Trayvon Martin & Depiction of Blacks in America

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trayvon martin ralliesIf you ask the average person who did not grow up in America about their impression of African Americans the answer will be mainly negative based on the media reports that they had in their home country. While the portrayal of African Americans in main stream media is a result of propaganda and the perpetuation of negative stereotypes as a means to justify slavery, injustice or whatever the fad is. What is most baffling is the portrayal of African Americans themselves which reinforces negative stereotypes.

The success in the early 1990s of the movie ‘Boyz in the Hood’ ushered in a series of copycat films that portrayed the African American experience through the inner city understanding. It isn’t that the experience is not real , the problem was that it came to define the African American experience in such a way that everyone thinks all black people  grew up in single families in the ghettos and there was no other view. The rise of hip-hop culture cemented these ideas and made street mentality synonymous with black culture.

The politician then came up with the stereotype of’ the welfare queen’ which sought to paint black women as having multiple children who are supported by the Federal welfare system. There are of course women who fit this description but most black women are not living on measly government aid.

I worked at a job where people acted as though I was an anomaly because I didn’t have any children and I was 28 years old. When I asked one of the individuals why he was skeptical he remarked that he did not in fact know any black women who were my age who had no children. When I asked him how many black women he knew, he said 4. So of the 4, 1 actually had children and was unmarried, another was happily married with children; the other two were single with no children. He made the prognosis of the whole race based on 4 black women. It was after we went through this counting exercise that he realized that he had been a victim of misinformation perpetuated by the media and politicians with a sinister agenda. I was glad that we had an opportunity to clear the air and after this education session with my mis-educated co-worker, he was ready to admit his beliefs were fiction rather than fact.

trayvon martin 2Everyone in America has been programmed to believe that a young black man is armed and dangerous. It is in this background that young Trayvon Martin was headed home with a soda (soft drink) and some candy and was shot dead. The idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty did not apply to this teenager. What I found disturbing was how the jury assumed that an unarmed teenager was more ‘dangerous’ than an armed white overweight older man with a criminal record of assault on a police officer. People who thinks this way  has received years of programming that every black man is a criminal.

Race issues are never simple, in America it’s no secret that a white male with a criminal record will get a job before a black man with a clean history. It’s tough being a black male. A man in the barber shop who worked in a school cafeteria was fired because he was ‘mean to the black students’ which offended one of the teachers. It is true that the older black man was stern with the young lads and would not permit them to throw food or sag their pants in the cafeteria. He would tell the teenagers when their conduct was out of line but it was the adults who had a problem with the teens no longer acted out the stereotype.

Some ignoramus remarked that black people are only enraged when it’s white on black crime and deaf when it’s black on black crime. This would be someone who is a bit out of touch with black affairs and the black community in America. One of the main sources of information in the black community in the digital age is on blogs. There are a number of community outreaches that are organized on and offline in churches and other community groups to combat violence and help young people. The idea that black people are just sitting around doing nothing to combat violence in their neighborhoods is totally false but there is no incentive to broadcast these events in main stream media.

I believe that those black people with the microphone and the platform have an obligation to their children to educate the mis-educated that the black experience is not a monolithic experience. Then Trayvon could have been viewed as a young person walking home rather than just another potential casualty of criminal justice system. Nollywood has certainly changed the perception that many people have of Nigeria as a country and Africa as a whole because it showcases both urban and city living and has proven to be a worthwhile counter to the assertions of crime, corruption and mismanagement to the thriving democracy of people living in a good country aspiring to reach their dreams and showcasing all aspects of modern life. By the same token blacks in America need to change they way they also portray themselves through film and books.

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