Before we narrow our focus to the ideas contained in this post, here’s a question to ponder: how would you describe ‘the Black Father’?
While you work your way towards providing an answer, what image appeared in your mind on seeing that question? What feeling did you get?
You see, we are humans and, naturally, we want to place things into different categories; blue articles in blue boxes, Television and drama series into soap operas, having lots of money – rich, has less money – poor. Pale skin? White. Dark Skin? Black. Central/South American? Hispanic. And on and on it goes.
The proverbial beast is set free when we begin to attach strong positive/negative characteristics to those groups or categories to the extent where our beliefs and interactions are influenced by those attached characteristics. In one word, STEREOTYPE.
The problem with stereotypes is that they generalize a negative idea about a particular group without providing room for understanding individual differences. And yes some people in that group may fit that characteristic, however not all, and usually not the majority. This connecting of people to negative characteristics strongly influences the actions of others and affects the way we interact with certain groups of people in social and institutional settings.
For example, the association of African American men with danger and criminality, as violent and dangerous people, and the resultant effect of those beliefs. For Black men, this is their current box – it is not merciful.
In fact, to put it plainly:
Every day an African American man is alive is another day he faces risks of death from homicide, suicide or disease.
Black women, white women, and white men have more life expectancy than Black men due to associated poverty and injustice.
Every Black youth in America has faced at least one MAJOR discriminatory act and faces minor daily racial-centric discrimination.
These are hard facts. Hard in the sense that they describe the harsh reality that black men exist in. Think about how the life of each of those men proceeds, you go out into the world and don't get acceptance or see as many opportunities because of stereotypes about your racial group? What else can you say about that?
But how true are the stereotypes? Are they artificial creations to promote an idea or fuel an objective? Or do they hold some worth?
America’s slave history has been described as a tragedy. It’s been 400 years since the first slaves landed at Point Comfort in Virginia and close to 200 years since emancipation. Yet, the effects of slavery or more accurate white supremacist ideals persist.
One reason comes to mind - The Media. As much as the media is a powerful tool for passing information, it is also a potent force for spreading lies, propaganda and harmful stereotypes.
The problem is that these centuries-old stereotypes (images of stupid, violent and effeminate men) have found their way to us in the comfort of the 21st century.
Here are some examples:
Jim Crow – is the theatrical orchestration that spread the idea of African-Americans as “shuffling and drawling, cracking and dancing, wisecracking and high stepping buffoons”. The character Jim Crow was based on a folk trickster popular among blacks. Thomas D. Rice popularized the traditional slave song Jump Jim Crow in 1828.
Uncle Tom – had one sole purpose, to create the stereotype of Black men as obedient and submissive, and in constant need of approval from white folks. It was first publicly recorded in 1919.
Mandingo – if there was anything Black men needed in the 20th century after emancipation, it certainly wasn’t another literary work depicting them as sexual predators who would exact revenge on the daughters of their previous white owners after being brutally forced into labour.
This was depicted in the 1915 film, Birth of a Nation and it spread the harsh stereotype that Black men are animalistic, and brutish giving free rein to the white militia who killed black men for the "safety of the public”. Beginning around the turn of the century, headlines in newspapers all around the country chronicle a frenzy of arrests, attempted lynchings and deaths of "Black brutes" who were allegedly insulting or abusing white women.
The effects of those stereotypes still exist in a white-dominated society like America. The lies (stereotypes) presented by those works found a safe dwelling in the minds of the white folks, the curricula of our education systems, and have travelled through time, strengthening their hold on present-day society.
Breaking the Racial Bias and Creating an Inclusive Culture
There’s no denying that racism has its history and that there's an age-long structure that has negatively impacted the Black & coloured people. The present necessity is to utilize the same media that gave racism (including racial stereotypes) its strength to destroy the bondage created.
The lesser the stereotypes, the better for the Black man.
Just as much as white men, Black men are not all violent and dangerous, or effeminate and subservient. They lead real lives, as real people, with emotions and natural tendencies, and guiding principles.
What we can genuinely do as individuals is to commit to trying to get rid of our racial prejudices because of their negative impacts. This can be done by first admitting that we do harbour racial stereotypes as we are only human. The next step is to work on increasing our awareness of our internal thoughts and feelings and how they influence our beliefs and behaviour.
Also, by stepping outside of our comfort zones, interacting with people of different ethnicities, and gaining cultural awareness (through open and frank discussions about race with others) we will become more informed about the power of racial stereotypes and how to curb them.
Tough Convos is actively working on campaigns that help to create a more inclusive, racially friendly environment (and society). The Black Men Project is one of such strategic events to give voice to Black men, their experiences and the wisdom gained to increase their success navigating our present world.
Find out how Tough Convos can help your organization develop a custom DEI project or initiative that helps your team diversify and create more inclusivity and equity in your company. Book a call with us or sign up to attend our next monthly event.