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?


  1. Thanks for covering this important topic, Garrett. Your post made me think of the play, "Passing Strange." Great show and soundtrack if you haven't caught it.

    It's amazing how much stereotyping goes on and how it, sadly, shapes many people's self perceptions and behaviors. Most humans have the capacity to be violent or not, to want sex or not, to control themselves, or not, to live fully and with compassion, or not.

    And as for writing about topics that are tougher than we realize...those are usually the most important and best—IMHO. ;) Nicely done.

    1. "Passing Strange" looks like an interesting show. I'll have to see if I can find any shows near where I live. I can at least pick up the soundtrack!

      Thank you for your high praise. It helps me to realize that this blog has a future and that I have to continue seeking out the subjects that matter the most in matters of culture and diversity.

  2. What an important post! The last two stereotypes are the ones I see hurting children the most. With the school culture the way it is, kids are basically having to chose between being black and being academic. It seems like the violent stereotype also plays into the acting white one. They kind of go hand in hand.

    1. From my experience they do play hand in hand. I have a 19 year old stepson that is hispanic. His natural family calls him white because he has chosen to live differently than they were teaching him. He's chosen to be civilized and kind, and therefore somehow he became white. It has given him some identity issues he has to work though. I have faith that he'll be able to make it though.


    1. I'm going to use this picture in a later post sweetheart, so that my readers here can see the awesomeness you posted here. Thank you.

  4. Stereotypes that drive me batty:
    As a woman - I must be dumb, frail, weak, manipulative, petty, jealous, nagging, selfish, materialistic. I certainly can't fix anything with power tools, and I don't know a thing about cars, except maybe where the gas goes.
    As a Latter Day Saint - I must be a republican, conservative, pro-life, gay hating, science hating creationist.

    1. Thank you for responding to my question. I actually really appreciate that because I know that I'm not aware of all the stereotypes that folks suffer from. And greater knowledge leads to better awareness of the problem.

  5. Thanks for this important post. I love what you say about stereotypes are more for classifying and not for defining people. I think the most hurful part of stereotypes is locking someone into a preconceived notion and not letting them show you who they really are.

    Excellent post as always, and thank you so much for the book. I'm looking forward to reading it.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head MaryAnn. We often do have the preconceived notion and we don't let people show us who they really are. Because we are scared to find out.
      Looking forward to getting the book to you.

  6. Ugh. Stereotypes. I so agree that it is important to look at everyone as an individual. Aren't we all brothers and sisters, after all.

    1. It is true that we are all individuals and brothers and sisters. It is hard though to live in such a manner that folks recognize they share such a deep relationship with us.

  7. I believe that media and television purposely portrays black men as dangerous because they (the ones in control) want to keep us divided. If people weren't afraid of different cultures then we all might start working together. If we all started working together we might see what actually is the problem and start doing something about it and our numbers would be great to accomplish all manner of good in the world. Just my opinion any way.

    I believe they (the ones in control) use fear to control the populace. And they use it very well. That is why I watch as little television as possible. I don't want to live in fear, I want to think my own thoughts, and I want to see people as individuals and basically good.

    Thank you for all that you do.


    1. Morgan, I don't know it the powers that be want us to live in fear. But I do know that too often we do anyway. The hope of this blog is to help alleviate some of that fear.

      Oh and I'm very selective with the television I watch. For the very reason I want to think my own thoughts and be able to see the world as a place of goodness and light. Some few shows reveal this, and others portray the world as contrary to its natural state.

  8. "If you're speaking proper English, you're obviously a cracka in disguise."
    What I find funny is that much of the stereotyping done on me came from fellow Afro-Americans and all the other non-vanilla cultures. Anyway, stuff like that usually happens when your a teen anyway.

    However, nothing beats an Irish man or Korean lady pointing the finger straight in your face constantly asking, "you?! You?! You?! You of all people don't like Obama?! You?!"

    That's why God made Agape.

    1. My adopted son has experienced a lot of that from his natural family. He's hispanic and he's been told by the people who should be the kindest about how white he is because he wanted to get a job, eat flour tortillas, and take care of himself. Its quite bothersome.

      I love the fact that you don't like Obama. I do, but the diversity of opinions always makes me smile. Thanks for posting. :D

  9. I'm happy I have found your blog. I dont have a chance to read many black men's blogs. :-)

    One stereotype that I actually reminded my co-worker that it was not true just this week is that All black men upon reaching career, or financial success will marry a white woman.


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