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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Morehouse researcher explores how black males see themselves

David Wall Rice started teaching at Morehouse College a year ago and students seemed excited to hear what the 33-year-old educator had to say.

Recently, a group of sophomores and juniors from Morehouse and Spelman colleges talked with Rice about how black males view themselves in light of negative statistics and stereotypes.

"People in other countries, they see [rapper] 50 Cent, and they think that's how we are," one student said.

Referring to rappers, another student said, "When it pertains to videos, most people don't look at what they're saying. What they're saying isn't as important [as] what they're showing. They stereotype us based on those images."

The athlete. The entertainer. The hustler. Rice said young black males are popularly viewed in these categories.

But Rice doesn't look at statistics or hip-hop icons to define who black males are. He's asking the young men what they think of themselves.

"It becomes very important to have individuals participate in defining themselves instead of having these templates that are placed on top of them," Rice said.

Studies by experts at Columbia, Princeton and Harvard universities show that finishing high school is the exception for black males, unemployment is common and prison is almost routine.

Studies showed that in 2004, 21 percent of black men in their 20s without a college education were in jail. More than half in inner cities don't complete high school, according to The New York Times.

"Well, that doesn't tell me who black males are," Rice said, in response to the studies.

Rice began his research four years ago after reading a number of scholarly articles that, he said, primarily focused on the negative aspects of black males.

He said he doesn't dispute the negative statistics but feels research must be expanded to include positive aspects, giving a fuller picture of black males.

Rice did case studies two years ago during a two-month span.

Six black males, ages 14 to 18, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, gave personal accounts of how they saw themselves despite statistics, negative media coverage and even the comments of comedian Bill Cosby.

"They have a very sophisticated understanding of who they are and how they fit into the constellation of American success," he said.

Dr. Jann Adams, chairwoman of the psychology department, describes Rice as a "rising star" in the department who is bringing a new perspective to the school.

"I think at Morehouse he's the first person to do work of this nature . . ." she said.

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