5 Tragic Stereotypes, Part I

By Bakari Akil II

One of the tragic consequences that occurs when a person or group is subjected to ridicule and degradation is that if it occurs long enough, the victims of this treatment begin to acquiesce and in a unfathomable process begin to take on the negative characteristics assigned by the victimizer. As Blacks in the United States and elsewhere throughout the Diaspora, this scenario has been inescapable and has in fact been successful in ways unimaginable to those who first practiced this type of psychological conditioning, known in some circles as "seasonin."

"Seasonin" to the uninitiated was a common practice where Africans who were enslaved were intimidated by torture, physical force and psychological coercion into accepting their new status as enslaved human beings. Thereby, becoming a valuable product capable of carrying out the wishes of their respective enslavers. Think of the conditioning applied to training wild horses or in today's basic training for the military, except that horses and soldiers are treated much more humanely. It is the process of breaking down an individual's physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being until they are a totally new creature.

A carryover of this type of "seasonin" is that the fear of possible consequences of rebelling against the authority that exists prevents the victim from assuming their natural or previous state. They begin to exhibit characteristics of that idealized image held by the person(s) who initially provided the conditioning. As a consequence of this type of fear and brutal brainwashing that existed during the Transatlantic slave trade and the era of Black Codes, Jim Crow and present day continued disenfranchisement, the victims (Blacks) of such treatment continue to suffer from the legacy of these sadistic techniques and in some cases are perpetrators who out perform its most devoted non-Black adherents.

The behavior that I speak of now is not physical, it is verbal (stereotypes) and can be observed in many different ways and in fact has become apart of Black culture. It can be heard in humor, average conversations and can be major components of intellectual writings and debate. Whether it is a janitor or C.E.O., student or professor, apathetic citizen or activist, sinner or priest, many Blacks have accepted, processed, internalized and now proselytize the verbiage of shameful stereotypical statements not as fiction, but as fact.

In the age of modern media technology and the proliferation of media messages through many different mediums, these verbal "shots" cannot be escaped and thus are highly detrimental to Black communities' development and advancement.

Now, since these stereotypes are many and varied, this article will limit itself to five statements and others will be discussed in future writings. So, what are these verbal stereotypes and their effects?

Number 1: If you want to hide something from Black people, put it in a book!

This is a very offensive statement and not a thoughtful one at that. A cursory glance at historical data will demonstrate that after prohibitions had been lifted against Black people learning how to read in the US, Black people flocked to those who knew how and pleaded or cajoled them into teaching them how to do so. In fact, without the push by many Black politicians during Reconstruction (1865-1877), public schools as we know it might not exist. Reading has always been a strong tradition amongst Blacks before and after slavery. To state that Black people do not understand the importance of reading and that most do no read, is a fallacy. A better question may be, what types of materials are Black people are reading, which in itself may be an inexhaustible subject.

Number 2: Colored People Time, Better known as C.P.T.

This is another statement that hurts Black communities in numerous ways. There is the perception, held by many, that Black people are not able to start functions on time as well as Blacks as individuals are not punctual, in general. As a matter of consequence, those who constantly rely on this statement as an excuse for this type of behavior and view lateness as a cultural phenomenon assigned to Blacks, indeed provide license for this behavior to occur. People, groups or organizations that do not start things on time is a universal behavior and it is not a characteristic that can be assigned to a group. Instead, the event organizer, individual in charge, guest of honor or "fashionably late" person should instead be judged as not being punctual or professional. The blame should not fall on Black communities as a whole. After all, the people who are in attendance and who are present at that time are not late.

This stereotype also carries over to professional assessments and business determinations, which affect the perceived credibility of Blacks as it relates to economic endeavors.

Number 3: More Black Men in Jail Than In College

The reasons for this statement are obvious. It is to cite the sheer sense of hopelessness that exists for Black males as it relates to society in terms of being involved with prison systems and chances for a higher education. Yet, this statement should be clarified. Yes, there are more Black men in jail than in college. However, that is if you include all age groups. If you choose the age demographic that falls between 18 to 24 years of age then there are more Black men in college of this age range than in jail. This is nothing to be excited about, but it does provide a clearer perspective and lets us know that Black men are on the right track. By highlighting this disparity without clarification, Black men who are in college and not involved the criminal justice system receive no credit.

Number 4: Minority & Minorities

In terms of population in the US, Black people constitute a numerical minority as it relates to the White populous; however that is where the use of this term should cease. Instead of this word being used as an adjective describing Black numerical representation, it is instead used as a noun and the Black person becomes the minority. If the Black person is now the equivalent of that noun then they are in essence the definition of that word and all it implies.

See definition below:

Minority: 1. A group of people or things that is a small part of a much larger group. 2. Group with insufficient votes to win 3. Smaller socially defined group, a group of people, within a society whose members have different ethnic, racial, national, religious, sexual, political, linguistic, or other characteristics from the rest of society. 4. Offensive term; an offensive term for a member of a minority group 5. Non adulthood; the state or period of being younger than the legal age of adulthood.

From analyzing the definition, provided by Microsoft's Encarta College Dictionary, the word minority has many implications, none of them particularly impressive. As can be seen from the definition, many types of groups can be assigned this name, however in US society, only color determines if that is your official designation to be used by media pundits, scholars and your every day average citizen.

What is particularly disturbing is that this term's usage by Black individuals and communities is rampant. To automatically assign oneself to a degrading status is an indictment on one's perception of themselves and their power and role in society as an individual and of Black people as a whole.

I am not a minority and neither is any other person of color. End of discussion!

Number 5: Young people have no direction!

Black youths are often viewed in a negative sense. They are criticized for their style of dress, choice of music, way of expressing themselves and if you really think about it, for their audacity in existing at all. As a surveyor of communications media and its corresponding terrain, criticism of Black youths by their elder generations is continuous and in some cases worse than mainstream criticisms.

Although much of the imagery concerning Black youth is negative and can influence them to behave negatively, creatively a vicious cycle, most of the imagery is indeed false and portrays an unrealistic picture of those who know them intimately as sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, students or friends. In reality, if Black youths have no direction, then what does it imply about the preceding generations' role in preparing them for adulthood? Are older generations providing guidance, are they asserting their leadership or have they folded to the pressures of society and have resorted to complaining backed by inaction?

Instead of quickly indicting youth and assigning them to mediocrity or less, perhaps a greater focus should be placed on finding the success stories that are out there and they are numerous. Black youths are attending high school and college, are politically active, volunteering in their communities, playing sports, creating businesses or working, assuming all of their responsibilities and enriching their communities in ways we would be wise to recognize. Instead of continuously highlighting their immorality, faults and wrongs, perhaps they should be recognized as those who will accept the baton of leadership for the future and allies for a better tomorrow. To do otherwise would be an error that will hold negative consequences for both young and old.

In conclusion, it is possible to be one's own enemy, even if unconsciously. Therefore, a thorough analysis should be applied to our interactions with each other, both verbally or otherwise. Our present day language, vernacular and conversations that we hold with each other may seem harmless, yet it affects the way we treat each other as well as the way that we approach the society in which we exist. As humans we have choices and my choice is to use language for empowerment and not degradation, I hope you choose the same!

Bakari Akil is an editor for GlobalBlackNews.com and can be reached at GlobalBlackNews@hotmail.com

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