“What is it about black men that they are inherently scary”

This is a comment exchange between NickMostly and Rum on the post “U.S. President: “My Son Would Look Like Trayvon“.

I wanted to sit with that quote for a while, let it reverberate around a bit, because I think quite unintentionally you’ve hit upon the problem with the Trayvon Martin case and others like it.

When I think about what a “big scary white guy” looks like, I have images of face and neck tattoos with skulls, guns, daggers, or the word “killer” somewhere.
When I think about what a “big scary hispanic guy” looks like, similar images appear, although with more specific tattoos such as those sported by MS-13.
When I think about what a “big scary asian guy” looks like, my mind draws a blank.
When I think about what a “big scary black guy” looks like, all he need be is big and black and not wearing a sweater vest.

What is it about black men that they are inherently scary? Why do we harbor these images?
I’ve met far more black men that are decent everyday people, fathers, brothers, friends, sons. My own father–who you would think would be the template for my image of a black male–was an ordained minister and law enforcement officer, and yet those images of black men stuck.

It took a while for me to see my own prejudice here. And once I did I saw, for the first time, that we have alienated an entire class of people. When people treat you with fear and mistrust, it is the rare man whose instinct is to try and woo them over with impassioned pleas for understanding through gifted rhetoric. But there are a few who do, and our president—politician that he is–is one of them. He has to respond to a situation like this and not show the slightest bit of anger, lest the carefully-honed image he’s spent decades crafting revert to the default “angry black guy.”

But not every man possesses the even temperament of Barack Obama. And those men, who society others and prejudges based on their hoodies and their skin color, can’t really be blamed when they inhabit the roles we’ve cast for them. Harassed by the police, feared by others, with crumbling schools and crushing unemployment–we shouldn’t be surprised when some choose to be every bit the big scary black guy we assume them to be.

For my part, I recognized that I too played into these stereotypes. That is what it took for me to break free from them–recognition that the way I was relating to others was the same way others had been relating to me. And I could see that all any of us really want is to be treated with the respect and compassion we deserve as fellow humans. I shouldn’t have to work twice as hard to get that compassions because my skin is twice as dark as yours.

This cycle will continue until we can break free of these divisive stereotypes. And it is precisely the type of rhetoric above –hurtful, bigoted rhetoric; blindly racist rhetoric; rhetoric that blames a victim for his own murder based on? His looking like a “big scary black guy”—that keeps us all from moving forward together.

The original comment by Rum says:

The folks working on the side of Trayvons image enhancement did two things right away. First, they sealed his school records. Second, they undid his facebook account. One could reasonably ask why.

As it turns out, there are pics anyway of what the real Trayvon looked like more recently. I really doubt if Obama still wants to have him as a son. Not unless he wants him to be a big, scary looking black guy.

Sooner or later the reasons for Trayvons expulsion from school will come out and we can be sure it was something they want to keep hidden.

This is the Duke Lacrosse thing all over again. The media runs gleefully with a narrative that gratifies their favorite worldview and when the contrary forensic facts come out they try to ignore it.

Like this one: Back in Feburary the cops had eye-witness accounts of T attacking Z as Z was withdrawing, Z. calling for help, Z. down and being punched in the head. People with a good view of things and who called 911 to get help for Z.

This could have been in the NYTs. But it does not fit the Narrative so we can forget about it.

NickMostly’s first reply to Rum’s comment:

I really doubt if Obama still wants to have him as a son. Not unless he wants him to be a big, scary looking black guy.
Not unless he wants him to be a big, scary looking black guy.
Not unless he wants him to be a big, scary looking black guy.
Not unless he wants him to be a big, scary looking black guy.
Not unless he wants him to be a big, scary looking black guy.
Not unless he wants him to be a big, scary looking black guy.
Not unless he wants him to be a big, scary looking black guy.
Not unless he wants him to be a big, scary looking black guy.

(Nick then wrote the comment above)

Photo credit: Flickr / shankbone

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  1. mike synstelien says:

    I think we all need to be real on this topic. Black american’s are as a majority acting the stereotype of being loud. I mean speaking loud and drawing attention to themselves. Not only white people don’t like attention seekers. It might not be on purpose but if you are loud your gonna get on peoples nerves whether your white, black, red , or green. If you act like a victim your gonna have to work twice as hard to break that cycle.

  2. Steve Locke says:

    “It is easy, but wrong, to write off Zimmerman as a deranged man whose violence against Trayvon Martin was tragic but unpreventable. Zimmerman was acting in ways entirely consistent with the long history and contemporary reality that assumes the criminality and potential danger of black bodies.”


    • Steve,

      I wish black leaders were as diligent calling for change when blacks kill blacks.

      * Blacks were 6 times more likely than whites to be murdered in 1999
      * Blacks were 7 times more likely than whites to commit homicide in 1999

      From 1976 to 1999 —
      86% of white victims were killed by whites
      94% of black victims were killed by blacks

      Black males are dozens of times the larger threat to black males than are white males (and 100’s of times more dangerous to black males than cops of any color).

      This genocide of black on black violence is horrible and it needs to end. It’s time to put away the idea of the white boogeyman and have a serious discussion of who the largest threat is to black men.

      • Steve Locke says:

        And when black people commit violence against other black people or white people and they are known to the police they are arrested and face criminal charges. Black on black violence isn’t the issue here. No one is saying it isn’t a problem. But honestly, did you ever care about black on black crime until a white hispanic almost got away with murdering a black teenager? Or is bringing up the criminality of other blacks a way to talk about something other that what is at issue?

