Many of us have probably heard stories about, seen on television, or even personally witnessed the woman who clenches her purse a little more tightly in her hands as a black man (or woman) approaches, but how often is that woman (or at least how often is she depicted in the media as) a black woman? However, reflecting on moments in my own life growing up in predominantly black neighborhoods, while I was always told to treat everyone fairly and with respect and even taught about the importance of not subscribing to society’s negative stereotypes about people (and especially men) of color, I can remember things like being told not to get out of the car until a group of males or a even a single male stranger walked past. I was never told to do these things only in the presence of black males, but there were rarely males of any other ethnic group where I grew up.
Still, how often do we as black people, openly complain about “thugs” and “hoodlums,” and usually not in the context of a troublesome white child. No, we should not ignore black people’s wrongdoings or criminal behavior, but as a people who know the dangers and pain of discrimination, we should remember that all labels are relative and that they usually don’t tell the whole story.
As black women, how many of us have rolled our eyes, quickened our stride, or flat out ignored a group of black men we passed on the street who spoke to us or attempted to approach or speak to us as we went about our day? Let’s be honest, it’s not always a matter of respect or safety. Would we speed past the men standing outside of a Wall Street office building? Everyone loves a brother in a suit, but not as many seem to be checking for the ones whose pants are sagging.
Speaking of sagging pants, taking the profiling blame off of the shoulders of black women, men and women alike—albeit usually older ones–have complained about black males wearing sagging pants. States such as Mississippi, Georgia, and even New York have proposed banning them. Where are the marches and social media movements for that? The legislators, some of whom are African American, pushing for those laws are engaging in their own form of profiling. Yet, many activists and legislators are championing against NYPD stop-and-frisk laws.
Translation: We don’t want law enforcement to target you, so we’ll do it from the legislature, or in the case of the complainers, just in the comfort of our own minds and neighborhoods instead. While many people may think that it helps, telling our youth not to wear certain things, also known as the Geraldo Rivera defense, says that profiling and discrimination are simply practices to which potential targets must adjust, which automatically assumes wrongdoing on the victims’ part.
People are people. We cannot stigmatize and judge them on one hand, while campaigning against it on the other. As we work to get society to stop stereotyping, judging, and fearing our sons, we cannot continue to perpetuate these attitudes ourselves.