Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

“The Fear and Suspicion of Black Men in America.”

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The exoneration of George Zimmerman in killing Trayvon Martin comes as no surprise to many who understand how unpredictable the outcome of such cases can be. The verdict also comes as no surprise to those familiar with the history of white men acquitted of killing black men in “self-defense” in America. Others are still not surprised at the final verdict by the jury because of how this case was tardily convened and legally proffered. Some feel the verdict was just. Others feel the verdict was unjust. Whatever your views and feelings, an underlying theme of this trial is that African-American men in these United States are still often viewed with fear, suspicion and loathing that taints how they are profiled in public, and which all too painfully sometimes results in their wrongful incarcerations or deaths.

When the truth is told, while in public, many African-American males have probably experienced people tightly tucking their purses, quickly locking their car doors, or furiously stopping in their tracks to let them walk by when they come into view. These conditioned reflexes are ingrained in the brains of not only some white people, but also some black people and those of other racial and ethnic groups. Perhaps no other persons are more reviled and feared  than African-American men in this country and no other persons are as frequently and prominently represented as the poster boys of violence in the minds of the American public.

It is true that the reality of violence in some African-American communities, particularly the inner cities, which recently has reached epidemic proportions may help foster such views. The City of Chicago is a case in point. Some of these fears may be based on violent crimes in inner city black neighborhoods committed by young black men. Statistics show that most people experience violence at the hands of people in their own ethnic or racial groups, and the problem of violence is not just endemic to black communities. However, the quintessential perpetrators of violence in America are often touted to be male blacks even if statistics do not justify these claims. Some of these fears may be attributed to race prejudice or the fact that the nature and frequency of such crimes often garner greater sensationalism or publicity than their ethnic counterparts or perhaps for all of the above or other reasons. The unspoken rule is that black men are to be feared above all other men despite the incidences and morbidity of violence in other racial and ethnic communities.

Let’s face it friends, there still is a deep-seated fear of African-American men in general in this country and no matter how well you are groomed, how articulately-there’s that word again- you talk, how congenial and humble you are around some people, when you come into view, facial expressions of the fearful change from smiles to frowns, eyebrows raise, eyes roll, hands twitch and feet scurry because this menacing presence that they have so often seen, read and heard about in the media and popular culture, or experienced living in black communities, has finally invaded their life spaces.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have walked into retail establishments and have been met with eyes of fear from people in the room. This sad reality I have experienced on countless occasions. There are few things worse than spending a boatload of time preparing to glide into the public by shining your teeth and your skin, shining your hair and your shoes and shining even your crisp, chosen off the rack suit which loses its shine after some well-worn ritual wearing; and then once out there you are sometimes met with a scornful, contempt that de-glosses the shinola of your shine and almost arrogantly asks, “What the hell are you doing here?”

When the truth is told virtually every African-American father who has a son will admit to sitting that son down and firmly schooling him on how to politely behave and respond to the police if pulled over while driving which means cautioning him on what tone of voice to use and where to position his hands on the steering wheel and how to ask permission to move and breathe from the attending officer. It also means teaching him how to avoid conflict among his own peers by admonishing him with similar directives about prolonged eye staring, voice tone and hand positions in dealing with young black men like himself who are all too often the perpetrators of violence against each other. The culture of white against black violence in America has one long and sad history, but the countless black boys gunned down by other black boys is another which all speak to the urgent need to critically educate our sons (and daughters) about the harsh realities potentially facing them each day.

The truth is a deep seated suspicion is still harbored by some fearful, angry and bigoted whites and an abiding fear, indignation and suspicion also comes from black peers who are sometimes wary of being one-upped,  mistreated, disrespected, chumped out or girlishly “picked on or punked out.”

Every black family should be mindful of what could happen to their sons because of these sentiments that still overshadow and haunt many African-American males in America and stalk their presence and can easily end their lives in the bat of an eye at every turn on any given day.

What happened to Trayvon Martin  is every black family’s night mare! And if you are not a person who has had this experience and know what it means then you may not get my gist on this subject.

Contrary to naive thinking today, the subject of race still has at its core what to do and how to respond to African-American men.  No person seems more misunderstood and mishandled in this society from the educational to the criminal justice systems in America. Perhaps no other persons appear as devalued, miscalculated, wrongfully accused and considered guilty until proven innocent as male blacks in America. And until this reality changes and the physiology, sociology, psychology and neurology of such responses can be de-grained from our brains and neuro and social pathways and finally eradicated from those various processes of socialization and operant conditioning that influence our thinking, perceptions and responses, we will have more tragedies of this type. I state this fact not with deep-seated anger but with an abiding concern of a problem that seems to not go away.

Each time a Trayvon Martin type tragedy emerges in the public arena, we have these much-needed discussions on the social pathologies and politics of racially motivated violence and African-American men in America, but very little changes. As time goes on, we have these discussions in private until the next tragedy occurs and then we are back publicly discussing this problem all over again. When the aftermath of this tragedy dies down, we are back to business as usual.

Thus the time has come for us to face this reality and to have frank discussions about it and then move to change it in our country. This transformation begins each day in how we raise our children and what we teach them about race and ethnicity; what images we disseminate in the media and how we respond to people that we still to this day have not really come to personally know, understand and appreciate. It also begins in the various ways that we eliminate the unmitigated social, economic and familial causes of physical, psychological and structural violence in our society. It means addressing those processes of devaluation and dehumanization in society that cause people to see people as less than or “other” and view them as persons to be hated and feared.

“The recessed sickness of personal hatred can lead to surplus violence against the feared and hated.”

We must work to positively change these negative images of African-American men in order to eliminate the unwarranted fears and suspicions that paint all African-American men with the criminal broad brush which eventually wounds and hurts us all including the family of Trayvon Martin who is now living their own personal hell in the loss of their son and the family of George Zimmerman who is also experiencing their own kind of hell in the “loss” of their son despite the verdict of “not guilty.”


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