Black history month is upon us. This is the month where we all pay homage to historical African American activists and suggest that the struggle African Americans have endured is because of the sacrifices that African Americans in the past made. This is acceptable and should be done more than once a month in our calendar year. However, my question is this: Where are the current positive images and representations of African American role models? We, as a society, seem to focus on the past, and do not recognize the dedication and pay homage to current African Americans who are involved in furthering human rights and equality. Black America is forging a new history, and the people involved in these social movements should receive similar recognition that previous African American heroes acquired. For instance, Black Lives Matters and other African American civil rights groups have taken the nation by surprise and did so without a central figure like a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Reverend Al Sharpton. In other words, ordinary African Americans stood up and took on the role of being positive influences in their community, while bringing attention to the egregious treatment African Americans still experience in the twenty-first century. Yes, we had Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James, and other American icons stand up and speak out about racial inequality, but their actions were only possible because of ordinary Black people who stood up and spoke out first. Credit needs to be given to those who have no name or face in the media. African Americans from multiple generations presented their grievances, again, without a central figure as their conduit to mainstream society. Why are we not focusing on and presenting their work to the nation? This is Black activism at its core, and there should be images of the people, as well as propaganda, that depicts the people who are striving to ensure a better social perception now and in the future for all African Americans in mainstream society.
The no-names and street marchers are the essence of this entire month and the movement for racial equality. However, the country seems to be not paying full attention to these social concerns because there is no celebrity figure making speeches in Washington or in local community forums. To hell with this! The basis of the movement for racial equality and justice is the ordinary African American public. And just because there are not some chosen few to stand up and speak out for the entire Black population does not mean that we should not give our full attention to these protestations or calls for better administrations of justice in the United States. Moreover, credibility should be given to the everyday African American activists because of their use of social media and other devices to distribute their messages. These devices have been used by some to disperse their biases towards African Americans in this country and they have been successful in distributing their message. However, this just makes the voices of the unknown Black activists that much stronger, smarter, and more active in the struggle for equality. In the end, communal efforts have more of an impact than singular acts or speeches by an individual. Therefore, when the media, dissenting citizens, and public figures lash out at group activism and suggest that these movements are anarchical or radical youths complaining about bogus ideologies, you can expect me and others who agree with me, to be applauding the ordinary African Americans who fight for racial equality and justice.
The federal government also should be challenged more when derogatory images about African American citizens participating in their First Amendment rights are broadcasted into our society. These negative images should be challenged by not only unknown African Americans, but also unknown Whites, unknown Hispanic/Latinos, unknown Asians, unknown Native Americans, and any other race or creed that exists because Black lives do matter. The current state of racial equality along with the the role of the government and the media should be examined. For example, the lack of positive African American role models in the media, the dilapidation of African American neighborhoods, the lack of support for removing symbols of hatred in the South, as well as for not addressing the disproportionate criminal justice system and how African Americans seem to be shoveled into it so that all forms of law enforcers can earn a living.
Elaborating further, mainstream media (television, radio, newspapers, and Internet materials) concentrates on poor representations of African Americans rather than celebrating their activism. At the same time, independent media companies that cater to African Americans – that would show African Americans in a positive light – have been on a steady decline for the past few years. Meanwhile, President Trump shamed the National Football League athletes for demonstrating their beliefs via kneeling during our national anthem throughout the regular season and then bragged about how there was no kneeling at the Super Bowl or other demonstrations in the post season due to his commentary on the issue. There were many media outlets that focused on the lack of patriotism by the professional athletes rather than presenting them as positive role models who peaceably addressed their government and, in turn, were showing Americans from all walks of life that African Americans are incorrect in their methods to present their social grievances. Moreover, the racial tensions in Charlottesville appeared to not be a priority for the President and, again, African Americans were exhibited as troublemakers rather than patriotic individuals standing up for their rights. For instance, the terms “radicals,” “extremists,” and “racists” all were used to describe the racial equality supporters and hinted at the idea that the social justice activists were the same as the White supremacists. So, rather than depicting African Americans who stand up for equality, the media routinely demonizes them for their understanding of the Bill of Rights. Even worse, there is not much coverage in mainstream media that entails an African American person who explains the ideations behind the protestations – the media mostly has White people discussing the issues with other White people
This lack of positive media coverage of African Americans creates a situation where most White Americans are unaware of what is happening within the African American community. The images that are shown are overwhelmingly negative and the underlying theme is the problems people within the community are bringing to light are their own fault without ever considering the root of the problem – systemic oppression and institutional racism. This works to further divide Americans and leaves White Americans unable to empathize with the plight of African Americans and their cries for change.
