The winds of fortune and fame, despite barriers of racial bias, are pushing many African-American males toward success in the fields of athletics (about 400 jobs in basketball), cinema, medicine, and many other areas of American life. Kanye West, another fast-rising Chicagoan, along with Austin community businessman Malcolm Crawford Jr., seem to have the wind of fortune at their backs.

But they obscure a much sadder and more painful reality: A majority of black males are vanishing. Missing in action as we enter the 21st century, the growing gap between black men and women is threatening the viability of entire African-American urban centers.

“Where have all the black men gone?” Asked the headline on a story by Jonathan Tilove for The Star Ledger in Newark, N.J. The article examined the New Jersey city of East Orange, where there are 37 percent more adult women than men. Tilove wrote that most of the missing men are dead, and many others are locked up or in the military.

“Worst yet,” he wrote, “the gender imbalance in East Orange is not some grotesque anomaly. It’s a vivid snapshot of a very troubling reality in black America.” Tilove noted that nationwide, adult black women outnumber black men by two million. With nearly another million black men in prison or the military, the reality in most black communities across the country is an even greater imbalance?”a gap of around three million, or about 27 percent, according to Census Bureau figures for 2002. The comparable disparity for white America was 8 percent.

In some cities, the gap is even higher for African Americans. Cities with more than 30 percent more black women than men are Baltimore, New Orleans, Chicago and Cleveland. In New York City the number is 36 percent and in Philadelphia, 37 percent. As the black population ages, the gap widens. “By the time people reach their 60s in East Orange, there are 47 percent more black women than men,” Tilove wrote.

This growing gender gap has enormously negative implications for the future of black America. Are we losing the “race?” Or will we lose our race due to anthropogenic ecological devastation or by internecine warfare between the Clarence Thomas-type blacks (Sambos) and the white inventive blacks (accommodationists) against the Dr. King- and Malcolm X-type blacks?

This crisis of the disappearance of African-American males reminds me of a book I read in grad school, How are the Mighty Fallen? by Robert S. Desowitz. There are nuances in the statistics that make the prognosis even bleaker?”especially in segregated, racist Chicago.

For example, among well educated, professional black women, a group that is growing rapidly, the gap is so wide it’s like an abyss. Surely, the progress among black women is good news that should not be overlooked. However, as black women advance, black men are falling even further behind. In fact, the more successful a black women becomes, the more likely she will end up alone, Walter Farrell, a University of North Carolina professor, said in a March 2002 Washington Monthly article. As a result, professional black women are having fewer children, meaning that a growing percentage of black children are being born into less educated, less affluent families.

The recent edition of The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education warns that “a large and growing gender gap in African-American higher education has become a troublesome trend, casting a shadow on overall black education progress.” The Journal reports that in 2001, there were 1,095,000 black women enrolled in institutions of higher education and only 604,000 black men. The gap, which is even wider at professional schools, has increased since 2001.

It’s also important to note that, despite unprecedented gains, black women are the fastest growing group of inmates in the nation’s prisons. And they still bear the brunt of urban poverty as single parents in the intoxicated wastelands that our neighborhoods too often resemble.

Unless we make some dramatic changes in the way our society tracks black men, all of these conditions will worsen, with increasingly nightmarish consequences. The primary culprit is the tracking of black men into a criminal justice system that some critics, including me, have dubbed the “Prison Industrial Complex.” Many young males are there because of the so-called war on drugs and its accompanying mandatory minimum sentences.

The tracking process begins in elementary school (remember the 5-year-old girl in Florida?) where African-American males routinely are assumed to be academically deficient and then demonized unnecessarily for their angry reactions to those biased assumptions. Resentful of a system that blithely dismisses their potential, many African-American boys eventually become alienated from scholastic activity.

In Chicago, where the mayor is in charge of the reformed “school system,” a recent study found that only 38 percent of Chicago’s black males have graduated from high school since 1995. This is shameful because only a small percentage of black males drop out of school to work to support their families due to tragic events. These uneducated youth are the raw material of the prison industrial complex. Lacking marketable skills, they all flock to the ruthless underground economy of drug commerce where they are easily siphoned into the “injustice” system?”victims of the drug war. Homicide remains the leading cause of death for young black men.

Unless we strenuously intervene (internal reparations) to better the prospects of black men, we may simply remain accomplices to a process of genocide in our own country. Singing “We Shall Overcome” and saying, “Keep Hope Alive,” the “lights” are being slowly turned off on us.