Antidotes to Anti-Black Stereotypes

For the past year, I’ve been inundated with negative images of black culture. Either I’ve seen black folks getting brutalized, or I’m seeing them being depicted as “thugs” or “vandals” in the news. It’s getting so I don’t even want to get online or turn on the TV.  of The Guardian really captured my feelings of late when he wrote:

The connective tissue of being black worldwide in 2015, and the experiences of living in brown skin in images transmitted from McKinney, Texas, to the Mediterranean sea, is often riddled with pain, anxiety and death. Looking through how many people have been killed by the police in the United States, reading about the mass deportation of Haitians from the Dominican Republic, watching the deaths of Walter Scott and Eric Harris on video in a single week, and finding myself unable to even attend a friend’s wedding while on vacation in California without witnessing police harassment of black people inspires in me great dread and weariness.

(Read more of this great article here.)

We need a black-antidote to anti-black images in our media!

It’s time to flip the script! It’s important not to turn away from the injustice going on in our country and world. It’s important to address it. Nonetheless, we must also increase visibility of positive images of black life… ones filled with beauty, creativity, and joy! Check out the video below to see how it “flips the script” on negative black stereotypes of African men.

African Men Hollywood Stereotypes

This video is so refreshing precisely because it is so rare to see positive images of black folks as the CENTER of their own narratives.

Now… more than ever, it’s important to live an examined life in respect to race, power, privilege.

None of us is exempt. We all participate in some way in maintaining or dismantling the status quo. Being reflective about our own attitudes about racial stereotypes, especially those about Africans and Black Americans is an important step in creating a fair and just world for all people. Why? Because in America, even though not all racism is “black and white”, the roots of racism in our country stem from slavery.

Stereotypes serve a societal purpose

One-hundred years after slavery was abolished, anti-black stereotypes are still very much a part of American culture today. In order for us to understand why these stereotypes persist and are so pervasive, it’s important to understand their purpose.

Initially, the systematic enslavement of African-Americans for financial gain was morally “justified” through propaganda which perpetuated stereotypes of blacks as”lazy, grinning, docile, childlike, good-for-little servant.”. Two prevalent stereotypes of this time are the Mammie caricature (think Aunt Jemima, who is “just so happy to be serving you pancakes!”) or the “little black Sambo”. The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia explains how black caricatures have been used throughout history to create anti-black bias in our country and throughout the world. Regarding Sambo, it states: “Sambo was offered as a defense for slavery and segregation. How bad could these institutions have been, asked the racist, if blacks were contented, even happy, being servants?” (Read more about the origins of the Sambo caricature here.)

After slavery was abolished, images of African-Americans changed. Benevolent and childlike images were replaced with images that depicted black people as more and more menacing. Black features became exaggerated and grotesque, for example black folks were shown with huge lips, butts and googly eyes. Silly, child-like images of black people were replaced with brutish, ape-like images of sex-crazed, violent psychopaths, hell-bent on white destruction. These caricatures were meant to dehumanize blacks and were used to justify mob lynching which became more and more common across the United States, and especially in the American South.

This quote from the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia explains:

“A mob lynching was a brutal and savage event, and it necessitated that the lynching victim be seen as equally brutal and savage; as these lynchings became more common and more brutal, so did the assassination of the black character. In 1900, Charles Carroll’s The Negro A Beast claimed that blacks were more akin to apes than to human beings, and theorized that blacks had been the “tempters of Eve.” Carroll said that mulatto 1 brutes were the rapists and murderers of his time (pp. 167, 191, 290-202). Dr. William Howard, writing in the respectable journal Medicine in 1903, claimed that “the attacks on defenseless White women are evidence of racial instincts” (in blacks), and the black birthright was “sexual madness and excess” (Fredrickson, 1971, p. 279). Thomas Dixon’s The Leopard’s Spots, a 1902 novel, claimed that emancipation had transformed blacks from “a chattel to be bought and sold into a beast to be feared and guarded” (Fredrickson, p. 280)”

Black stereotypes live on today

Even though we are living in a “post-racial” era with a black president, racist black caricatures persist. This is glaringly evident in how media presents black resistance. The following clip by Brave New Films, shows how black protesters are often depicted as “thugs” (the modern-day “brutes” of the past), while white rioters are “young people doing stupid things”.

Black Protests White Riots


Promoting positive images of black culture is the antidote to anti-black stereotypes

Educating yourself AND YOUR CHILDREN on dangerous anti-black stereotypes is the first step in uncovering implicit bias, but it’s NOT ENOUGH. We need to replace negative images of black folks with positive nuanced representations of black people to show the diversity of the “black experience”. After all, black people are PEOPLE–like any cultural group, black folks represent a spectrum of different aptitudes, attitudes, and talents. Exposing our kids to a range of black experience is a great way to counter dehumanizing stereotypes that are so pervasive in American culture. Here are a few places to start:

1. Follow Hashtags on Twitter

Folks are using social media to learn about and celebrate positive images of black culture. Twitter is a great resource and is “crowdsourced”. If you are not on Twitter yet, it’s time to start. (Here’s a post to help you make the leap!)  These are the hashtags I’m following: #BlackGirlMagic, #BlackExcellence, #BlackGirlsRock… and let’s face it… anything related to Sarena Williams, Misty Copeland or Bree Newsome!

2. Follow these folks on Facebook

If Twitter is just not your thing, what about Facebook? There are several community pages I “like” to follow they include: I Love Being Black, BlavityBlack Girl Nerds, ColorlinesUpworthy,  Black PastSF Public School Mom of course 😉

3. Videos and Websites!

– Cescaleigh has a great YouTube channel. (Her Vlog was so popular, she now does videos for Upworthy and MTV!).
– Black Girl Nerds, For Harriet, and Blavity are three great websites chock full of Black-centric articles and links.

4. Pinterest Boards!

If you are on Pinterest, you can check out my Pinterest Board Heroines of Color. These picture and chapter books feature girls of color as the lead character, many of whom are African or African-American

Follow Alison Collins’s board heroines of color on Pinterest.

Do you know of other great resources for celebrating positive images of black culture? Please share them in the comments below!

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