Growing up I never understood the importance, impact, and ability of the media to influence society. I have always been conscience of the stereotypes of Black people in media, but I did not realize that media was powerful enough to get myself or another Black person killed without reason or punishment. When Black people watch a film on television show we do not generalize and understand that this single representation does not equate to the collective population of Black Americans. The majority of white people I have encountered rarely step outside of their world of privilege to understand that this single story presented should not be generalized to the collective, yet white people often perceive me based upon media representation. Privilege clouds their ability to understand the sociocultural context continuously surrounding Black Americans in the United States. This is what novelist Chimamanda Adichie would describe as “the danger of a single story,” which can lead to “critical misunderstandings.” The single story mass media delivered about Black people for centuries endangers us on a quotidian basis.
The single story for the Black man is a hypersexualized, hypermasculine drug selling thug and criminal. The Black man is framed as a menace to society and the cause of many criminal issues in the United States. The single narrative of the Black man reinforces a social environment that normalizes Black men collectively as menaces to society. The perpetuation of this single story leads to the justification of racial profiling, increased sentencing with conviction and ultimately murder.
When I heard the news of Trayvon Martin’s death, I was flabbergasted and firmly believed George Zimmerman would be put to justice for murdering an unarmed child without valid reason. Hearing of Martin’s death, watching the media coverage of the case, and realizing that many believed Zimmerman was justified, was a mortifying and painful experience alone. When the not guilty verdict was released for Zimmerman, I actually lost my breath and my heart stopped. A cloud of melancholy shrouded over me and an unsettling sickness sailed aimlessly in my gut. Any remaining faith I had in the police or the entire judiciary system to stand from justice was defenestrated. The not guilty verdict set the precedent that Black American lives are not valuable and you can get away with murder as long as the blood is spewing from a Black body’s veins. Martin is not the first Black American male to be irrationally murder and the White murderers will be exonerated.
In America, Black life has no value or meaning. We are continuously deemed as unworthy of our humanity by society and in the justice system. White supremacy is to blame for this blatant and continued injustice, especially against Blacks, in the United States. If a white child was shot and killed by a black man, he would most likely be killed before the opportunity to have a fair trial. Black men are found guilty before entering the courtroom. Guilty of being a Black male living in an American society that does not recognize their value.
The police and justice system seek to protect the interest of Whites only. Walking around as a young, black male is like walking around with a target on your back. Whether you are actually guilty of a crime, you are perceived as guilty because of negative media representations of young black men.
The justice system has always supported violence and discrimination against Black Americans. Emmett Till was not the first Black life to be brutally taken at the hand of a racist White supremacist, but a reminder of the status of Black life in America during that period. Martin was the involuntary martyr of the modern day reminding all Black Americans that we still cannot expect to receive justice for violent crimes against us in 2014. How long will the United States continue to deny Black Americans, especially black males, their humanity? Moving forward with new case involving the murder of Jourdan Davis, I do not expect Michael Dunn to be brought to justice because the United States does not value Black life. How many more child martyrs will there be before there is justice?
Whenever Black Americans speak out against injustices like the Martin and Davis case we are deemed as “radical,” because the notion of viewing Blacks as equal to Whites for our white supremacist nation is deplorable. We like to think that people are ignorant and live unaware of the truth, but truth is that the oppression experience in the justice system by Black men is strategic and intentional. Michael Vick is a Black man who was sentenced to two years in prison for brutality against dogs by staging dogfights. However, Zimmerman followed a Black child, after the police instructed him to back down, murdered the child because he was Black and was found not guilty. I cannot help but to think that a dog’s life is more valuable to a White person in America than the life of a Black child. I do not believe Zimmerman or Dunn feel remorseful for their actions, but justified and heroic.
What people fail to understand is that Martin and Dunn’s case transcends them as an individuals. When we review the relationship of the United States and Black Americans, particularly Black men and the judiciary system, the history is abundant with injustices against Black Americans. Denying Black bodies their humanity is a historical paradigm followed by Zimmerman and Davis when they the murdered unarmed, unprotected Black children. For Black Americans, it is all about our historical context! The fight for our human and civil rights did not begin or end with senseless murder of Black children. The media provided a platform for the news of this injustice to spread, but it is also used as an intentional tool to perpetuate the criminalization and negative stereotypes of Black Americans. We are objectified and dehumanized to justify committing heinous acts like murder. The irony and reality is White man has used every form of brutal, inhumane violence against the black body to maintain their positions of power. Let America not forget, but always remember that it was exploited black labor that built this country and established it as the world superpower it is today.
Tony Adams discusses the power of stories and narrative ethics stating, “if stories teach us how to act, we must critically evaluate these stories to observe hidden and problematic politics.” Adams then recognizes narrative privilege and raises the question about who possesses narrative privilege declaring, “we must also consider who is able to tell a story and who has the ability to listen.” For Black Americans, we do not posses the opportunity to tell our stories, because privileged white supremacists in control the single story about Black men in mass media. Consequently, the truth about who we are as Black males is a narrative that remains shielded from society. Prominent male authors in the Black literature like James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison have written numerous works highlighting the Black man’s plight, but the privileged in mass media continued to perpetuate a constructed single story. The definition of voice according communication theorist Lana F. Rakow and Laura A. Wackwitz is the opportunity to be heard and respected. Obtaining a voice is not plausible because we as Black Americans have to first be allowed to live out our humanity! When opposition rises against these systems, which normalize the acceptance of killing young black men, Black Americans are framed in the single story to justify the heinous behavior. What is radical is that in the year 2014 I am not safe walking around as a young, black male in “the land of the free and the home of the brave!”
Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, and Jourdan Dunn were not the first nor will they be the last victims to heinous murder at the hands of white supremacist. I am thankful for media to broadcast injustice on a larger scale to make the Black community aware of the state we live in. I am tired of black men graduating from college being the exception! I am tired of reading stories about black men being murdered and there is no justice deliver to the murderer! I am tired of walking around worried about protecting myself from the police because I know I am their favorite target! I am tired of these continued injustices reaching havoc on Black Americans in this nation who should not have to earn the right to their humanity! And should someone decided that we as Black Americans need to earn our right in society, you can thank my ancestors for building this country! I am tired of this single story of Black American males affecting my health, well-being, and safety! Without African people being striped from the continent to start up and build this nation, it would be non-existent! We were stolen because we were expert engineers and cultivators of land! The time has come for Black Americans to have our humanity, for our voices to be heard from our own perspective, and for those narratives to be respected!
Adams, T. E. (2008). A Review of Narrative Ethics. Qualitative Inquiry, 14(2), 175–194.