Politics

What should the new Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys propose? Here are 32 ideas for starters.



It might be the most important Commission you haven’t heard of – or at least not yet. Created by bipartisan legislation in August 2020, the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys is now up and running. Not a moment too soon. The specific, unique challenges faced by Black men and boys are in the spotlight. Both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have explicitly called attention to how their policies can “empower Black men.” But more tailored policies are also needed.

“To be male, poor, and African American…is to confront, on a daily basis, a deeply held racism that exists in every social institution,” writes our Brookings colleague Camille Busette.

The obstacles facing Black boys and men are a central concern of both the Race, Prosperity and Inclusion Initiative and the Boys and Men Project here at Brookings, and of much of our previous work: see for example “The challenges facing Black men – and the case for action”, “The inheritance of Black poverty: It’s all about the men” and “Long shadows: The Black-white gap in multigenerational poverty”.

The new institution is a 19-member permanent Commission within the United States Commission on Civil Rights, charged with investigating “potential civil rights violations affecting Black males” and “studying the disparities they experience in education, criminal justice, health, employment, fatherhood, mentorship and violence.” Modeled on a similar initiative in Florida, the Commission is required by law to report annually to Congress with policy recommendations and advice.

So where should the new Commission focus its energy and attention? The law establishing the Commission explicitly names five key areas of interest: education; justice and civil rights; healthcare; labor and employment; and housing. But of course, even these are exceptionally large topics. Our hope is that the Commission will lean heavily towards solutions. In that spirit, we offer here a range of policy ideas to consider under each of the five headings, many drawn from the work of Brookings scholars, that the Commission should consider.

Education

Black boys and men are overrepresented among those with lower levels of education and training, which damages their opportunities in the labor market. There are proposals on this front to:

Justice and Civil Rights

Black men consistently face greater surveillance, policing and contact with the criminal justice system. There are proposals here to:

Healthcare

Black men have suffered the highest rates of mortality from Covid-19 according to many studies. As our colleague Keon Gilbert writes, “the health of black men consistently ranks lowest across nearly all groups in the United States.” There are proposals here to:

Labor and Employment

Black men have seen the slowest wage growth of any demographic group in recent decades, and are at a high risk of unemployment. There are proposals here to:

Housing (and wealth)

There is a wide racial wealth gap, at both individual and household levels. Both Black men and Black women have very low levels of wealth especially compared to white men and women. There are proposals here to:

Now or never

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. Some of the ideas here would represent significant change, others are incremental. Some are grounded in strong evaluation evidence already, others will need careful study. Assuming the Commission is as solutions-oriented as early indications suggest, this list of policy ideas provides at least a starting point for consideration. There’s a moment of opportunity here. Advancing racial justice remains central to the policy debate. Tackling the gendered racism faced by Black men is a critical step towards racial justice. The Commission has its work cut out as it is tasked to address deeply entrenched structural issues. But it is work that could hardly be more important.


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