What does it mean to be Black in America? In this day and age, one would think for a myriad of reasons that any racial disparities in this country have greatly diminished. The most obvious evidence for this perhaps, is that a Black man is the face of our country. But this is false. The stereotypes that are associated with racial identity, especially African-American identity still exist in every institution. The struggles of blacks in media can be aligned with a larger issue – race relations in this country. The issue of race in America is reflective in the discrimination against minority journalists.
Frederick Douglass, a great orator of the 19th century, was a pioneer for African-Americans. The former slave was able to read and write, and he wrote his narrative after escaping to freedom. “I now come to that part of my life during which I planned, and finally succeeded in making my escape from slavery.
Throughout his narrative Douglass brings up concepts that are still relevant to today’s society. For instance, Douglass talks about the idea of the “veil.” In Douglass’s conception, the “veil” is the greatest signifier of oppression. He believes the veil separates Blacks and Whites and causes them to have fear and hate toward each other. In the Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B Du Bois talked about Douglass’s idea of the veil and explained how it is the wall between the two worlds of Black and White.
According to Du Bois, the veil may not last forever, but in his day it remained unclear how long it would separate Blacks from reaching their full potential in America. According to Douglass, the veil could only be lifted for those who are able to see beyond their place in society and thrive beyond their environment, despite where they were placed in society. Douglass also talked about the idea of perception and how your aesthetics shouldn’t dictate your placement. Lighter-skinned Blacks would be in the house helping their Master, and Darker-skinned Blacks would be in the fields. According to Douglass, slaves were all slaves at the end of the day, and the communal goal should be to change that situation as opposed whatever it might have meant to be as a darker- or lighter-skinned slave.
Douglass’s narrative in my Race and Religion class was life-changing. It helped me recognize the roots of inequality in the United States and helped me to process my thoughts on my place in society. When I walk into a classroom, an internship interview, or my job, I am a Black woman. When I was younger, I didn’t see color, but as I got older I was told of my place in society. My mother told me the strengths of being Black in America. She told me that I would be mentally and emotionally strong because of hardships I would face. Even though I was growing up in classrooms full of young, white children, I would stand out as a Black student and receive suspect attention. But there were also the negative aspects, such as being racially profiled or discriminated against because of the color of my skin or the texture of my hair. I felt it all.
This idea of being told of your place in society is part of the problem with minority acceptance in America. While I applaud my mother for making me aware of my surroundings, I wish she hadn’t had to do so. Stereotypes are perpetuated and remain a reference point for many in authoritative positions. I believe the racial problems that remain in the US result largely from the lack of education that children receive about Black history and to unhealthy images that are perpetuated by the media. This results is an anti-equality mindset that was established in America—and before that, in the colonies—centuries ago.
……believe the racial problems that remain in the US result largely from the lack of education that children receive about Black history and to unhealthy images that are perpetuated by the media. This results is an anti-equality mindset….
-Anastasia E. Williams
When 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a 28-year-old White Hispanic named George Zimmerman, the media immediately painted an image of Trayvon as a troubled youth causing problems rather than a young boy getting candy from his local convenience store. Websites like The Daily Caller and Stormfront produced edited images and tweets of Martin that made him seem like a future gang member or threat to society. After the shooting, many were confused and angered as to how Zimmerman was able to get away without an arrest or jail time.
In an article entitled “Fear of a Black President,” author Ta-Nehisi Coates noted that during the controversy that many White conservatives in political positions “said nothing or offered tepid support for an investigation.” On the other hand, when President Barack Obama finally spoke on the issue, saying, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin” and offering support to the Martin family, the situation took a dark turn. Coates described it as “national-mourning phase and lapsed into something darker and more familiar—radicalized political fodder.” Rush Limbaugh, a conservative radio talk show host accused Obama of “seizing a political opportunity.”
Racial injustice is common in America and as long as the root of the problem is ignored, it will continue to grow. Racial profiling is unfair to the millions of innocent people who find themselves facing dangerous situations because they happen to have similar skin color or similar facial features to those who have committed crimes. A prime example of this is the Michael Dunn trial. Don Lemon, host of the prime-time weekend edition of CNN Newsroom, said that he was “pissed off” that Dunn — who killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis when he shot at a group of teenagers in a car after an argument about loud music — was not convicted on murder charges. Fox News correspondents Gregg Jarrett and Megyn Kelly criticized Lemon’s remarks. Jarrett called Lemon “the Al Sharpton of CNN” and Kelly said, “The danger in doing that is, it could stoke the fires and lead other people to believe that they, too, should be outraged. And then, the situation can escalate.”
The real question is, how can Blacks successfully function in any social institution if they feel belittled, demeaned or intimidated by those in power? Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin, although deceased, will forever be powerful images in the Black community.
– Anastasia E. Williams
Kelly and Jarrett’s comments about Lemon were tasteless. Lemon got the final word, however, saying, “You see old white guys trying to claw their way back from obscurity by attacking other people who speak out against this particular case.” Fox News commentators are notorious for making outlandish comments and stirring up trouble among the Black community. Kelly and Jarrett, as public figures, should look into the Dunn case before making a claim that would potentially affect the mindset of many, particularly their viewers. Dunn shot an unarmed, Black teenager because “he felt threatened.” Davis was Black and unarmed, how could he be a threat? Kelly and Jarrett should focus on Dunn’s weak defense rather than berating others who object to it. They are trying to distract viewers from the real issue. Kelly was wrong—the situation should escalate until justice is served.
The real question is, how can Blacks successfully function in any social institution if they feel belittled, demeaned or intimidated by those in power? Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin, although deceased, will forever be powerful images in the Black community. They represent a society that told them that their life was not important. Some might argue that young Black men die every day at the hands of all types of people, so why should we care about race and who shot who? We care because their physical appearance aroused suspicion and anger in both Dunn and Zimmerman. They died, basically, because they existed. They received dangerous genetics—dark skin, brown eyes, coarse hair. They died because they are young, Black men in America. That is the problem.