For instance, urban blight in African American communities has been a constant in the United States for many years, while federal figures show only a slight increase in wealth for African Americans over the last five decades. The numbers do not lie. For example, the poverty, high-school drop-out and college education rates, as well as healthcare coverage and socioeconomic mobility all have remained mostly stable for African Americans, but in a detrimental manner. When taken together, all of this contributes to the social disorganization and poor representations of African Americans in the United States (Akers, Sellers, Jennings, 2017; Kraska & Brent, 2011; Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011; Mays & Ruddell, 2008). More precisely, African American poverty rates have remained between 25% and 40% since 1967 to 2016. Although there have been some improvements economically, given inflation rates and the lack of growth in income for African Americans over the last five decades ($25,000 to $35,000) the improvements have had only a small impact on the African American community (Semega, Fontenot, & Kollar, 2017, pp. 25-27). African American high-school students also have the second highest high school dropout rates, while college education rates have remained between 10% and 16% for the last five decades (Walker, Spohn, & Delone, 2012; Musu-Gillette, de Bray, McFarland, Hussar, Sonnenberg, & Wilkinson-Flicker, 2017). Health care coverage for African Americans is astonishingly low with approximately seven million uninsured African American adults and more than half of African American children receiving Medicaid (Artiga, 2013; Musu-Gillete, de Bray, McFarland, Hussar, Sonnenberg, & Wilkinson-Flicker, 2017). Socioeconomic mobility for African Americans has always been difficult in the United States and half of African Americans who are born poor will remain poor until they are forty (Rodrigue & Reeves, 2015; Walker, Spohn, & Delone, 2012).
Turning to symbols of hatred in the South, White Americans were outraged by the removal of statues, flags, and titles on buildings that came down after African Americans exhibited their disgust over the symbols memorializing the Confederate Army. White Americans then reverted to our country’s history and freedom of speech clauses in the United States to support their claim that the symbols should remain because they represented history. Yet, the biased liberties and history about the cruel treatment towards African Americans were not given their full attention – distortion! As for the criminal justice system in the United States, African Americans are sentenced more harshly when compared to Whites and African American children have a one-in-three chance of going to prison in their lifetime, while one-in-nine have a parent who has been incarcerated (Alexander 2012; Petit & Western, 2004; Walker, 2011; Wester, 2006). The disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system also directly contributes to the above-mentioned social issues in African American communities (Alexander, 2012; Pettit & Western, 2004; Western, 2006). How often is this information presented to the country?
Black history month should be “Black people and other citizens who are fed up with racism and prejudices month” along with the recognition that Black lives matter. However, social harms are being furthered because the federal government, media, and dissidents toward racial equality will not show African Americans who do not have professional attire or access to political figures in a positive and realistic light. There is a tendency to scrutinize African American role models, civil rights protests, and cast a dark cloud over their dedication towards calling for equal access of the law and socialization processes in the United States. February includes images of iconic African American figures who have worked to progress our society for the better, but the reality of the full breadth of the imagery is not endorsed or presented to the public. Once more, the focus is on previous social justice activists and the criticism remains focused on the current equal rights movement. The lack of media coverage about the truth of discrimination towards African Americans and the negligence of the federal government continue to contribute to bigotry and the biased administration of justice in this country.
Benjamin J. Bolton
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