Many forces contribute to how black men and boys are viewed in this country. There have been countless examples throughout history that attack the essence of our true identity. The coon caricature played by Black Sambo is one that has repeatedly shown its head in storybooks, radio shows and media outlets dating back to the 1800s. The name itself is an abbreviation for raccoon. As with Black Sambo, the coon caricature was dehumanizing and often portrayed as a lazy, easily frightened and chronically idle. Blackface minstrel shows during the 19th century stereotypically similarly described black people; lazy, uncivilized and ignorant. Fast forward to current day, and these stereotypes are still present in American culture, just more subtle. Take for example the 2008 Vogue "Lebron Kong" cover where Lebron was represented as a wild, angry gorilla with a beautiful white woman in arm.
Just a few months ago, in October 2018, NBC Host Megan Kelly was fired for making remarks stating that it was ok for white children to dress up in blackface. These remarks are a direct example of how insensitive American media still is in regard to our country's dark past.
I remember feeling disgusted as I listened to the grand jury's testimony of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, summer of 2014. During Darren's statement, he vilified the black teenager saying he looked like a demon, equating his strength to Hulk Hogan. This incident hit really close to home. I grew up in Kansas City, a 4-hour car ride away from Ferguson, and the only thing I could think of; Mike Brown could have been one of my nephews. This was the catalyst and the reason we started Stature. Far too often media coverage when involving black men is consistent in relegating us to physical and entertainment value, coonery, or images of black males slain in cold blood at the hands of our justice system.
The importance of changing the narrative is much more important than shifting America's opinions of black males. It's a matter of life and death. If a white officer's worldview of black men is limited to the images and personas presented in media, they will shoot every time! If white executives are not aware of racial bias and systematic racism, we will get turned away from opportunities that we are well qualified for. Misrepresentation isn't the only issue that we have to address. It's also vital that we, the stakeholders; creators and curators of black culture consciously fill the gap of underrepresented images and stories of successful black men. If young black boys only see exaggerated negative associations of criminality and poverty, then the expectations of self are reduced significantly.
Indiana University surveyed 400 boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 12, 59% in which was black, on the effects of TV on self-esteem. According to their study, they concluded that watching TV lowered the self-esteem of the black children surveyed, while the while males stayed the same. The researcher stated white male characters hold positions of power in prestigious occupations, have a lot of education and beautiful wives, while black males were often criminalized on TV.
Stature's commitment to changing the narrative means taking control of our story. We are making a strong push to provide content that will remind black men of their greatness. From the block to the boardroom we will tell our story from real and relevant points of view. Knowing the impact that media has on black males can mean life or death, our mission is to push life every time.