U.K. Media Stereotypes Of Black Males

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[Column: London Calling]


Do young Black males in the UK feel like they are constantly being stereotyped in a demeaning way in print and broadcast media?

Often, Black males here say negative stereotyping creates prejudice and invites discrimination and even unwarranted criminalization by law enforcement against them.

I decide to explore this question amongst Black males from different areas in London in random interviews recently.

One young man offers an interesting take; that some Black males end up fulfilling the media’s stereotypical depictions.

“Of course, young Black males are being stereotyped because the media always say what we are not,” an 18 year old college student, Gerson, who provides only his first name, says. “If you keep saying someone is something; eventually they become it and believe it. For example, the media are always talking about us wearing hoodies so that’s only going to encourage us to keep wearing them.”

Gerson adds: “I would encourage the Black boys not to listen to what the media say about us because when you start to believe them, you’ll end up beating yourself up and it’s not worth it.”

Another student, 18 year old Chris, who studies sociology, agrees with Gerson and adds that so long as White males control major media, the stereotypes won’t diminish.

“If you pick up a random newspaper, the coverage of Blacks would mainly point to musicians, gangsters or sports stars, which obviously doesn’t reflect the majority of Black men in the UK,” Chris says. “The majority of Black people aren’t sports stars, aren’t rappers and are not involved in crime and I think that Black people who are successful are misrepresented by the media because they don’t get enough credit for it-you rarely see or hear about them.”

“I’m not really bothered by it because when you live in a society which is controlled by White middle-class males, you realize you’re as small as a fish in the sea,” he adds. “Black people are only a minority in this country, so why would the White editors dedicate their front pages to praise Black people?”

And the solution? “I think that if Black people were really bothered about being misrepresented by the media, then they should get involved with the media themselves or create their own media stuff,” Chris says. “We should set up our own TV channels, own radio stations and just educate ourselves.”

“Black people are only a small percentage of the population. So I don’t think that a large percentage of the media should be dedicated to focusing on Black people. But I generally think Black boys need to educate themselves. A lot of black boys think the only way to ‘make it’ is to turn to sports, music or drugs,” Chris insists.

Jamal, 19, who is also a college student, says of U.K. media: “They portray us in a malicious manner and make out as if we carry out crime for the sake of it. I strongly believe that 90 percent of crime is to be rich because the media and the rest of society hold us back in other areas.”

I’m not particularly feeling comfortable with Jamal’s rationalization of crime as salvation from poverty. What about the successful Black folk here in the U.K. in the media, sports, and music industry? What about Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby in the U.S., both of whom have never been linked to crime? What about Senator Barack Obama?

“I’m not saying be to be successful you must commit a crime,” Jamal now responds. “I’m saying that there are people who got lucky breaks and not everyone can get them. How many people strive to be them but the odds just aren’t good because you can count a lot of Black people older than Oprah and Obama and say they never committed any crime but never got the same results and they had doors opened for them somewhere along the line. Crime is just an alternative to what those people do, but people don’t see it as a first option but more of a last option.”


“Black boys should avoid being another statistic,” he concludes. “The truth is, Black people are ignorant because most of them don’t appreciate the true value of anything this country provides for them such as education.”

Music producer Sean, aged 22, says the problem is that “Black male” is automatically linked with crime in this country. “If someone is murdered on the streets, the first suspect is a Black man or a gang of Black men,” Sean says. “People always assume that a Black man wearing a hoodie is a criminal; it frustrates me because for all you know, my hood could be up because I’m cold and I left my winter coat at home or maybe I could be having a bad hair day, you see my point?”

He adds: “You just can’t judge a person because of a piece of clothing. I’ve been turned down at job interviews. I’ve been stopped by police because I’m driving a car with tinted windows. I’ve been interviewed near crime scenes by news reporters who want to know if the alleged suspect was a cousin or friend of mine. I’m sick and tired of how us, young Black men are constantly being put down by this society. White people need to change their perception of us young Black males.”
Ryan Daniels, 20, a graphic designer, believes at the end of the day, only Black males can turn things around by taking matters into their hands.

“I believe education starts at home. If you respect your parents and they teach you the correct way to live your life, then you’re off to a good start,” Daniels says. “It’s almost impossible to change the perception of White people. I say this because even if 80 percent of Black people were to make the effort to change, the remaining 20 percent will let the rest down. Hundreds of years ago Black people would have stuck together to make a difference but now it’s ‘every man for himself’ and all you can focus on is yourself and your family. There will never be another Martin Luther King to lead a group of Black people.”

“I feel that many Blacks give up because their efforts are not recognized and they are still being stereotyped,” Daniels concludes. “Instead of Black boys trying to act bad in order to gain what they think is respect, which is fearsome, they need to separate themselves from negative crowds and succeed individually if that’s what it takes. ”

Abdul Kamara, 16, also a college student, carries Daniels’ argument even further.

“Many Black boys like to play the race card when they see they aren’t getting anywhere,” Kamara says. “They like to blame the media instead of take responsibility for their actions because they think it’s gonna’ gain them empathy.”


Allimadi writes for The Black Star News from London




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