Negative Perceptions of Black Men 

Seeing Should Not Always Be Believing
by Dr. Frederick B. Covington | ViewPoints | Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"It is not enough to increase the number of positive portrayals of Black people; negative portrayals must also decrease and eventually be eliminated altogether." - from Race and Gender in the Media by Vanessa Hazell and Juanne Clarke

black male stereotypes

As a pediatric occupational therapist, one of my areas of expertise is visual perception. Many people confuse this with visual acuity or simply being able to see an object. I believe this type of confusion is what causes many problems in our society because what someone may "see" is one thing, however, what someone may "perceive" is totally another. For example, when you see a letter “B” you understand that it is the second letter of the alphabet and that it makes the “B” sound. You come to know this through your observations and exposure to the letter “B.” The mediums of exposure could be through educational television, teachers, books, and a number of other things. 

Now, let us take another similar scenario. One comes to know “Black males” through observation and exposure to “Black males.” Many times, the central exposure one has to “Black males” is through television and other forms of mass media. Often, this is where perceptions about Black men are built and established in the minds of people from other cultures/races as well as in the minds of African-American youth.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the mass media African American males are presented with a narrowed, stereotypical view of themselves. Whether it's the African American character with his pants hanging off his waist and underwear showing, to the super beyond belief athlete, or seeing a highly disproportionate number of African American faces on the show "Cops," they are bombarded with negative images. 

The key to thwarting negative perceptions is to intervene at a young age. These young men must be exposed to more positive, empowering images representative of themselves. We cannot rely on the media to give us a “Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable” (The Cosby Show) because the media is more likely to present us with “Love and Hip Hop.”  We have to guide our youth to that which is positive. No longer can we allow the media’s negative stereotypical images to define our youth. We all must stand as positive beacons in the media’s dark realms and empower our young men and boys to say that those images on television are “Just Not Me.” 

Dr. Frederick B. Covington is an occupational therapist, mentor and award winning inventor, lecturer, and author.

Photo credit: Getty Images 


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