If you’re an African-American male in this country that speaks proper English, wears his pants around his waist, and doesn’t mind listening to music that’s not considered “gangster” rap, you’ve probably been told that you are not really black. Most Americans have been brainwashed to believe that the vast majority of African-Americans are different than whites.
A black male that’s comparable to white male in intellect, speech and appearance is considered the exception and not the rule.
I’ve sat through enough classrooms, corporate meetings and high –end social events to say otherwise. More importantly, in these same environments, I have met other black males who have gone through the same experiences. You’re considered “special.”
How did we get to this point?
This perception is a thread that has been woven through the fabric of our country’s history. Race has always mattered and it matters now. From the beginning of America it has been used as a weapon for political, economic and social agendas.
The atrocities of slavery are well documented. However, race was more than just oppression. In order to justify the subjugation of a people in a “Christian” society, you had to make those people “non-people”. In Southern pulpits, slavery was referred to as the “Divine Institution”.
Blacks were suppose to be so stupid that we couldn’t do for ourselves so America needed a patriarchal system to make sure we didn’t hurt ourselves – and it didn’t hurt that blacks were the essential components to fuel the Southern economy.
During the Reconstruction period, race was used as a scare tactic. If whites could no longer control the black population, black men would revert back to their animalistic brutish nature. These brutes are to be feared.
As we entered the 20th Century, the assault upon the image of black males evolved – technology came into play. In 1915 D.W. Griffith released his Civil War epic Birth of a Nation.
Birth of A Nation told the story of how a defeated South found itself at the mercy of Northerners and freed slaves – freed black men that were ravaging the South looking for virtuous white women to deflower. All Hell breaks loose till the Klu Klux Klan rides in and saves the day and all the white women.
It took America by storm.
After watching a special viewing at the White House, President Woodrow Wilson stated, “It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” But it was so terribly wrong. That didn’t matter. After showings in major cities, there were reports of white mobs attacking any black they could find.
More alarming was that the movie alone re-established the Klu Klux Klan. The original KKK, which the movie glorified, had pretty much died out by the early 1870s. The second installment of the KKK was formed the same year Birth of A Nation was released and in 10 years their numbers reached 6 million.
The movie was based on Thomas Dixon’s 1905 novel The Clansman. Dixon stated after the movie’s release that “The real purpose of my film was to revolutionize Northern audiences that would transform every man into a Southern partisan for life.”
It’s one of the first lessons of where controlling a mass media message means shaping reality. Neither the lesson nor message has ever been forgotten.
But now you’re saying, “That was 100 years ago. None of that is relevant now.”
One of the most derogatory stereotypes even to this day is black people and their obsession with fried chicken. Guess what movie released in 1915 started this belief? And how many documented times has Tiger Woods had to deal with fried chicken jokes on the PGA tour?
Looking at things in a vacuum
Here’s the problem that America faces with race. We are an unapologetic society. We see the acknowledgement of past ills as demonstrations of weakness. The history of race relations in this country is the biggest skeleton in the closet and we don’t like talking about it.
And if we never discuss race, we never allow ourselves the opportunity to analyze how and why we see each other as we currently do.
We look at incidents like what happened to Tyrone West here in Baltimore through a vacuum as if there isn’t centuries of back-story. West, 44, died because of a heart condition exacerbated by the struggle with police and the summer heat after being hit by police batons and attacked with pepper spray on July 18, according to the medical examiner’s report. No charges were filed against the police.
We look at Michael Brown, 18 in Ferguson, Missouri and seem to forget that the African-American experience – in both a housing segregated North and a Jim Crow South – tends be dominated by oppressive police and laws to enforce a racist status quo.
What’s really sad is that we will go out of our way to demonize any victim so that we don’t have to look at our past. We create constructs as a means of justification – just like they did in the South for centuries.
Concepts like black on black crime prevail in our country’s psyche. Yet most sociologists will tell you that crime is intraracial. Most blacks commit crimes against blacks. However, most whites commit crimes against whites – 94 and 86 percent respectively.
Crime is about proximity and opportunity. But black on black crime is the phrase coined to criminalize young blacks as if this is proof that they are prone to violence.
If you look at the last two decades of crime statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, our racial feelings about gang violence and violent crime doesn’t gel with the messages being presented about young black males.
Yes, the black community has a problem. However, you don’t see other cases were so few have stigmatized an entire group of people. Why is that?
And this is a recipe for more incidents
If you inherently believe I am innately animalistic and prone to criminal behavior, you will treat me as such. You will shoot and ask questions later. You will think that my wallet or cell phone is a gun. If I’m not doing anything wrong, you believe that I just did or am just about to commit an unlawful act.
And if we continue to keep our head in the sand and pretend that silence will makes it all disappear, we are destined to repeat history in Ferguson.
Jason spent eight years at T. Rowe Price serving in various roles from investment counseling to retirement planning. In 2005, he became Senior Security Analyst at Wells Fargo Corporate Trust in their Residential Mortgage-backed Securities division. He has contributed to several financial newsletters and the Motley Fool website while completing his thesis and Master’s Degree in Government from the Johns Hopkins University Advanced Academic Program. He resides in Baltimore, MD.