Response to Black Men and Public Space --Brent Staples
Black men for years have been viewed as criminals and thugs which has fueled the belief that black men have the “ability to alter public spaces.” In order to disentangle this properly, we need to understand the historical and contemporary representation of Black men, and the white man's ability to alter public spaces.
The government, media outlets, entertainment industry and countless other sources portray black men as negative, which has fueled negative stereotypes. In 1915, President Wilson hosted a White House film screening of “ The Birth of a Nation” arguably one of the most racist films ever created. Black men were violent and aggressive. While the KKK members were seen as saviours. This alone caused harm because this reinforces anti-Black sentiment on a wider scale, especially if the messaging is derived from the White House. The media thrives from misrepresenting our communities as inherently ‘bad.” Viewers then internalize this negative messaging, solidifying stereotypes which deeply influence their perceptions and interactions with Black men. It is clear that these misrepresentations are a reflection of white supremacy in this country where white men are placed on a pedestal while Black body is deemed inferior, degraded and brutalized/killed.
Black men are seen as a threat. Across the nation, police departments are frightened at the mere presence of an unarmed black man. This fear has resulted in the fatal killings of innocent men just because they’re Black. According to a 2017 report by mappingpoliceviolence.org, Black people were 25% (282 out of 1,147) of those killed by police despite being only 13% of the population. To complicate things further,younger black boys are seen as grown men as early as eleven. For example, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin were seen as a threat at just twelve and seventeen years old.
The media has been complicit to the violence against black bodies. By often illuminating the victim’s criminal history, the media attempts to negatively portray the victim, making them seem like a criminal. Police departments operate under systemic racism and our media is controlled by white supremacists and until we do away with both, black men will continue to be seen as a threat.
Lastly, we ask ourselves do white men have the same effect?.
The United States has accepted the brutalization of the black body at the hands of whiteness and normalized it. According to a Newsweek article, fifty-four percent of mass shootings were committed by white men but we aren't constantly speaking of the fear white men make us feel. Rainn.org has reported that “57% of white men are perpetrators of sexual violence”. So who should we really be scared of? The black community for years has faced violence at the hands of white men, but this violence isn’t being reported on national TV and these white men are often protected by the government, as the legal system often leans in favor of the police officers who kill unarmed Black men and women.The black community isn't creating legislation to target white men because they just don't have the power to do so. The definition of racism is racial prejudice and power working together and even though anyone can be prejudice the power has always been in the hands of white men.
The system will never turn its back on white men because it was designed by them and for them. The media will never show the darkness behind the white man because they fund it. For example, the Koch brothers, billionaires who have a long history of funding far-right campaigns are now buying stakes in companies like Times,Inc. and The Blaze. The host, Glenn Beck, has been quoted on air “I want to thank Charles Koch for this information.” not so shockingly his show airs on Fox News. It is extremely dangerous to have white supremacists like the Koch brothers continue to fund and buy stake in sources of media, as it allows them to push their ideology and extremist views against marginalized communities, while masking the truth.
We need to stop associating words like “criminal” and “thugs” with black men. If you are looking to really fear somebody, white men have done more than enough to fear them since the beginning of time. Given this historical context we should, therefore, hold our educational institutions and media outlets accountable. As Carol Moseley-Braun once said “ Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face”.