future of African
American male studies (Noguera, 2003). Scholars have
found that it has an effect on such matters as student
learning and engagement and identity (Alim, 2006;
Duncan, 2010; Morrell & Duncan-Andrade; Richardson, 2006); its impact on other vital areas of African
American men’s lives, such as personal relationships,
parenting, and sex-role development is understudied.
Summary of the Body of Literature and the Study of
African American Boys and Men
During the aforementioned social and political
movements, the literature on African American boys
and men over the last 40 years has grown tremendously
in terms of both the number of studies and books published and the variety of subjects studied. Over time,
there have been some shifts in the body of literature.
The early literature positioned African American boys
and men more as the objects of study whereas in more
recent years they have been more the subject of inquiries. However, irrespective of time periods or the
positioning of African American males in research, the
study of African American males and the phenomena
that contribute to their presumed dysfijnction or lessthan-desirable social, political, and economic outcomes
dominate the literature, though there has been in the last
decade or so, an additional focus on successful African
American boys particularly in the educational body
of literature (Bonner, 2010; Byfield, 2008; Grantham,
2004; Hrabowski, Maton, & Greif, 1998; Whiting,
While the early literature concerning African
American males dealt with the challenges they faced in
society (Grier & Cobbs, 1968; Hare, 1971; Moynihan,
1965; Staples, 1978), a more disturbing but necessary
trend surfaced in the body of literature in mid 1980s
that would permeate and profoundly impact the study
of African American males. Scholars and others during this era began to systematically compile and report
statistics concerning life outcomes for Afincan American
males in comparison to other racial and gender groups
looking chiefly at homicide, incarceration, life expectancy, and infant mortality rates in which they found that
African American males were not only at the bottom
of these indicators but that they also outdistanced their
counterparts by dramatic and devastating measurements
The work of Gibbs (1984, 1988), Kunjufii, (1984,
1985), and Madhubuti, (1990) fiindamentally changed
the approach to the study of African American boys
and men as they ushered in the endangered species
analogy and discourse to both the scholarly and mainstream body of literature to characterize the dismal
The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2013 3
life circumstances of this population: In fact, almost
all the subsequent academic and popular literature and
educational and social programming related to African
American boys and men are inextricably linked to their
work. Writers, scholarly or other, after this point were
expected to advance the endangered species discussion and report data concerning the status of African
American males. From the late 1980s and the mid 1990s
scholars worked feverishly to compile a mountain of
growing pejorative statistics into four categories: (a)
demographical and statistical issues, (b) psychological,
social, and health issues, (c) political and economic issues, and (d) educational issues (Gordon, Gordon, and
Nembhard, 1994).
Also dtiring this epoch there were several important
firsts, many of which were described by Majors and
Gordon (1994). The early 1990s produced the Journal
of African American Male Studies, the first academic
journal in the United States for African American males.
Additionally, several research centers were founded.
In 1988 the Albany State Center for the Study of the
Black Male was established, the first center in the United
States dedicated to the study of African American boys
and men. Several commissions, committees, and forums were convened to address African American male
issues. In 1989, Ohio’s governor formed the Governor’s
Commission on Socially Disadvantaged Black Males,
also the first of its kind in the United States. Last, several
all-Black male academies and classes began in the late
1980s and 1990s located mainly in Detroit, Milwaukee,
and New Orleans, employing mostly all-Black male
instructors (Holland, 1991).
More currently, there are no areas of African
American males’ lives that are off limits to academic
inquiry. In addition to a host of books, edited editions,
and several important themed journal issues have been
published in Urban Education (2003), Teacher College
Record (2006), American Behavioral Scientist (2008),
and Race, Ethnicity and Education (2011), and a few
journals have been created such as Journal of African
American Men (now the Journal of African American
Studies), Journal of African American Males in Education, and the Journal of Black Masculinity to house
this expanding body of literature. While the points
of inquiry and the opportunity to publish results have
increased, and even though there has been some movement away from such deficient-sounding language as
endangered, the central focus of the body of literature
about African American boys and men still follows
the trajectory of endangered species discourse in that
it illuminates the many social, educational, political.
and economic disparities and challenges of African
American boys and men.
With this in mind, many scholars looking for a
theoretical framework to explain the deleterious circumstances faced by a significant number African American
males, employed the usage of CRT. CRT theory was a
natural fit because racism and cultural hegemony were
already being used in the body of literature on African
American boys and men to explicate their condition and
station. Moreover, in the general body of literature on
African Americans, there had been the historical precedent of connecting racism to life outcomes (DuBois,
1903/1969; Woodson (1933/1990).
