Identity in the Black Community, Part I.

“Stereotypes of a Black male misunderstood. And it’s still all good” – Notorious BIG

Big said it was all good, but I’m still trying to figure out who it’s all good for.

As an outsider looking in, the identity of men in the Black community is essential to the strength and perception of the community as a whole. This nation was built upon the backs of Black fathers and sons in forms of literal and figurative labor and exploitation. However, Black men are still struggling to have an identity worth respecting by those outside their community.

Prejudice is so deeply engrained in our mental coding that it is impossible for any community to avoid being stereotyped. However, the stigmas attached to Black men seem to be more heavily depicted to the general public than those of other communities. Black men are commonly portrayed as poor and criminals or rappers and athletes (not to say there is anything wrong with being a rapper or an athlete, get it how you live. But that’s not for every Black person despite what the greater American population may believe). As easy as it is to say, “Have confidence and be who you want to be,” difficulties arise for those that are outliers of these labels.

Stereotypes alone create an immense limitation for Black men. For example: rapper/athlete/poor/criminal is not the ideal employee at a law firm or established business. And it is on too far fetched to make the claim that even if the prospective candidate is none of those things and has strong enough credentials, there is a strong distrust for Black men in general because of society’s inflicted hatred onto these men.

There is also the difficult navigation around the community itself when it comes to what is considered an “accepted” occupation. At one point in time there was the belief that a meal ticket out of the hood could only be represented as becoming a rapper or an athlete, because over time those two images are what dominated in the topic of Black wealth and prosperity.

As a woman my commentary and efforts can only go so far on this topic and I understand that, so I reached out. A student, an artist, and an athlete shared their experiences of finding their identity within this boxed and heavily stereotyped community:

The Student

“I have struggled with identifying myself multiple times. This has many reasons, however the most prime of those reasons are due to what the Black male was represented as. The hatred Black males face today in the world I grew up in is unbelievable…So I had many phases I tried out. I was a gamer, I tried fitting in with the other kids in any way. All because I didn’t want to be Black. As time progressed, I was able to understand my life and the type of social constricts that society has placed on us, which has allowed me to be the individual I am today. I am a Black male who is educated and can do all things…What helped me in this transition of loving who I am today was seeing other Black men love who they are and being accepted by the Black culture.”

The Artist

“ I grew up in an extremely low-income community in Cincinnati, Ohio and even with the presence of my mom and dad, my surroundings had a huge impact on questions of identity. Not sexual identity more identifying with gender roles…what is considered masculine and how if you didn’t follow those rules you were either outcaste or bullied. I strayed away from art because that wasn’t a masculine ‘hood’ thing to do but luckily I was good in sports so I was able to keep my ‘normal’ identity because I excelled in what they considered acceptable. Not until college did I fully embrace my love for art and music because I was around people that were less critical about those things.”

The Athlete
“I know who I am, what type of person I am, and I’m more than happy with that. I feel like the only time you would ever have an identity struggle is if you are not confident in who you are to those around you. At no point in my life do I ever recall feeling that way.”

There are very strong parallels between what society has projected onto this community over time and how that impacts what the society projects within it’s own confines. Unfortunately, there is some truth behind stereotyping as ugly as it is. Society has not only created the labels for Black men, but created the packaging as well through isolation and creation of ghettos, mass incarceration, and inadequate availability and accessibility to resources in the Black community.

For centuries, those in power in the U.S. have set the difficulty level high for Black people playing this game of upward mobility. In a country with a history almost solely influenced by men, what better way to accomplish the aforementioned then to label these men before they have the chance to do so themselves. Because Black men have never truly had their freedom of identity in the first place, the only ones with the ability to take those labels off are the ones with the money and supremacy to do so, and even then the occurrences of that are few.

However, within recent years concluding in recent events in Ferguson, MO and New York, the projected image of the Black man in America is morphing. Despite what America may use as the basis for crafting policy, there is no longer an excuse for Black men to be likely targets of negative imagery that stunts the growth of this community as a whole.

This piece was originally featured at misslaurenhailey.com/real-life

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