They Created Me

Let your smile define you
Let your smile define you

In light of everything going on in the media with Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and black history month, the staff of Virtually Seizing Opulence felt as if it would only be fitting to post a piece on race relations as it relates to the preconceived notions of African Americans (AA), but in particular the males of the ethnic background.

A half century has passed since the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. captivated a nation with his words that continue to inspire a people longing to truly bask in the beauty of diversity but, has the dream truly been fulfilled, or are African Americans in particular still striving to see the dream materialized? This dream echoed by Dr. King, in modern America has become what Langston Hughes would consider “a deferred dream ”. It would be unfair of us to blame you for being among the naive, even with increased access to resources that were limited or did not exist, AA males are infiltrating corporate America and various sectors of our nation at much higher volume than their forefathers. It would be silly not to believe that African Americans have achieved far greater outcomes than the late Dr. King expected in our short history as free citizens in this country; or have they? If African Americans are still trying to achieve the dream, at what cost are they doing so?

Perceptions and impressions are salient factors when it pertains to people’s image of an individual or groups. Once an impression has been made or perception decided, whether positive or negative, it is a humanistic trait to permanently associate a preconceived idea with the image of this individual/group. Knowing the power of perception and impressions as it pertains to the image of an African American (AA) male can sometimes be confusing. Our image is synonymous with negative protrayals throughout media (i.e. rappers that objectify the black female body and use profanity every 3rd word, uneducated athletes with false senses of entitlement, drug dealers, gang bangers etc.) as opposed to the positive image of AA men (lawyers, doctors, professors, philanthropist ) who do not get as much media coverage. Often times it is easy to dismiss the painful truth that the assessment of the African American male’s character is still closely associated false assumptions made based on race/skin color in lieu of their upbringing, work ethic, values, and lifestyle choices. Assuming that common sense is in fact “COMMON” and thus would lead you to understand all people are not the same (let alone AA males), it is perplexing that these generalizations of being lazy, thuggish, immature, lacking passion or drive, are still at the core attached with the image of black males.

The Parenting methods of African Americans reflect the negative stigma that we are forever attempting to remove. This hold especially true for those methods used in raising AA males in order to adhere to “societal norms” & actualize the dream of Dr. King. We hear and/or see the various methods AA parents used (corporal punishment, scolding, firm handling etc.) to raise these men just so that they can exist in a society that does not readily accept them. If you ask the majority of successful black men to share their stories of their upbringing most will agree that their parent(s) instilled in them similar concepts around appropriate behavior & appearance just to name a few, throughout their childhood. A major idea instilled in these men was that they had to be ten times better than their white counterparts in order to attain similar success in their careers or that they had to behave in a particular manner in order to properly assimilate or be accepted. We are raising these men to feel as if their whole reasoning of existence in this country is to fight for their seat at the “table” as opposed to celebrating their lineage of kings.

An excerpt of Malcolm X’s speech spoke to this mindset of AA people being taught not to love themselves and denounce their traditional looks in order to truly assimilate along with being accepted in mainstream culture. A major point of X’s speech was challenging the thoughts of African Americans, allowing them to question where did they learn that a certain look was more accepted over another. In spite of Malcolm X’s teachings and speeches most African Americans still chose to raise their sons under the belief that they had to do more to be accepted by the mainstream culture due to the color of their skin. Is this manifestation of Dr. King’s dream truly in congruence with his original vision? It seems as though instead AA’s have become complacent with acceptance by assimilation.And in that process it seems as though AA’s are losing the love themselves, for their heritage, for their culture, for their upbringings all in order to truly be accepted.

Even though those who chose to assimilate and stick to the guidelines that mainstream culture has laid out for AA males still face the societal misconceptions of what it means to be an AA male. There have been stories of how an educated AA male had to deliver himself as the “safe black” in order to be socially accepted. There have been stories of micro aggressions that these black men who are not athletes or entertainers end up being typecast victims because of their physical appearance. The media celebrates the physical prowess and aggressive demeanor of the black man but never his intellect. So naturally they are seen as mythical creatures that are only good for entertainment purposes only.

Do you agree or disagree? Please contribute to the conversation!

1 comment

  1. After I read this I watched a program on PBS called “Black Boys and Academic Achievement.” It’s basically chronicling the struggle of two boys in The Dalton School in NYC. The parents of the black children felt their kids were being unfairly targeted by the teachers at this predominantly white private primary school. All the black parents communed to discuss this issue. One of the black fathers told the group he spoke to some of the white parents and they said they felt their children were experiencing the same pressures/struggles. On the other hand the black father also said he felt the school officials regarded their son’s “eager, outgoing” behavior as aggressiveness. So I typed all that to say: could any of this simply be perception on our part? While the media does portray black males as aggressive is it really overtly so? Or is it quite possibly our perception that it’s excessive? Don’t we allow this image of lack of intellect but loaded with prowess to be perpetuated? As with anything the entertainment industry is a result of supply/demand. If we stopped supporting, stopped buying this music, stopped watching these videos, stopped emulating, stopped referring to each other as bitch, nigga, etc. perhaps things could change for us. MLK persevered for change. He was incessant. His perseverance cost him life. We lack that drive today.
    MLKs dream. Hmm. I think we have come far as a people. But I am genuinely beginning to feel his dream has certainly been deferred. It’s been 50 years since MLKs assassination and no one has risen up to continue his work. Too many have forgotten history. What can we really say for ourselves now? Our president is half black. I’m not understanding the context of “safe black?”
    Yes we continually have to prove ourselves. At this time I don’t believe it is solely because of skin colour. More than whites, “AA” perform lower, obviously not because of less intellect, but because of the school systems, many times due to socioeconomic status, lack of support at home, lack of resources, etc. All that means we will likely have to work harder to show that we can. Isn’t having to fight for our seat at the table reality though? How else should parents raise their children? Idealism doesn’t usually solve problems. Our lineage might be royal but too many of us are not behaving like royalty so how can we expect anyone to treat us as such? MLKs dream would be fulfilled if parents could say: you work just as hard as white John Smith and you’ll be able to get the same opportunities. But no. Our collective lack is forcing parents to say: La’Soulja Major La’Pimp Burks (yes that’s a real name) you’re gonna have to work extra hard to get that job at Apple because of how much melanin your skin produces. Shameful. I definitely believe the data about black men is likely skewed/biased. We are the only ones who can change the perception/image. Can you expand on what is meant by complacent assimilation?

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