The Problematics of CRT and Similar
CRT had its genesis in legal scholarship and discourse (Bell, 1992; Delgado, 1995; Crenshaw, Gotanda,
Peller, & Thomas, 1995); though, we see the works of
such scholars like Woodson (1933/1990) and DuBois
( 1903/1969) as having great impact on its theoretical origins. Since the introduction of CRT to the educational
body of literature (see Ladson-Billings & Täte, 1995), it
has been the principal theoretical framework employed
by scholars to examine the lives of African American
boys and men. Scholars utilize CRT to, among other
things, illuminate the under academic achievement,
over punishment, state of being beyond love, and the
harmful outcomes of wrongfully held stereotypes and
perceptions (Duncan, 2002; Howard, 2008; Lynn, 2006;
Reynolds, 2010; Singer, 2005; Stinson, 2008).
In short. Critical race theorists posit that race and
racism are entrenched in every aspect, apparatus, foundation, structure, and fltnction of society mediating both
individual and institutional consciousness, policy, and
practice. CRT allows one to:
a) foreground race and racism in the curriculum;
b) challenge the traditional paradigms, methods,
texts, and separate discourse on race, gender,
and class by showing how these social constructs
intersect to affect communities of color; c) focus
on the racialized and gendered experiences of
communities of color; d) offer a liberatory and
transformative method when examining racial,
gender, and class discrimination; and e) use the
trans-disciplinary knowledge and methodological
base of ethnic studies, women’s studies, sociology,
history, and the law to better understand the various
forms of discrimination. (Maddox & Solórzano,
The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2013
. 2002, pp. 68-69)
We wholeheartedly affirm and adhere to the tenets
of CRT; yet, we find it to be limiting and myopic in that
far too much credit is given to racism and oppression
for producing outcomes. Using critical race theory
solely to understand African American boys and men
in America, particularly in how it has been used in social science research and epistemology, albeit mostly
unintentionally, is like giving a mechanical juicer credit
for producing and creating the oranges, the orange
trees, and the juice. It would be nonsensical to many,
in this metaphor, for one to study the juicer and expect
to know much about the orange or the juice. It may be
the case that studying the juice provides a significant
amount of information; however, analyzing the juice as
if its origins began with an encounter with a juicer is
negligent because the juice was already in the orange
and thus the juicer is a factor in the production of the
juice rather than the reason for its creation or existence.
We equate the mechanical juicer to racism, oppression, enslavement, and CRT, and liken the outcomes and
behaviors of African American males to being the juice
in the aforementioned metaphor. Under the paradigm of
CRT and other related theories including oppositional
theory (see Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Ogbu, 1987) and
the cool pose framework (Majors & Billson, 1993) what
African American males do such as acting cool becomes
a reactionary response suggesting that African males in
America would not be cool if it had not been for White
cultural hegemony. For example, Connor (1995) has
contended that coolness for African American males
help them deal with the stress caused by social oppression and was developed because they were not allowed
to exhibit conventional expressions of masculinity
and manhood. Colloquially speaking to debunk this
notion, one would just need to travel throughout the
African continent and diaspora to find African boys
and men wherever they are posturing and striking cool
poses. Moreover, if they are observed during ancient
rites-of-passages and other traditional spiritual rituals
practiced since before colonialism to present, coolness
can be observed regardless and independent of racism
and oppression.
Whether readers concur with our attempt to debunk
the assertion that coolness for African American boys
and men is a recent and localized phenomenon caused
by racism and oppression is not paramount; rather, we
aim to convey the necessity of viewing the experiences
of this population from a much broader perspective
and thereby calling for a much broader theoretical and
analytical approach than CRT. W.E.B Du Bois in his
book The Negro Family (1909) wrote that “There is a
distinct nexus between Africa and America [referring to
Africans and African Americans] which, though broken
and perverted, is nevertheless not to be neglected by
the careful student” (p. 9). To this end, scholars have
long studied the cultural continuity and continuation of
African cultural, spiritual, and social practices in the
Americas (Fortes, 1967; Herskovits, 1959; Kenyatta,
1983;McAdoo, 1988; Nobles, 1980;Sudarkasa, 1980).
CRT does not allow for such an examination. Though
we are acutely concemed with the impact of racism on
African American males, we are also interested in a
framework that allows one to juxtapose several factors
and account for more robust questions.
