One of the most prominent peculiarities of a contemporary living in the US has to do with the fact that, as time goes on, the racial tensions undermine the integrity of American society from within. The sheer number of the race riots that have taken place throughout the country during the last few years is quite illustrative, in this regard. At a first glance, the concerned trend may appear to make very little sense, especially given the fact that the policies of “multiculturalism” and “political correctness” have been enjoying the de facto official status in America ever since the 20th century’s late eighties.
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There is, however, nothing truly mysterious about the described situation – despite having worn the mask of “political correctness” for a few decades now, American society never ceased to remain fundamentally Eurocentric and racist. The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated with respect to the ongoing stigmatization of Black masculinity by the controlled Media in this country. As Williams noted: “The media… create false stereotypes (about African-American males) developed from inaccurate generalizations. This destroys the image of African-Americans as a whole” (13). In my paper, I will elaborate on this specific issue at length while exemplifying the would-be made argumentative claims with references to the YouTube video Dre Debates. The Word at Work – Black-ish and the published materials of relevance.
There a number of qualitative aspects to the negative stereotypization (and commercial commodification) of Black masculinity by the Media, with the mentioned video being perfectly reflective of many of them. They appear to derive from the following axiomatic assumptions about the presumed overall “quality” of the population of African-American males:
Black men are impulsive/irrational and naturally attracted to violence/crime. One does not have to go far finding evidence in support of this claim – this is what the Dre Debates. The Word at Work – Black-ish video is all about. In it, a few White coworkers (mostly males) are seen interacting with their Black counterparts. As soon as one of the nerdy-looking Whites inquires whether the word “colored” may be used with reference to Black men, the featured Black male characters get off their chairs and pull out handguns – hence, frightening to death the rest of White males (and one female) in the room.
It is understood, of course, that by exhibiting this kind of behavior, they live up to the White audience’s innately racist expectations. After all, it does not represent much of a secret that the majority of Whites in America cannot help being affected by the deep-seated racial prejudices against African Americans, in general, and Black men, in particular – even when not realizing it consciously. In this regard, Amos Wilson came up with the enlightening observation: “In the eyes of White America, an exaggeratedly large segment of Black America is criminally suspect. This is especially true relative to the Black male. In the fevered mind of White America, he is cosmically guilty. His guilt is existential” (Jackson 82). As a result, American society grows ever more accustomed to the idea, due to being “wild at heart” (as the Media portray them), African-American men do deserve a brutal treatment by the police.
Black men are not particularly bright. The mentioned video will again come in handy illustrating the commonality of the racist stereotype in question. After all, as one can infer from the flick, it takes quite some time for the featured Black male characters to “decipher” mentally the intellectual wits of their White colleagues. In this respect, the message conveyed by the video is quite apparent – there is nothing accidental about the issue of educational underachievement among African-American men.
As the video implies, this is the direct consequence of the fact that these men are biologically predetermined to experience much difficulty while addressing cognitive tasks. The next logical conclusion that naturally derives from the racist assumption in question (popularized by the video) is that it is indeed justified considering Black men intellectually inferior.
Black men are physically imposing (and therefore “dangerous”). Here we refer to the Media’s tendency to portray brothers being endowed with much physical health/strength. For example, as it can be seen in the video, it would not have taken too long for the featured Black male characters to beat unconscious the effeminate White “yuppies” on the other end of the table. Initially, this specific stereotype may seem serving the purpose of empowering Black men, in the discursive sense of this word.
There are, however, two subtle but easily recognizable racist undertones to it. While exposed to the video, the predominantly White audience is expected to confirm the validity of its irrational fear of “Blackness” and grow emotionally comfortable with the idea that because, as compared to the bulk of the degenerative Whites, Black men are more physically developed, it will only be natural for the latter to pursue the “career” of manual laborers.
Another purpose that the concerned racial script appears to serve is convincing the audience that there is indeed nothing wrong with the commercial commodification of Black masculinity as something that connotes “otherness”. As Jackson pointed out: “The epistemic violence that accompanies Black male corporeal inscriptions is indicative of a market that chooses to represent Black male bodies as foreign, exotic, and strange” (76). In its turn, this dehumanizes Black men rather substantially and establishes the additional preconditions for them to continue being subjected to the different forms of racial discrimination.