      • You just listed all the roles reserved for black men without even taking note of your own prejudice. “Some aren’t smart, some are sexy, some are ass holes. Notice how you do not need a well functioning brain to play any of those roles? Howcome you did not say “some are intellectuals”. I have to deal with that all the time at work. The minute you show up people expect the worse and only re-calibrate when you prove them wrong

      • I keep hearing this stupid argument. The is not just the murder of black people by tbe police, it is what happens after that. If eerytime a cop wrongfully killed a young black man he was put away for life then hour statement would make sense. black who kill other black pay tbe price when they are caught, cops dont and tbat tbe reason for all tbe protests. Black on black violence is a different and eaually important issue

  3. I am a white male and I have both been helped immensely by black men who were strangers to me, who helped me out of kindness (on two occasions) and also been on the receiving end of mild verbal altercations (not of my choosing) by black men (mild because I chose not to escalate it).

    I believe there also needs to be some letting on the part of angry black men who embrace this stereotype and like to make whites feel uncomfortable.

    I would also like to see black leaders start talking about black on black violence. I remember CNN covering a big hoopla about a church’s commercial in atlanta which targeted black on black violence.

    It was around the time of the olympics in Atlanta. The voice-over said: If medals were given out for killing of blacks (or maybe it said black men, I don’t remember) this man would get the bronze (and a fade from black showed a skin-head). This man would get the silver (and it faded in to show a neo-nazi). This man would get the gold (and it showed a very typical gold-chain wearing black gangster).

    Apparently, the commercial so enraged blacks that it was pulled due to protests. Black men have 8 times the likelihood of being murdered over white men (and 14 times over white women). 90% of the time his murderer is another black man.

    If we want to have an honest discussion it’s going to include a lot of harsh truths that (from what I have seen) black communities and black leaders aren’t ready to address.

    • 2nd paragraph should have said:
      I believe there also needs to be some letting GO on the part of angry black men who embrace this stereotype and like to make whites feel uncomfortable.

  4. sweetsue says:

    They are inherently scary because society cannot or will not let go of their own perceptions and biases and those of persons around them and in the media that perpetuate this conditioning. Mindlessly not assessing an individual based on actual first hand experience requires work and critical thinking. This is classic lazy none thinking behavior. People, especially males who are tall, heavy and muscular with broad frame or body types are the “scary” stereotype. There are males of every ethnicity that fit that broad type with some or all of the combined traits that while based on appearance may seem scary; but in actuality are quite nice. Never judge a book by its cover – make an effort to explore the content get past the lazy, sloppy unthinking stereotypes.

  5. “When I think about what a “big scary asian guy” looks like, my mind draws a blank.”

    Wow, this says a lot. Asian men are easy victims, unable to take control or be tough, and wimps. Sometimes the ‘opposite’ stereotype can suck just as much.

  6. Kirsten (in MT) says:

    What is it about black men that they are inherently scary?

    in·her·ent [in-heer-uhnt, -her-] adjective
    1. existing in someone or something as a permanent and inseparable element, quality, or attribute: an inherent distrust of strangers.

    That you personally perceive someone to be scary, or a class of people to be scary, does not make them inherently scary. So in answer to your question, nothing about black men makes them inherently scary. The problem isn’t black men. The problem is with some other people’s perceptions of black men, in this case, yours.

  7. Big, black and no vest? thats sounds like sexy to me..in fact thats why I go to the gym to go see this kinda scary.Its is high time we stood behind our brothers, our men, our fathers. The fact that the world portrays them as scary and problematic and in a cirsis is enough to break any man down to dispondency. Instead of looking at how scary he is, lets look at the six pack that comes with being big…I want to feel that! Lets look at how strong he is…he can carry me anywhere. On a serious note. let us look at the good fathers these men can be and how we can enhance and build on that rather than looking at the worst. I love me some big, dark, chocolate looking man…nothing scary there!

  8. PursuitAce says:

    Of all the big scary groups of guys I only fear the Asian group. Because when I think scary Asian I think Bruce Lee. He would pretty much wipe the floor with anyone in the other groups. All right you got me. I’m a racist.

  9. qabradford says:

    From experience of being an over -achieving black male. When you do well, everyone wants to ride your success and when you fail, others withdraw, ask few questions, make less invites, make less time, offer little emotional support and let you fester.

    The good treatment you received, you didn’t deserve in the first place cause you’re “just a black guy”; it all comes easy for you because “you’re a strong black male” and your emotional crescendo doesn’t deserve understanding because “black men are angry”.

    The worst thing is it usually comes from people we immediately know or absolute strangers. They fit us into some sort of one-dimensional skewed image from their own aversions of interaction and emotional dshonesties and use every mistake we make as reason to justify our mistreatment… while we’re blackmailed by society to respect them back despite the emotional abuse despite being younger, or having less access to resources or having less interaction.

    And its quite often not the halves like Obama. Its those of us raised politically black when we’re let down hard by the world that says our historical scholars and leaders were historically insignificant and novel. And that our families social misfortunes were because hey were “stupid” and not because they too did the best the could after being dealt the same “angry black” card that guys like myself were told weren’t allowed to touch.

    While you all get to express anything you want without penalty and we’re subject to social rejection.

  10. Why is Batman portrayed in a black outfit?

  11. Every single one of us would prefer to be judged on the basis of who and what we truly are on the inside. Part of growing up is to realize that that is unlikely to happen very often and we need to find ways to cope with it.

  12. Sorry don’t feel this way. They aren’t scary to me . Some are smart, some are sexy, some are hip and some are assholes. Plain and simple for me


  1. […] violence or delinquency, either by playing down to the type or by overcompensating so as to appear as non-threatening as possible. A message like this seeps into the interpretative background even for a man who becomes POTUS, […]

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