Updated: Sep 22
Author: Dr. RL Booker
Experiencing a Walk of a Black Man
One of my good friends, Brandon, who I talk to a few times per month lives outside of Birmingham in Hoover, Alabama. On July 4th he was out getting some exercise via a walk. A white man, that Brandon did not know reached his arm out of his window and flipped him off. He recalls that the man kept his middle finger up as he drove all the way down the street. As I envisioned this man’s finger out the window, all I could think of was this man exhibiting how deep his disdain was for not only Brandon, but any other Black person that he saw. This is the reality that Black people have not only had to live with, but also navigate for over 400 years. Brandon has two degrees and is working on a Ph.D., is a Director of an entire department in his profession, and attends a multiracial church where he has great friendships with people of all races. Nonetheless, Brandon stated that "none of that matters because my skin color, which I cannot control, determines how people view me."
It’s sad that in the year 2020, Brandon, myself, and many others have to keep our head on a swivel when outside running or just walking our children as we do not know who might try to do harm to us because of a feature that we did not ask for nor can we control…our skin color. This is an in-your-face form of racism that people of color experience. Many people in America have preconceived thoughts in their minds about Black men. Research has shown that "non-Black people perceive young Black men as larger and more capable of harm than young White men. Such perceptions may have disturbing consequences for how both civilians and law enforcement personnel perceive and behave toward Black individuals" (Wilson, Hugenberg, and Rule, 2017, p.77).
A Walk with Historical Imagery
“Everybody knows, no matter what...that they wouldn’t like to be a Black man in this country, they know that and they shut their mind against the rest of it, all the implications of being a Black father, or a Black woman, or a Black son...in the teeth of a structure which is built to deny that I can be a human being or that my child can be" (Baldwin & Hoffman, 2018, 0:27).
For centuries, Black people have been perceived as innately criminal, complacent, lazy, and more. To get at the root of these stereotypes we have to look at the long history of racial caricatures such as brute, mammy, sambo picaninny, and coon. These were not just words that people said, they actually had real-life or death implications for centuries. I can walk you through thousands of examples where these caricatures and many others have been, “transmitted through music titles and lyrics, folk sayings, literature, children's stories and games, postcards, restaurant names and menus, [movies and advertising], and thousands of artifacts” to create an inferior image of Black folk in the minds of Americans (Goings, 1994).
This does not only affect white people but it also influences people of color to believe that Black people are inferior. This did not happen by chance, this was an organized strategy that was created during slavery, heightened during Jim Crow, and still persists today. For example, after years of criticism and the current state of America, we see that companies are now changing products, like Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, and Land O’Lakes, that have for so long perpetuated the stereotypes of minoritized people. While overt racism is dangerous and absolutely life-threatening, implicit racism is much more long-lasting and devastating in the lives of not only people of color but also white people.
Walking to Understand
Many Americans believe that racism is an in-your-face act, like flipping someone the bird. While this can be true in some cases, most cases of racism today occur in policies, procedures, and laws. We have to stop seeing racism as only something that happens to demean someone. There are a whole lot of people, right now, saying that they are against racism. What they mean is they are against what they saw on the camera when George Floyd was murdered. As Dr. Rev. William Barber (2016) has stated “I do not know if you are against racism until you have to vote on a policy.” Dr. Barber also highlights that, “…Jim Crow [has] cleaned up his language, put on a suit, and [continues] to rule as James Crow, Esquire.” (p. 48). Dr. Todd Shields and Dr. Angie Maxwell (2019) confer with Rev. Barber in that, “although Jim Crow existed beyond the confines of the Mason-Dixon Line, in no other region was the superiority of whiteness so systematically codified into modern law. From Black codes to state constitutions, legalized white supremacy underscored the disenfranchisement, segregation, and oppression of African Americans in the South. The effort remains ongoing…
It is not a coincidence that some of my white colleagues consider me a friend based on our work relationship. However, some of these same people would quickly lock their doors if one of my cousins walked by their car. What is it that is going on in the minds of white folks that will accept assimilated me, but would not hesitate to keep a watchful eye on target me? James Baldwin believes that it is because, “In some way, the American vision of the world is all wrapped up with their vision of Black men, which has to do with their vision of themselves…one knew where one was, by knowing where the Negro was. You knew that you were not on the bottom because the Negro was there.”
All Americans, specifically the dominant culture (my white brothers and sisters) need to understand that Black men are not a threat to you or anyone else. History has clearly shown us who have been the true perpetrators of the overwhelming majority of violence and rape in this country dating back to 1619. My hope is that when it comes to violence White men will look in the mirror or better yet view violence as Coretta Scott King described,..."violence is starving a child, violence is denying a child education, violence is denying healthcare, violence is denying people wages and union rights, violence is undermining a culture, and having an apathetic attitude that refuses to address the aforementioned forms of violence is itself a form of violence." When you are ready to drop your fingers of blame and your faults focused on Black men and join together to fight this type of systemic violence, I am ready to join you. Then, the world can truly change.
To watch the full story about Brandon’s experience on Facebook, click this link: https://www.facebook.com/rickey.booker.9/posts/10105062442027597
References - APA Citing
Baldwin, J. (2019, April 02). James Baldwin on the black experience in America, IRL Server. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPaBXcEVpOE
Baldwin, J. & Hoffman, D. (2018, July 09). The magnificent James Baldwin explains the riots of 1968”. [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/dO2kwzJ_Zg4?t=27
Barber II, W.J. (2016). The third reconstruction: How a moral movement is overcoming the politics of division and fear. Beacon Press.
Breakfast Club Power 105.1 FM. (2020, June 04). Rev. William Barber on poor people's campaign, public mourning, changing policies for justice + more. [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/5Nlmp8xy3YY
Goings, K. W. (1994). Mammy and uncle mose: Black collectibles and American stereotyping. Indiana University Press.
Maxwell, A. & Shields, T. (2019). The long southern strategy: How chasing white voters in the south changed American politics. Oxford University Press.
Wilson, J.P., Hugenberg, K., & Rule, N.O. (2017). Racial bias in judgments of physical size and formidability: From size to threat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 113(1), 59-80.