Ecological Systems Theory
According to many indigenous peoples around the
world (see Cajete, 1994; Ming-Dao, 1986; Some,
1993) the universe is made up of a series of interconnected organisms and systems. Likewise, human beings
exist in a symbiotic and bidirectional relationship with
one another, their environment, and other phenomena.
These ancient concepts constitute the foundation of
systems and ecological thinking. The current authors
view, incorporate, and employ ecological systems
theory from the perspective that it is a modem coining
and rendition of an African philosophy and ontology
(Asante, 1980/2003, 1990; Asante & Mazama, 2005;
Mazama, 2001 ; Jackson & Sears, 1992). In this light,
ecological systems thinking is African thought and
practice; thus, we find it, among other salient reasons,
to be a natural and suitable framework to be the major
underpinning of a comprehensive theory for African
American boys and men.
Urie Bronfenbrenner is the contemporary progenitor of ecological systems theory. He writes that
ecological systems theory offers “a unified but highly
differentiated conceptual scheme for describing and
interrelating structures and processes in both the immediate and more remote environment as it shapes the
course of human development” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979,
p. 11). Moreover, it provides the necessary space to
account for the environmental influences on human
development by positioning individuals, in this case
African American boys and men, within a system of dynamic and multi-directional relationships influenced by
multiple dimensions and aspects of the surrounding milieu. Similarly with respect to approach, it calls for the
The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2013
investigation of phenomena, events, individuals from
a multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary perspective.
Bronfenbrenner (1986, 1989, 2005) divided the
components of the theory into five interconnected
environmental systems that include the microsystem,
mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and the chronosystem. The microsystem captures the individuals
own biology, personality, beliefs and perceptions, and
intellectual gifts and the interactions with familial,
home, peer groups, neighborhood, and school environments. The mesosystem makes the links between
the environments of the microsystem. It is the space
where microsystems engage one another; for example,
it is the connection between home and school, family
and peer groups, and the like. Exosystems are external
environmental settings and community factors, such as a
parent’s place of employment, that impact an individual
even if that person is not a direct participant. The macrosystem looks at larger cultures or systems, which can
be physical, emotional, and ideological that may affect
individual development. These may include regional
and national culture and economic and political culture.
The chronosystem considers the pattern and arrangement of the environmental events and transitions and
the sociohistorical context in which they occur over time
such as the change in career opportunities for women
over the last few decades (Santrock, 2008).
Using Bronfenbrenner’s theory as a foundation
and skeleton, it is our aim to move toward a comprehensive approach to understanding the lives of African
American boys and men. It is important to note that
others, across disciplines, though they have not created
a theory from Bronfenbrenner’s for African American
males, have found ecological systems theory useful in
its current state as a framework for this population (Williams, 2009; Woods, Montgomery, Herring, Gardner, &
Stokols, 2006). Moreover, Jonathan and Cinawendela
(2006), theorizing about the impact of such factors as
violence, fatherlessness, racism, and poverty on African
American boys, were forthright in their call for the need
to study African American boys from an ecological
perspective. They wrote that the “disproportionate rates
of incarceration, poverty, and school failure all speak to
the need for a holistic approach to understanding and
addressing the problems that these young boys face. .
. Thus, an ecological, or structural, approach is warranted” (p. 213).
American Men and Boys
In the following pages, we outline the components
of African American Male Theory (AAMT). Our work
should be seen as being more nascent than exhaustive;
yet, comprehensive and focused enough to provide future scholars and practitioners with a viable framework
to use and expand upon. The tenets and assumptions of
AAMT are that:
a) The individual and collective experiences,
behaviors, outcomes, events, phenomena,
and trajectory of African American boys’
and men’s lives are best analyzed using an
ecological systems approach.
Building upon what happens in nature, an ancient
and current African worldview, and Bronfenbrenner’s
work, AAMT suggests that African American boys and
men exist in a symbiotic and bidirectional relationship
with other beings, matter, concepts, and phenomena.
Thus, AAMT provides the conceptual framework
and scheme to describe and analyze the interrelated
structures, systems, and processes that occur in these
dynamic and multidimensional environments that
infiuence and shape the development, experiences,
outcomes, and trajectory of African American boys and
men. Given that the factors in environments impacting
African American boys and men are possibly numerous
and vastly differentiated, a multi-disciplinary and transdisciplinary approach becomes necessary to AAMT.
African American Male Theory incorporates all
five of Bronfenbrenner’s (1986, 1989,2005) interconnected environmental systems that include the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and
the chronosystem (see the above and Figure 1 for an
explanation these five systems).
