“What age is a black boy when he learns he’s scary?”- Jonathan Lethem
Unfortunately our society does not always recognize the “exception to the rule”, the young black men that are law abiding citizens. Have we ever stopped to wonder how our perception and generalization of black young men affects their emotional and mental well-being? How does it feel for a young black man to see the fear and uncertainty in someone’s eyes when they are in a closed confined space? Do we even consider how preexisting negative stereotypes of young black men create feelings of doubt and discontent within them?
Yes, statistically we have problems with violence and gangs in our communities. Yet, we can not judged all based on the actions of a few. There are many young black men who are responsible, respectful, successful and good citizens of the world. According to a 2010 study supported by the CDC Foundation, enrollment of black young men in college is up. There are young black men who are uplifting their communities instead of destroying them with violence, crime and drugs. We rarely hear about them because we lump all young black men in one pile. We don’t think about the hurt we caused when we step aside in fear when they stepped onto the elevator or how we hold our breath when they brush aside us. Our young men are subjected to unwarranted police frisking, racial profiling in their communities, retail outlets, etc.
It must not be easy growing up as a black boy in a society that sees you as a dangerous, yet endangered. Young black men are forced to make other people feel comfortable around them, to make themselves appear less threatening. Why is it a young black man’s responsibility to make others feel at ease? They sense the tension rising when they are laughing and goofing off with friends loudly. They know that despite their best efforts, the culture of fear surrounding them is overpowering.
We need stronger advocates for young black men. Although there are many people doing great work to address these issues, what we really need is to re-frame our thinking and see the world through their eyes. It pains me to have to remind my son of how to conduct himself if stopped by the police or what to do if he is followed in a store. It hurts me to know that despite our best efforts, he may be subjected to society’s negative stereotyping.
These young men will continue to be discriminated against and feared. We have to bring to light the damage society’s fear is doing to their self-esteem and confidence. We have to remind black boys and young black men that they are not scary.
Originally appeared at Black Life Coaches.net