Represent, Represent!

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“If you heard on the news…’young black male,’ you’re not gonna’ think anything positive.” This quote, taken from a 1994 performance art event entitled “The Roof is on Fire”, was recounted in David J. Knight’s Beyond the Stereotypical Image of Young Men of Color, a brief article posted in The Atlantic earlier this year. In this article, Knight states that young black and brown males are repeatedly seen as threatening, enraged, and plagued by hardship. Interestingly enough, these perceptions are not much different from those placed on young men of color decades ago. And so, we are faced with accepting the fact that history remains unchanged….

But, then again, where is the basis for many of these perceptions? This is important to figure out, especially when President Barack Obama himself once stated at a 2007 NAACP forum that “more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America”. Could it be that these negative perceptions of young black and brown men hold some merit? Moreover, Knight, in a column featured in The Washington Post, recalled a time where he attended an orientation for new teachers at a middle school in Boston and had to listen as the orientation’s facilitator stated that black men were an endangered species. In this same column, Knight asserts many black males are fed this same spiel – they are “endangered,” they are “vulnerable”, or they are “at risk”.  As a consequence, they are led to believe being black is a limitation which other races do not have to worry about. Nevertheless, those making these statements about black males fail to highlight the institutions and systems that perpetuate certain views, as well as negative stereotypes!

In this post, we will discuss three of the many stereotypes posed against black males by the media: 1) black males and fatherhood, 2) black males and prison, and finally 3) representation of black males in pop culture.

Black males and Fatherhood

The stereotype that black males are, more often than not, negligent fathers has persisted for some time. Nevertheless, a CDC study based on a survey of 3,900 fathers between 2006 and 2010 found that black fathers are more likely to be involved in their children’s lives compared to fathers of any other racial group. For example, black fathers living with their children were reported as being more likely to bathe, dress, diaper, or assist their child when in the bathroom compared with fathers from other racial groups. Black fathers, broadly speaking, are more “absent” in terms of their physical presence in their child’s household. Photo_2015-10-08_11-35-22_PMHowever, even when black fathers are not living in the home, 67 percent are reported as seeing their children at least once a month compared to 59 percent of white fathers and 32 percent of Hispanic fathers. Adding to this, there are many black males who elected to be stay-at-home dads. Antwaun Sargent, in a 2014 write up via mic.com furthermore states that black men are twice as likely to be stay-at-home dads as white men.

Black males and Prison

As was stated earlier, President Obama once asserted there are more black men in prison than there are in colleges and universities. Unfortunately, this statement has been proven false. The Census estimates that there are approximately 18,508,926 black men in the United States, and 1,437,363 were attending college as of 2013. Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Prisoner Statistics Program stated in that same year 745,000 black men were incarcerated. This means there are, in fact, more black males in colleges and universities than there are in penitentiaries. Moreover, as of 2014 20.4 percent of black males were reported as having obtained a bachelor’s degree compared with 6.3 percent from 1976. How could it be that these statistics aren’t highly broadcasted by media outlets, including political platforms? It is true that black males are incarcerated at higher rates than men of other races. Nevertheless, it has been stated by many on countless occasions that these arrests are unjust.

Representation of Black males in Pop Culture

Oftentimes, many of the negative stereotypes forced upon black males are backed by pop culture outlets such as film and television. Looking at cinema more closely, Professor Darron T. Smith states “film exemplifies how media images provide us with a manufactured reality of misrepresentations that guides societal perceptions of black men, whether real or imagined”. Black actors (as well as their female counterparts) are often one dimensional. Roles played usually comprises the black sidekick of a white protagonist (otherwise known as the “token” black person), the athlete, the comedic relief, the over-sexed ladies’ man, or, of course, the gangster (prone to violence, gang activity, or drug distribution). It is important to note that these images of black males in film are known to repeat in another major pop culture outlet; the music industry….but maybe we should save this topic for an individual post of its own.

So going back to our first article from The Atlantic, Knight suggests that policymakers, journalists, educators, and others, all of whom contribute to media’s negative stereotyping of black males, should listen and try to understand the perspectives of young black and brown males (more like men of color as a whole) before “making sweeping generalizations about them”. Moreover, men of color should strive to engage in critical dialogue with one another regarding negative stereotypes shoved upon them. These two suggestions together may be a starting point toward lessening the damage inflicted upon black males on a day-to-day basis. One final suggestion given by Knight involves the topic of love. Knight asserts that this “is precisely needed to help re-envision who young men of color are”. When observing film, television, and media as a whole, men (especially men of color) are seldom considered loving beings. In fact, when it comes to men, having a loving nature is often seen as a blow to one’s masculinity. Obviously, the recommendation to showcase men of color in this light may take some time before it becomes widely acceptable. Even so, it wouldn’t hurt to start working on our representation of this group…

**Let us know what you thought about this post. Is there anything more you’d like to know about men of color (most specifically black men in this case) and negative stereotypes given to them? We definitely would love your input. Thank you!!

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