“Black men are not inherently nefarious.” Dr. Charles Corprew offers the science behind the spiral of racism and violence.
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
Langston Hughes’ poem of oppression resonates even today as Black men and boys continue to face a monolithic narrative. YOU ARE A THREAT!
We are labeled oversexed, ignorant, undereducated, aggressive, angry, thug, and murderer to name a few. Media outlets continue to stream these messages both consciously and subconsciously into our lives. Interestingly, as I have my morning tea and watch the “Today Show,” one my local outlets quickly reminds me that I, along with others who do this work, have an uphill battle. Titles such as “Two Black Males Murdered” accompanied by pictures of the assailants, or images of a completed robbery caught on tape, pervade my TV day after day. Usually, I allow my anger to quell, but on some mornings when my revolutionary nature has taken hold of me early, I tweet, asking if they could find more positive stories about Black men and boys. It would seem that my tweets go unnoticed.
You may think that these are the ramblings of just another incensed Black man, but I am also a scientist, thus my training would not allow me to just offer conjecture. A report issued by the Opportunity Agenda, which conducted a meta-analysis on the perceptions of Black men and boys, reports a distortion of reality, listing an underrepresentation of this demographic in a variety of roles, but most notably,“relatable” characters with well-developed personal lives (e.g., fathers) Conversely, the report cites black males are overrepresented in conjunction with negative topics, such as criminality, unemployment, and poverty. And if any positive images are presented they are associated with a stereotypic set, which includes LeBron, Jay-Z, and Kendrick Lamar (Please Don’t Kill My Vibe).
We have seen the deleterious consequences of the perceived threat of Black men and boys. Ironically in this vast information age, and the 24-hour news cycle, the faces of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Michael Brown are indelibly imprinted in our minds. Their stories are extreme, but not uncommon; Black men and boys have died at the hands of others for sometime now (41 Shots over New York City).
Although these examples represent lethality, many Black men and boys face the effects of negative perceptions in slightly less consequential forms everyday. They are overlooked, underappreciated, verbally attacked, relegated to subservient roles, and trotted out as faux symbols of diversity to prop up institutions. My own empirical research suggests these negative perceptions may lead Black males to exhibit forms of masculinities that mask their vulnerability in these circumstances. This in-turn only propagates the perceptions that Black men and boys are threatening.
Hughes’ poem, however, is not only about oppression; it is a tale of resilience…
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
Hughes’ words incite revolution, but not the bloody revolts that mar cities and countries, and leave them disseminated, instead the type of change that galvanizes communities. This revolution is the one that changes the narrative. “Black men are not inherently nefarious.”
We are not born to negative labels, we are born to circumstance, and yet many of us use our proverbial sledgehammers to break down the brick walls placed in front of us to create successful lives. Our narratives are quite different than the ones paraded on media outlets. We are lawyers, doctors, professors, counselors, fathers, sons, uncles, mentors, scientists, and CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies. We are mayors, congressmen, and senators. We are Presidents.
We are powerful beyond measure, but the revolution to change the threat narrative associated with Black men and boys will take a concerted effort. It will take exercising our civic duty to elect our officials at all levels of government, to continue to push the envelope, protesting against racial atrocities such as Ferguson, Sanford, and New York City, to continue to call for more exposure of positive images of Black men and boys, and lastly to understand that we are not just victims but in some instances complicit in creating the images that foster this perception of threat. In essence, to change the narrative, we must not only revolutionize ourselves, but we must revolutionize the thoughts and minds of those who perceive us as threats.
Photo: Flickr/Gerry Lauzon