One of the biggest hurts and scariest realities in the black community, is the fact that black mothers and fathers must prepare their children, at an early age, for how they will be perceived in the public eye. Generally speaking, the public depicts black people in a very singular way. Angry, violent, criminal, under-educated, promiscuous are just a few of the stereotypes that I’m sure you are familiar with. With black and white communities being kept mostly separate, it is logical to presume that white people who do not have contact with black people in real life, will make judgments about black people based on the images they have been fed through the media. After all, where else will they get their opinions of black people if they aren’t hanging out with them, if they don’t live in their neighborhoods, and if they don’t watch black specific media content? They will be more likely to trust the depictions of black people that they see in their media, which more often than not, misrepresents black people.
The media is invested in keeping the majority of the population happy. Since the majority of the population is white, it makes sense that they will focus their efforts on white centered content. If you pay attention to white people on-screen, you will notice that they have a very wide range of character representation, quality of characters, personality types etc. You can find white people depicted as strong characters, weak characters, polite, rude, funny, boring, quirky, nerdy, popular, heroic, and cowardly. Think of any adjective and there is probably a white actor that plays a character that represents that adjective. Black characters, not so much. You see, the media doesn’t give a fair representation of what black people are, so naturally, this creates an environment in which black people are perceived in solely the ways which is the way they are represented on screen, which is often negative. Since of course, they aren’t getting the opportunity to interact with white people in their daily lives. There is a whole discussion about why black and white people are mostly segregated, or why people in power are invested in maintaining a negative perception of black people, or why there is so much crime in black neighborhoods, or where these negative depictions came from, but let’s make that your homework. For now, you just need to acknowledge that everything I said above is accurate and has a very real effect on society, and how black people are treated, based on how they are perceived.
As a child, I was quite sheltered. I grew up in the “hood”, but was shielded from interacting with negative influences and had a much easier time than I probably would’ve otherwise. I’m familiar with the common stereotypes of “my people”, and have seen each of them represented, however I’ve seen them represented in white people as well. On the flip side, I have seen many positive attributes in black people as well, none of which are common black depictions in the media. So when I hear someone describe a black person as looking “dangerous”, when they aren’t exhibiting commonly recognized indicators of aggression, I have a hard time understanding what looks so dangerous about that person. It fills me to the brim with supreme disgust towards those so callous in their feelings and treatment of those that look like me, or my loved ones. It seems that no matter what a person does, or says, or how much of a productive citizen they are, they become a target, simply because they are black. With each incident, I have become more and more fearful for my father’s and brother’s lives. If you are having a hard time relating to this fear, continue reading.
We’re all familiar with the case of Tamir Rice, and if you’re not then you can do your homework here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Tamir_Rice. There are many cases that are similar and many boys, and men who once were boys, have had close encounters. I have been given the privilege to share some first hand accounts of black men’s encounters with the police when they were just boys. While you’re reading, think about these questions: do you know anyone white who has had a similar experience?, have you ever heard stories like these on the news, but with white people?, have you seen anything like this in person but with white people? Then think about how many times you have you heard white boys/men described as thugs, presumed dangerous, or perceived as threatening before actually giving a threat. If you are paying attention, you will soon notice how something as small as an adjective, such as: thug, threatening, menacing, or looters, can change your perception of an entire group of people. Here are a few stories I’d like to share with you.
“I didn’t even fit the description!”
One time when I was 9 or 10 and my brother was in the 8th grade, we were taking out the garbage. A police officer pulled up near us and flashed us with his searchlight and asked who we were, where we lived and who we lived with. Apparently, 2 children fit the profile of a tall, black man with black garbage bags. Our bags were white and we were children.
“Was I just molested?”
Two friends and I were playing with cap guns in a field that was right next to a main road. It was the summer between 6th and 7th grade. My toy gun looked fairly realistic as it was an old bb gun pistol I found in the woods. A car rolled by and I noticed that they were looking at us. I’m not sure how, the windows were heavily tinted. We continued to play for another 20 minutes until the same car came barreling at us out of nowhere. It almost hit me. Two cops leaped out of the car, both with guns drawn. They shout at us to get on the ground. One of my friends started crying. We dropped our toys and comply. The cops searched us at gunpoint. I didn’t find any of this strange (minus the action movie entrance the cops used), until they grabbed my penis while searching us. I don’t know the ins and outs of how to correctly search someone but I’ve been searched by police several times since then and no penis fondling. They searched my friend’s penises as well. They confiscated our toy guns and were gone as quickly as they arrived. As I look back at that event with the knowledge of what happened to Tamir Rice I feel lucky.
“I was minding my business!”
So I went to a predominantly white high school. I was walking to my bus stop on my way to school and I saw a group of kids messing with an older guy and his belongings. I thought nothing of it because it had nothing to do with me. Fast forward to the end of the day, I’m saying goodbye to friends and whatnot and the same older guy is with an officer. The man points me out as if I was one of the kids messing with him earlier. The officer rushed to catch up with me and questioned me. He asked my name, where I lived and who I lived with, not knowing that I was lied on and profiled at the same time. I complied. My mom was pissed when I told her. She asked “what was the officer’s name?, what did he look like?, were the other kids questioned?, who was the bastard that pointed you out?” She was livid, and rightfully so because I was a little 14-year-old freshman and barely 120 pounds.
At this point you might be saying, “that could’ve happened to anyone”. You would be right, but if it isn’t commonplace to hear of these stories in white communities, then you have to ask yourself why is it so commonplace in black communities? Continue listening to our stories and our experiences. Listen to understand, not for a rebuttal. If you see something wrong, say something. You are an important piece in the movement toward equality. If you have a story you’d like to share for this series, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear your feedback, please leave a comment, like, share, and follow for next week’s episode on Monday.
This was written out of love and not hate. I have no ill-will toward white people or toward the police as an entity. However, there is a problem and it needs to be called out. The saying is “a few bad apples spoil the barrel.” #needmorelove