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BLACK MALE EXCEPTIONALISM?: The Problems and Potential of Black Male-Focused Interventions1

  • Paul Butler (a1)

“Black male exceptionalism” is the premise that African American men fare more poorly than any other group in the United States. The discourse of Black male exceptionalism presents African American men as an “endangered species.” Some government agencies, foundations, and activists have responded by creating “Black male achievement” programs. There are almost no corresponding “Black female achievement” programs. Yet empirical data does not support the claim that Black males are burdened more than Black females. Without attention to intersectionality, Black male achievement programs risk obscuring Black females and advancing patriarchal values. Black male achievement programs also risk reinforcing stereotypes that African American males are violent and dangerous. An intersectional approach would create space for Black male focused interventions, but require parity for Black female programs.

Corresponding author
Professor Paul Butler, Georgetown University Law Center, 600 New Jersey Avenue NW Washington, DC 20001. E-mail:
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This article was presented as a work-in-progress at Kimberlé Crenshaw's seminar on Intersectionality at Columbia Law School, Georgetown Law School, and the African-American Policy Institute Social Justice Writer's Retreat. I thank the participants in those programs. Special thanks to Sara Sun Beale, Nancy Cantalupo, Devon Carbado, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Luke Harris, Issa Kohler-Hausmann, Allegra McLeod, Eloise Pasachoff, Elizabeth Ribet, Christophe Ringer, Robin West, and Verna Williams. Excellent research assistance was provided by Eric Glatt, Bradford Ham, Will McAuliffe, Sonia Tabriz, and Adi Williams.

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Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
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  • EISSN: 1742-0598
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