What has been said earlier is suggestive of the sheer scale of the Media-driven stigmatic stereotypization of Black masculinity in today’s America. After all, being only 1.05 minutes long, the discussed video clip contains at least three semiotic references to the stigmatized “otherness” of Black men. This implies that the identified instances of the racial stigmatization of Black males (as seen in the video) are far from being considered exhaustive, in the representational sense of this word. What we mean by this is that there are many more qualitative dimensions to how Black masculinity is being demonized by the Media as we speak.
For example, it now also became very popular to utilize the images of half-naked young Black males for advertising products that are meant to be primarily used by older (most commonly White) women. The clearly racist subtext of such advertisements is quite apparent – they are intended to encourage people (specifically women) to assume that the actual worth of a young Black man is something that directly relates to the extent of his sexual prowess, with nothing else deserving to be taken into consideration.
And, there is a strongly defined “slavish” quality to all of this. As Jackson noted: “The commercial branding of the Black male body in contemporary advertising campaigns (is linked) to the ﬁre branding of slaves, a violent practice used to identify Black bodies as property” (62). It is also quite common among the creators of media content to represent Black men being innately homophobic and strongly affiliated with the essentially patriarchal “traditional values” (Wade and Rochlen 4).
At the same time, African-American males are often portrayed as being utterly dependent on women for companionship – something subtly evocative of the concerned characters’ psycho-cognitive infantilism (as assessed from the White perspective). The idea that Black men are naturally driven to exhibit this psychological trait is promoted even further, regarding the stereotypical depiction of Black males as being unhealthily obsessed with wearing flashy but distasteful clothes and golden rings/chains of all sorts.
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The “between-the-lines” message that such a depiction sends is quite obvious, as well – Black men possess the underdeveloped sense of personality, which causes them to look out for the physically tangible proofs of their selfhood’s realness: “Black identity has always been more emphatically expressed through clothes and appearance than White identity has” (Gilligan 176). As such, this message serves the ultimate purpose of marginalizing African-American men, as a whole.
As of today, it appears that the media-driven stigmatization of Black masculinity in America will continue gaining a momentum. The reason for this is that the country’s WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) remain as committed as ever to trying to preserve their mastery over this country. And, as it was pointed out earlier, the ongoing stereotypization of African-American males as “innately wicked” and “intellectually primitive” helps to legitimize the White people’s unconscious belief in their own racial superiority.
Nevertheless, it is also very likely that, as time goes on, this stigmatization is going to become increasingly ineffective as the tool of social control. The rationale behind this suggestion has to do with the fact that even a brief analysis of how the Media go about typifying Black masculinity, as a whole, will reveal that the concerned practice is, in fact, subliminal of the White folks’ instinctive fear and envy of “Blackness”. And, there is indeed a good reason for the Whites to feel in this way.
Whereas they grow increasingly degenerative/decadent (hence, their interest in “sexual diversity”) and socially withdrawn, African-Americans (alongside Hispanics) continue to take control of the streets in just about every large city in the US – not the least due to the sheer strength of their commitment to the “traditional values” and their communal mindedness. Therefore, it will not take much longer for the media-driven stigmatization of Black males to begin backfiring at its sponsors. In fact, this is starting to happen as we speak – hence, the tendency of many White males (especially young) to live up to the presumably “marginalized” existential virtues of Black masculinity.
I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation, in support of the contained argumentative claims, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, there is indeed a good reason to think of the ongoing stigmatization of Black masculinity as being reflective of the overall lack of existential vitality in those who endorse this practice. This conclusion correlates well with the cyclical conceptualization of history, which better than any other explains the essence of the sociocultural/demographic dynamics in today’s America.
“Dre Debates the Word at Work – Black-ish.” YouTube, uploaded by ABC Television Network. 2015. Web.
Gilligan, Sarah. “Fragmenting the Black Male Body: Will Smith, Masculinity, Clothing, and Desire.” Fashion Theory, vol. 16, no. 2, 2012, pp. 171-192.
Jackson, Cassandra. Violence, Visual Culture, and the Black Male Body. Routledge, 2011.
Jackson, Ronald. Scripting the Black Masculine, Body Identity, Discourse, and Racial Politics in Popular Media. State University of New York Press, 2016.
Wade, Jay, and Aaron Rochlen. “Introduction: Masculinity, Identity, and the Health and Well-being of African American Men.” Psychology of Men & Masculinity, vol. 14, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1-6.
Williams, Armstrong. “Redeeming the Image of Black Men in the Media.” New York Amsterdam News, May, 2014, p. 13.