Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Culture Blogs: Shades of Brown (Part 2 of 3)

Sorry, I'm a day late.  This post was a little more difficult to write than I anticipated.  Earlier this week I started a series of blogs on black men (you can find part one here) and realized that no discussion of black men would really be complete without exploring the stereotypes that modern American society associates with them.  However to do this we must first define what a stereotype according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Something conforming to a fixed or general pattern; especially : a standardized mental picutre that is held in common my members of a group and that represents and oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment.

Nothing about a stereotype itself is evil, or wrong by itself.  A stereotype is meant to be a means of categorizing people.  Without stereotypes we would struggle to classify the various people around us.  Jock, nerd, and diva aren’t just for high school.  They can define us as adults also, but more accurately it describes the group we have chosen to associate with, rather than who I am as an individual.

The truth of the matter is often we use stereotypes to define individuals.  This happened to me several times growing up, and with folks who don’t know me very well it continues to happen.  In my own experience I would like to share with you the stereotypes I grew up with folks applying to me

1. You’re black, this must mean you play basketball.
Can’t tell you how many folks when I was growing up used a form of this on me.  Perhaps it was because Magic Johnson and Air Jordan were changing the field of basketball at the time, but everyone assumed because I was black that not only did I play basketball, but that I was good at it too.
     Unfortunately, my poor balling skills devastated them and caused their children to not pass the ball to me when we did play.  It also left me not liking the game very much.
     This is known as the black athlete stereotype.  It assumes that because black folks seem to be predisposed to playing sports well so we must all be athletes.  Maybe if we hadn’t spent hundreds of years working the fields in poor conditions, and then forced once in the corporate world to work twice as hard as a white man, you might not see this surge of black athletes.  Just an obversation.


2. All black men want is sex.
     Let’s be honest here.  Remove black from the statement above and it becomes a lot more accurate.  Still a stereotype either way though.  Not all black men (or men in general) are so into sex that they seek conquest after conquest.  However that is exactly the image that the popular media seems to produce.
     I’ve also heard many sexual comments about black men’s penises.  Some meant in jest, and others completely serious.  Honestly, I don’t think it matters.  But the idea lends gravity to the idea that all black men want is sex.
     I like to think of this stereotype as the black sex stereotype.  If I had a guess, as to the origins of this stereotype it probably has to do with American slave owners raping black women and then thinking black men were similar to them so they wouldn’t as much as permit them to look at white women without being hurt.  Again, an observation.

3. Black men are involved in a majority of violent crime.
     If you go into a black neighborhood in the inner city, yes you should expect the gang members to all be black.  Why?  Because it is a black neighborhood.  White neighborhoods have white gangs.  Latino neighborhoods have latino gangs.  I know this because in Ogden where I live most of the gangs are latino, because our inner city areas are all latino.
     Black men are no more violent than any other, but if you utilize media to portray them as such, as is often the case you’ll more readily recognize black men in violent situations.  The stereotype feeds itself upon the idea that “Drama is the mirror of man.”  We see in our cinema black violence, we see black violence on the news, reinforcing blacks are violent.  We return to the movies for more black violence and the cycle continues.
     Remember back when we referred to stereotypes refer to groups you want to be associated with.  Gangsters want to be known as such.  Gangsters are violent and cruel, and secure limited fidelity among themselves.  Gangster culture is not black culture.  Please remember this.

4. If you are an intelligent black man, you must be acting white.
     If you have been following my blog you are aware this is the stereotype that makes me angry.  I’ve been called white by my closest friends, because they think black folks are stupid.  Oh some folks say that black are less intelligent than whites, or that asians are smarter than everyone else.  But these stereotypes are some of the most damning.
     Take a black child for example.  He has potential to be anything he wants to be.  But he has ADHD.  So he’s hard to deal with and his attention flutters all over the place.  Does this make him dumb?  Nope, but I’ll bet he hears it.  So if he’s dumb what are his options for success.  Becoming an athlete.  Of course he’s good, but not good enough to get on the team.  So he has to look for another means for success.  He’ll find it in drugs and guns.   This has nothing to do with his actual intelligence.  It has to do with someone made him feel dumb when he was younger; and he sought out ways to find success that didn’t require brains, because he never thought he had any.
     That child could have been me.  Cause I did have ADHD.  I also wasn’t good at sports.  But even when my grades were bad, my mother told me I was stupid, and everything stood against me, I knew I was smart.  And I could find success through my brains.  And here we are today.

Stereotypes are a wonderful means of grouping people.  Group the jocks together, they will enjoy being told how tough they are.  But don’t be afraid to also group one of those jocks with the nerds.  Because a jock can be a nerd too.  Recognize the fact that stereotypes are even still a flawed system for determining what group a person is enjoined with.  Recognize people as individuals.  I can promise you, the beauty of the diverse worlds around us will unveil itself as you seek to recognize people as individuals.

Speaking of individuals there are three that I would like to recognize a this time for winning a copy of N.K. Jemisin's book for last month's contest.  J. A. Bennett, MaryAnn Pope, and Audrey Tomorrow.  I'll be contacting each of you over the next week to ship your book to you.

In the meantime I'm going to run another give away for March for both followers and comments.  This month I'm giving away one bundle of books.  Karen Sandler's Tankborn (one of my reads for this month) and Samuel Delany's Dhalgren.  For each person who follows the blog (inclusive to those who joined since the beginning of March) I'll put your name into the contest three times.  And for each person who comments on each post for the month I'll put you down for one per comment.  With the success of last month's contest it only made sense to do it again.

Next time I'll be reviewing my goals for ROW80, and sharing about an award I received this past week.  This is Jayrod Garrett, the First OG, with just one question for you.  What stereotype about your culture makes you most angry?


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