However, AAMT divides the microsystem into two
Toward a Comprehensive Theory for African
6 The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2013
Figure 1. African American Male Ecological Systems Model for African American Male
diiuigem family stiiKlme
iii’b annual
access fo
r.g. biology
tg. family & fxtrudedfamilj
iirigliborhood. dmi cli. sdiool
e.g. unknown
hegemony & racism
liip hop youth cultiue
laws polines
Inner Mjcrosy^em
Outer Alia os’v stem
The Western Joumal of Black Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2013 7
categories: inner microsystem to capture components
such as a person’s biology, personality, and perceptions
and beliefs while the outer microsystem provides the
space to analyze the impact of such aspects as the family,
peers, neighborhood, and school environments. Also,
AAMT expands the mesosystem to show the links between the environments of the inner microsystem, outer
microsystem, and a sixth division and system added by
AAMT called the subsystem.
The subsystem provides the space to consider the
influence and involvement of such matters as the supernatural and spirit (Cajete, 1994; Some, 1993), the
collective will, collective unconscious, and archetypes
(Jung, 1968; Taub-Bynum, 1984). Also, it provides
the opportunity to consider what renowned and highly
regarded physicists describe as multidimensional levels
of reality existing in parallel spaces (Kaku, 2005) on
the individual male in the microsystem level and as an
undercurrent of the other systems in the model. Moreover, the subsystem represents the unknown or what has
yet to be accounted for or explained. There is still much
to be known and studied as Singh (2003) reminds us:
One of the key scientific findings of modem times is
that the amount of observable matter in the universe
constitutes a very small fraction (less than 1 to 10
percent) of the total energy of the universe, while
90% or more of the universe exists in the form
of un-manifested dark matter or dark energy. If
science believes this finding of its own and takes
it to heart, it would focus its investigations and
spend its valuable resources on investigating the
non-matter based reality, (p. 11)
With this in mind, we are not out to prove in this
current paper that the aforementioned phenomena exist and that they the affect the experiences of African
American boys and men; rather, our aim is to build a
theory that is elastic and robust enough to grow and to
accommodate the physical and social scientists who
currently research such phenomena. Additionally,
spirituality and the related are important to a significant
number of African American boys and men (BakerFletcher, 1996; Watts, 1993). The subsystem coupled
with the microsystem offer the framework to examine
and account for these phenomena via the perspective
and narrative of this population.
b) There is something unique about being male
and of African descent.
Whether it stems from nature, nurture, or other,
there is something unique about being male and of African descent. While AAMT affirms the uniqueness in
other populations and groups and is categorically interested in what makes African American males similar to
or like others, AAMT also is concerned with examining
and discovering what is distinctive about this population
as a group and individual distinctions within the group.
Distinctions are necessary across areas and disciplines,
for example, to create specialized programs, pedagogies, and curricula in education, to focus on specific
medical and psychological treatment in biological and
psychological research, and to account for the contributions of African American men to forward progress of
humanity in history.
c) There is a continuity and continuation of
African culture, consciousness, and biology
that influence the experiences of African
American boys and men.
African American Male Theory asserts that the
study of African American men and boys must be
anchored in Africa (Franklin, 1994; Harris & Ferguson, 2010; White & Cones, 1999) because there is a
persistence of African culture and consciousness that
impact African American boys and men (Fortes, 1967;
Herskovits, 1959; Hill, 1997; Kenyatta, 1983;McAdoo,
1988; Nobles, 1980; Sudarkasa, 1980). The study of
the extent of such links requires multi-disciplinary and
trans-disciplinary approaches as the implications of
possible connections permeate the physical and social
sciences and humanities. Research on African American boys and men that does not account for the impact
of Africa in America runs a significant risk of producing incomplete and faulty assumptions and results.
There is much work that needs to be done in this area,
inasmuch as most research on African American boys
and men makes no attempt to empirically examine or
even theorize about the ramifications of such cultural,
biological, and spiritual links and continuation.
d) African American boys and men are
resilient and resistant
African American Male Theory posits that African
American boys and men are bom with an innate desire
for self-determination and with an unlimited capacity
for morality and intelligence. AAMT embraces resilience theory and vehemently opposes deficit paradigms,
thinking, and practice. From this viewpoint, social and
educational challenges facing this group stem from
socially constructed systems rather than any innate
biological or cultural deficiencies.
