Changing Perceptions of Black Men
Overcoming Stereotypes and Unwritten Rules
Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown Jr., Tamir Rice, Samuel DuBose — we could go on and on with this list that includes George Floyd. The list name: Black men victims of white police or civilian brutality.
All of these men died a needless death, and theirs are the names (among many others through history) we hear mentioned in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.
This social phenomenon of associating low intelligence, criminality, and all sorts of deviant behaviour with Black men continues to wreak havoc on the lives of the members of the Black community. These persistent Black men stereotypes not only help to perpetuate prejudice and discrimination against Black males but also stifle their potential and threaten their safety as human beings.
Furthermore, Black men stereotypes don’t operate in a vacuum. These affect entire Black family units, threatening Black people’s job and financial security, health, and their children’s education and career aspirations. These stereotypes reduce not only Black people’s life chances but also their lifespan, and this is something we’ve come to know very well in relation to Black men.
Something needs to change. This much we know. But how?
Things you didn't know about Black men
While the acts of violence committed against Black folk give an indication of the extent of the impact of racial discrimination against the Black community, it doesn’t paint a complete picture.
Most people, even Black folks themselves, aren't necessarily aware that:
Black men have the lowest rates of labour force participation and employment among men and the greatest unemployment rates of any race or gender.
Compared to white men and women, and Black women, Black men have relatively lower levels of schooling.
Black Americans, and particularly Black men, experience systemic discrimination in the workplace and other spheres of life, including education.
The average life expectancy of Black men is lower compared to their white counterparts.
These facts, however, do not provide enough insights into the daily lives of Black men.
Here are some unwritten rules they live by to give a clearer picture of how Black men live based on the way a prejudiced world perceives them:
No matter how angry they get, and even if it is justified, they must remain calm at all times.
When being pulled over by the police, they should take their insurance and registration out of the glove box and keep these ready on their seat so they won’t need to reach into or open the glove box when the cops knock on the window.
They avoid putting their hands in their pockets while walking around stores and make an effort to keep their hands visible at all times.
Black men don’t get into elevators with a lone female occupant.
They sometimes consciously censor their musical taste so as not to be labelled “ghetto” or “thug.”
When they see a white woman in the same queue, they keep their distance as far as possible.
They prepare product-related questions for sales staff of high-end shops who usually follow them around in-store.
The above list may not be complete, but it serves its purpose. It shows that things many people take for granted could mean freedom or incarceration, safety or danger, and life or death for Black men. They need to always prepare for such eventualities no matter their educational attainment, financial status or profession.
How to build rapport with Black men
People can establish rapport and build trust with Black men by connecting over common interests and promoting respect, understanding, positivity, and empathy.
These are actually the same ingredients you need to connect with others on a deeper level, so what does this tell you?
It’s that Black men are no different from you and everyone else. You only need to "treat them the way they want to be treated" to start building bridges. We call this the platinum rule, as it centres on the other person and what they need and want instead of what you think is appropriate.
Black men have the same needs and aspirations as the rest of humanity — except that they’ve been subjected to discrimination for so long that what should be typical concerns for everyone have turned into life-and-death situations for them.
How to support Black men — Allyship, Mentorship & Sponsorship
To create healthy neighbourhoods where Black men and boys can live happily, prosper, and realize their full potential to become Black male leaders, there are things you can do as an ally to show your support.
Promote an environment where Black men can discuss their authentic experiences at work or school.
Pay attention to Black male perspectives and offer helpful counsel, especially if you're in an HR role.
Support Black men who are taking direct action to protest or address injustices such as funding an employee resource group or program.
Spend more time building a relationship with Black employees so you have the rapport to discuss sensitive issues they may face.
Focus on reforming company policies that may be discriminatory and prevent Black men from advancing in their careers such as recruiter bias training.
Make a commitment to engage or assist in implementing wholesome and empowering learning activities for young Black boys.
Work toward the formulation and adoption of meaningful educational curricula that are relevant to the experiences of Black males.
Invest in initiatives that aim to increase Black male achievements and provide opportunities that harness their potential.
We are dedicated to empowering companies, people and managers to build more inclusive cultures where all folks can thrive, especially groups like Black men, who have been discriminated against systematically for so long. There are some important truths and simple tools that effectively cause that shift in company culture, and that is the essence we sought out in our interview series with Black men from around the globe.
Want to know more about the experiences of Black men and how you can help build spaces where Black men can flourish and prosper and break existing stereotypes?
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