From the beginning of American society, black people have been viewed as a liability rather than an asset. Even today, one can still see the lasting effects of prejudice and discrimination against the black race. If America is considered the melting pot of countries why is it that there is a problem of acceptance, most commonly with that of African Americans? Too often, black people are forced to pretend to be something they are not to make white people “comfortable” around them. Likewise, too often black people give in to the notion that they have to live by the stereotypes placed upon them in order to get along well in society.
It is because of the cycle of different stereotypes that it is harder for some black people to get along as well as some white people in contemporary society. It is apparent that in spite of social “progress”, black people continue to be a viewed as a problem to society because of judgment based on the stereotypes that have been placed upon them, rather than who they are as a people. Often times, black people struggle to merge into society as one of its socially acceptable members, because they are judged not based on the content of their character, but on the ignorant stereotypes that have been placed upon them by society.
For example, black men are often perceived as dangerous thugs, who can lash out in an act of violence at any given time. It is because of this particular stereotype that the essay “Just Walk on By,” was written by Brent Staples. In his essay, Staples gives examples of ways he alters his behavior when he is in public in order to make white people more comfortable around him. He says, “…. to be an excellent tension-reducing measure: I whistle melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi and the more classical composers” (Just Walk on By 212).
Staples asserts that doing these things will make white people more comfortable with him walking behind them in public. After all, it is unlikely for a potentially dangerous black man to know anything classical. Why is it that black men are assumed to be overly aggressive, and overtly threatening individuals? The account by Brent Staples further supports society’s continuation of the stigma that haunts Black men. As a collective, Black men themselves have mistaken this falsified identity as truth. The “gangsta” persona has unfortunately become a reality for many Black men in society.
Some of them spend their existence in society living in accordance with their negative stereotypes. The select few that have acquired this identity have created room for society (especially the Majority) to assume that the greater half of Black men is truly this way. Black men that are not this way end up falling victim to an identity that does not represent the veracity of who they are—the authenticity of their identity. Too often, black people become complacent in the stereotypes that society uses to define who they are as a people. When this occurs, black people live in fear of the stereotypical white person.
In some cases, black people become blinded by the idea that the “white man is out to get them,” and fail to realize that they are participating in the same judgment that is passed upon themselves. This is very much the case in Meta Carstarphen’s essay, “Black vs. Blue. ” The story highlights the stereotype that black people place on the character of all white people around them. The woman in the story thought that the police officer was only pulling her over because she was black. It was much to her surprise that the officer pulled her over because her brake lights were out.
As common as it is for blacks to be stereotyped, white people in this society face the same dilemma. Black people live in fear of the white stereotype. Is this the driving force behind why some black people choose to only define themselves by the stereotypes? Through “Black vs. Blue,” readers can see the fear that this stereotype strikes in the minds of black people. When she is pulled over, there are only negative thoughts that enter the mind of the main character. “I hadn’t violated any traffic law as far as I knew. That sure knowledge, however, did not give me confidence” (Revelations 203).
Though the essay focuses specifically on the relationship between cops and black citizens, it relays a principle that can be applied to other stereotypical situations. William Raspberry in his essay, “The Handicap of Definition”, presents the dilemma facing Africana people’s struggle to break from a stereotypical definition of their race. Black people, as a whole, are partly to blame for succumbing to such a narrow definition. Believing and living the definition is crippling Blacks from reforming the definition imposed on them by contemporary society. The word “black” automatically holds a negative connotation.
In his essay, Raspberry gives several examples of this connotation. “Tell a white broadcaster he talks “black” and he will go sign up for diction lessons” (Handicap of Definition 315). There are not many white people who want to hold the title of “being black” or “sounding black,” because it reduces their worth to their white peers. The issue with overturning the negative impositions and labels of the Black race must start with the integrity of Black people to decide that the definition is not who they are. Instead the definition is only a definitive proponent of the race. In all actuality, a race cannot be “defined”.
An identity of a group can only be described based upon the works and doings of that group. When Africana people place figures of the “definition” as the forerunners of the race, society has no choice but to integrate what is being presented as having some validity—in that, a stereotype is born. How can a stereotype and negative definition be combated if nothing is being done to downplay the negativity within the race? Society is, of course, to blame for this negativity, for the initial assumption that the Black race is everything negative. The contorted view is preventing the possibility of social progress to come to fruition.
So why hasn’t America adopted the concept of the melting pot and made it a reality? Is it an issue of the human races own flaws with being judgmental in nature? Why is it that after years of bigotry and degradation, Blacks are still perceived as a race plagued with negativity? Maybe it is safe to say that Blacks have not done enough overturn the definition of the external world. It is time for Blacks to rise up from the depths of despair and have the collective determination to do everything necessary to ensure that who they are as a people validates the goldenness of their race. There will probably never be a time in which America society views Africana people as having the goldenness they truly possess. They must save their own Asses.
Carstarphen, Meta. “”Black vs. Blue”” Revelations: An Anthology of Expository Essays by and about Blacks. 5th ed. N. p. : n. p. , n. d. 203-05. Print. Raspberry, William. “”The Handicap of Definition”” Howard University Student Handbook for Writers. 2nd ed. N. p. : n. p. , 2010. 314. Print. Staples, Brent. “”Just Walk on By”” Howard University Student Handbook for Writers. 2nd ed. N. p. : n. p. , 2012. N. pag. Print.