Resilience theory meshes well with AAMT as it
was first introduced by ecologist C.S. HoUing in 1973
8 The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2013
who, like the current authors, synthesized aspects of
systems theory and ecological theory to construct his
work. In short, resilience theory is concerned with and
addresses the ability, capacity, and powers that people or
systems exhibit that allow them to rise above adversity
(Holling, 1973; Montenegro, 2010) (see also McCubbin, Thompson, Thompson, & Futrell, 1998). AAMT
is particularly interested in discovering and illuminating
the resiliency present in the inner microsystem (e.g.,
biology, personality, sexual orientation, beliefs and
perceptions, and intellect), outer microsystem (e.g.,
family, extended family, home, peer groups, neighborhood, and church), subsystem (e.g., supernatural,
spirit, collective will, unconscious, and archetypes), and
mesosystem (e.g., interactions between the subsystem
inner microsystem outer microsystem)
Additionally, AAMT connects resistance with resiliency and focuses on ways in which African American
boys and men and systems reject White mainstream
cultural hegemony and oppression. AAMT does not
completely align with leading resistance or cultural
oppositional theorists such John Ogbu and Signithia
Fordham (Fordham, 1996; Fordham & Ogbu, 1986;
Ogbu, 1991). We are more interested in how the
theory has been nuanced by others. For example,
Ogbu suggested that some African Americans reject
education because it is perceived as supporting their
oppression. Bush (1997) challenged Ogbu (1991) by
arguing that he has confounded the terms education and
schooling. Bush saw schooling as the process used to
maintain and continue asymmetrical power relations
while he defined education as “the process that should
make people more capable of manifesting who they are
as defined by their cultural and community norms” (p.
99). Thus, he contended that what Ogbu found in his
study was a rejection of schooling by African Americans rather than education as African Americans have
always thirsted and fought for education even in the
face of tremendous adversity and minimal resources
(Anderson, 1988; Bush, 1997; Bush, Bush, & CauseyBush, 2006). Solórzano and Delgado-Bemal (2001)
have also reconceptualized Ogbu’s theory in a manner
that is of interest to AAMT. They asserted that Ogbu
focuses on self-defeating resistance while they view
some opposition as having transformative qualities, effects, and outcomes as some individuals view society as
being unjust and engage in resistant actions as a means
of fostering social and political change.
AAMT approaches all forms of resistance and opposition demonstrated by African American boys and
men as a strength though some of its manifestations
may be counterproductive to what is viewed as being
successful or productive in White mainstream society.
Moreover, in accordance with tenets of AAMT, we aim
to explore how resistant behaviors are connected to or a
result of attempts to maintain a continuity and continuation of African culture, consciousness, and biology.
e) Race and racism coupled with classism
and sexism have a profound impact on every
aspect of the lives of African American boys
and men.
Like CRT, AAMT sees racism as an omnipresent
force and factor in society. AAMT is particularly interested in how it impacts the lives of African American
boys and men. Moreover, AAMT is also interested in
understanding how being male and of a certain class
may gain some African American boys and men privilege in some spaces and thereby seeks to be in dialogue
with such perspectives (Cannon, 1988; Collins, 1990;
hooks, 2000).
f) The focus and purpose of study and
programs concerning African American
boys and men is for the pursuit of social
The intent of AAMT is to undermine oppression
by explicitly investigating and attending to those
practices, policies, programs, systems, concepts, and
institutions that promote its continuation (Young, 1990).
Yet, AAMT is not a reactionary theory. The aim is not
necessarily to respond to cultural hegemony and racism
but rather to explicitly account for it as AAMT works to
draw upon the historical and current culture, consciousness, and community to determine what is social justice
for African American boys and men.
After over 40 years of research and being descendants of, at least, the oldest male human in the world,
it is time for the African American male to get his own
theory. Whether African American Male Theory will be
adopted as such is yet to be known and is somewhat secondary to a larger call for scholars to begin to construct
frameworks that allow for the full humanity, history, and
experiences of historically excluded groups to be told.
While the stories of oppressed people should never be
forgotten and are necessary for scholars to thoroughly
investigate, we encourage scholars to move away from
damage-centered (see Tuck, 2009) and reactionary approaches (see Bush, Bush, & Causey-Bush, 2006) that
The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2013 9
tell the stories of native peoples only in relationship to
those who have oppressed them which tactically conveys that their existence and importance are bestowed
on them by their oppressors. Hence, we reissue and underscore our summons to scholars across the disciplines
to use the contentions and tenets outlined in this current
work to continue to construct a theory that can articulate
the position and trajectory of African American boys
and men in the world, drawing on and accounting for
pre- and post-enslavement experiences while capturing
spiritual, biological, psychological, and social dimensions, educational development, and station.
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