I was raised to be afraid of Black men. This was communicated in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways, from my sweet-as-pie grandmother whispering the word “Black” like she was afraid one of “them” would hear her, to the ways our media, from entertainment to the news, portray Black men as dangerous.
This fear of Black men was perpetuated by unfamiliarity. I grew up in the rural Midwest, in a middle class family. The neighborhoods I lived in and the schools I went to were almost entirely white. I interacted with Black people only in superficial ways in public. And except for my best friend in second grade, I had no Black friends. Though I was taught to be “colorblind” and to abhor (overt) racism, I had very little meaningful contact with Black people. As a result of this combination of racist messaging and unfamiliarity, I developed a racist fear of Black men.
It’s shameful. I would have denied it if anyone accused me of it. But it’s true. It’s real. And it’s not just me. Studies have shown that Black men are generally perceived as more threatening than White men, even when the only difference is the color of their skin. At the same time, the reality is that it is Black men who are really in danger. Black men are in much more danger around Whites than Whites are around them. This is becoming overwhelmingly clear as video after video of police shooting Black men is released.
Thanks for sharing this important piece. White people, including myself, need to understand better how racism operates in society and in our own conditioned responses, if we’re ever going to get to a more equitable place. Here’s some related thoughts I posted to my personal FB page last week:
I see two true things regarding the officer who just got off for the execution of Philandro Castile:
1. If Castile had been a white man driving with a licensed handgun in the glove compartment of his car, which is legal in Minnesota, and he told the officer about it to be up front like Castile did, he’d be alive today. It’s called unconscious bias. It’s one of the cultural aspects of structural racism that deeply affect policing in America.
2. There is no fair “justice” system for Black Americans. White Americans need to learn about this, be willing to see what’s really happening, recognize our own unconscious bias, and then speak out and support real police accountability reform.
It’s time for America to value all lives. Today, in the clear and egregious case of the execution-by-police killing of Philandro Castile, we are shown – again – in the clearest way possible – that Black lives are too often not valued. That’s why I say and will always say BLACK LIVES MATTER!