No matter how much people deny it, most do judge a book by its cover.
And this fact has never rung truer than in the case of Black men.
In fact, a 2020 study conducted by the Stanford School of Engineering showed that police are guilty of racial profiling when it comes to flagging down drivers and searching vehicles during traffic stops. The study covered 95 million traffic stop records from 21 state patrol agencies and 35 local police forces within the 2011 to 2018 period.
The outcome of the study showed that the vehicles of Black and Hispanic drivers were more than likely to be searched (than those of their white counterparts) after being pulled over by police officers. It was only at nighttime – when the “veil of darkness” made it difficult for an officer to tell whether a driver was coloured or not – that such incidents were less likely to occur.
While male Black youth tend to be associated with drugs and other forms of delinquency, Black men are haunted by the "Big Black Man Syndrome." This negative stereotype paints Black men as violent and ape-like in their superhuman strength. The same stereotype was perpetuated by Laurence Powell, the police officer who beat Rodney King more than 50 times with a baton, likening the appearance of King’s bloody body to a scene from Gorillas in the Mist.
Not only do these identities and labels used to categorize Black men affect their mental, physical and economic well-being, they also impede the progress of the Black community.
Aside from maintaining the status quo of racial prejudice and institutionalized discrimination (also known as white supremacy), these negative images of Black men are used to justify the exploitation of and violence against all Blacks around the world.
How do you respond to everyday prejudice, biases, and stereotypes?
Confronting prejudice head-on is necessary to protect yourself, the Black family unit, and the Black community in general. However, to effectively challenge stereotypes and change other people’s preconceived notions about Blacks, education, and exposure to “counter-stereotypic information” are necessary.
Individually, however, some Black men have had to make a conscious choice to prove their judgmental peers wrong by becoming overachievers of sorts – usually after difficulties hurdling the bias of "professionalism" standards, which is endorsed by and in favour of whites.
On your own, you might find that being the best professional, son, father, brother, friend, and person you can be is enough to change the mind of a few people. Living authentically can help you build new connections and win over Black allies who can also help you in your quest to challenge Black stereotypes and spark real change.
How can you protect yourself and help others?
As a Black man looking to break down racial stereotypes of the "wayward Black youth," "violent or criminal Black men," and "absent Black father," you can set out to be the best version of yourself and an example in your community.
Rather than being detached from care work, you can be a nurturing son, brother, husband, and father. You can continue to equip yourself with mental and spiritual tools, and a strong network of believers to avoid the traps and overcome the barriers set by a biased society.
Work with Black leaders, the Black community, and like-minded people to build an accepting society where everyone has a fair chance to succeed and is welcome to find the happiness they seek.
Invest in your personal and professional development, because your success is also the success of your Black family and community. By freeing yourself to grow and reach your potential, you’re also empowering yourself to make a difference and build communities where all families and children are safe regardless of colour, ethnicity, or creed.
Empowering mantras to live by
As you pursue your goal to leave behind a better, safer world for Black families and the bigger community, there are empowering mantras you can use to help you overcome stereotypes.
We've listed 16 mantras in our Strong Black Men Report which resonated deeply with the Black men we interviewed. Start by choosing 2 or 3 of your favourites and work to master them by heart for a week before moving on to another set.
For example, you can use the following mantras to inspire you in your first week:
Mantra 1 – I’m more than a label and don’t live by anyone else’s expectations or stereotypes.
Mantra 2 – I’m a professional in all that I do, no matter my outer appearance.
Mantra 3 – I’m the protector of my family, and I create a safe and supportive environment.
As they say, practice makes perfect, and the same holds true when it comes to reciting your mantras. These inspiring words can help you live authentically and purposefully as you forge ahead to change the perceptions of Black men everywhere.
At Tough Convos, we help in creating safe, welcoming spaces for everyone. If your company or organization is working on implementing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives this year, share this report with your employer, manager or colleagues. Or book a call with us directly so we can help you implement these DEI tools in your business strategy.