Hearing the many different viewpoints of the Zimmerman trial and verdict over the past year has forced me to think about the perceptions of black men and boys in America.
Take a second and think about what comes to mind when you think of young black men in America. What are the first thoughts that come to your mind?
I know what comes to my mind: Misunderstood, despot, strong-willed.
Much of America thinks of us as poor, uneducated, violent, sexually aggressive, vulgar and lacking respect for authority (not to mention a lack of authority figures within this group).
Honestly, who can blame them? Much of the American culture only gets a glimpse into the lives of young black males by watching us run a football into an endzone or dunking a basketball into a hoop.
How many young black males does the general public acknowledge whom are driven in areas outside of sports and entertainment? When are we going to start valuing black males in the U.S. who are lawyers, doctors, journalists, community role models and architects?
When are black males going to be valued, period?
Who or what do young black men in the suburbs and hoods across America have to look up to? If you don’t play basketball, rap or act you’re either “not really black” or get little to no respect from your peers.
Perception means everything in the world we all live in.
For instance, in black culture if you’re a smiling black male, if you are articulate, educated and actually wear your belt on or above your waste, you’re seen as “white” by blacks and to your whites, you’re “not really black.”
The worst part about this perception is that even if you are articulate, well-education, well-dressed and respectful, to the mainstream white public you’re still black — and all of the negative stereotypes within our group follow us until death.
Everyone on this planet is trying to figure out their identity and where they fit in and trivializing someone’s history, struggle and experience is beyond disrespectful — it’s damaging.
These kinds of comments about “not really being black” or “acting white” seem harmless, jovial and non-threatening, but they are the impetus to hate and violence.
Limiting anyone’s way of expressing themselves can lead to overcompensation and acting out on their behalf. Joking about whether or not someone is “black enough” means that either you don’t care enough about them enough to attempt to understand them or you’re lazy (maybe even both).
If you refuse to take the time to understand an individual, will you really point out injustice when that demographic is wronged by societal ills?
I can’t name how any times someone has told me that I’m not really black, but that I’m white because I grew up away from the inner city and had two parents to go home to (well, for most of my life). They tell me I’m white, but when I walk into grocery or department store in an all white neighborhood, I have to make sure that I buy something because if I am seen walking into a store and leaving without anything in my hands, I automatically set off people’s hoodlum radar.
So, of what value are black men in America? How we initially view someone is based on the preconceived values we place on people of the same demographic. If I’m stopped by security guards upon leaving a store despite no evidence of me committing a crime, then the value of those who share my sex, age and race is poor and atrophied.
Again, I ask, of what value are young black men to the American culture? If we’re not being used for a quick fuck, to look “hard” by association, to brag to friends about “having a black friend,” or as political punching bags, we have very little value to society.
It’s not surprising (but it still is disappointing) to hear and see the comments and remarks about Trayvon Martin along the lines of him not amounting to anything so, “What’s big deal?” Do we really believe that Trayvon is the only person our society thinks won’t amount to anything or does this perception run deeper?
Until black boys and men see themselves as a “big deal,” we’ll continue to be victims. As the famous activist Grace Lee Boggs once said, if we don’t think of ourselves (as individuals) as the best society has to offer, we will continue to be victims — and that goes for every race, every gender, every sex, every culture and every being.
When we learn to value ourselves, we won’t allow ourselves to devalue another human being.