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The Black Bullseye

    For centuries in this country, Black men have been predominantly targeted and harassed in this country on the basis of skin color and an overly sensitized prejudicial stigma of criminalization deeply rooted back to the times of slavery. Slave owners and locally organized “slave patrols” utilized violence as a means of justification to keep the slaves in fear of being unwarrantedly punished and inhumanely brutalized. Some 400 years later, the profiling of minorities has become a very sad reality that seems to have no ends in sight. It is easy to notice that the majority would rather sidestep factors heavily contributing to crime, such as poverty and the media, rather than effectively address it as finite and measurable results of systemic inequalities among Blacks and Whites. An understanding how they work to solidify a stereotypical sketch of Black men, regardless of socioeconomic status, as a thug, hoodlum, or any descriptor with intrinsically deconstructive values provides enrichment on how they bestow institutionalized leverage to racial profiling as a structural and profitable entity. Negative stereotypical biases of African-American males overshadow any appearances that they are law-abiding citizens. In the eyes of law enforcement, an African-American male driving a Mercedes-Benz projects the presumption of illegal activity (Weatherspoon, 2000).

    The ghetto is utilized as a primarily socioeconomic construct to shackle impoverished persons behind stigmatisms created by stereotypes perpetuates mass hysteria of the Black man. Merriam-Webster defines ghetto as “a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure”. Its actual origins derive from the name of the Jewish quarter in Venice, established in 1516, in which the Venetian authorities compelled the city’s Jews to live (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2014). Essentially, the ghetto itself was not originally contrived by the Nazis but implemented with vehemence to isolate Jewish and non-Jewish communities. A major component of today’s urban ghettos is poverty, in which roughly 25-27 percent of African-Americans reside: typically within sections of the city engulfed in impoverished conditions and a gravely underemployed tax base. Those subjected to these deplorable conditions are usually exposed to substandard living expectations, including chronic stressors (ongoing or long-term stressors keeping the autonomic nervous system in a hyperactive state without reasonable time to distress or deactivate the “flight or fight” response) contributing to physical and mental ailments. An additional yet major circumstance of poverty is higher probabilities for crime and Ludwig, Duncan, and Hirschfield (2000) further elucidates this point:

    Poverty can lead to high levels of stress that in turn may lead individuals to commit theft, robbery, or other violent acts.  Moreover…. poverty may lead to an actual or perceived inferior education, which would cause youth to count on less access to quality schools, jobs, and role models, decreasing the opportunity costs of crime and increasing the probability of youth spending time on the street associating with gangs, etc. (p. 1)

    According to the International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences (2008), “ghettos were historically developed to physically isolate a group with clearly identifiable physical features and cultural markers”. This means that certain populations of people, characterized by physical and ethnological traits, were isolated to live in a certain kind of condition to be distinguishable from another group based on socioeconomic status. A greater socioeconomic status can be interrelated with better access to resources meant to sustain life and economic viability. The distinguishing factor that generally constitutes a ghetto is the prevalence of poverty. Ghettos are also often distinguished from other racially or ethnically homogeneous communities because of the inability of many residents to relocate from ghettos (International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2008). It is easy to tie in racial profiling with impoverished conditions due to a well known fact that Black youth are much more likely to have encounters with the police in urban areas in comparison to suburban areas and the majority of those encounters are fueled by presumed White innocence and Black guilt, which stem back to a century where Blacks were slaughtered in large numbers under automatic presumed culpability and Whites were rarely, if ever, tried or convicted of crimes. When Reagan commenced his “War on Drugs” campaign, it gave legal precedence to this presumed guilt and Black men were disproportionately impacted by harsher policing and sentencing when compared to White counterparts arrested for the exact same crime during the 80s and 90s. Taken into context with a study conducted by Davies, et al. (2004) in regards on how police associate color with criminality, the results are interesting:

    When officers were given no information other than a face and when they were explicitly directed to make judgments of criminality, race played a significant role in how those judgments were made. Black faces looked more criminal to police officers; the more Black, the more criminal. These results provide additional evidence that police officers associate Blacks with the specific concept of crime. Moreover, these results shed light on the face recognition memory errors made by police officers in Study 4. In that study, police officers were more likely to falsely identify a Black face that was more stereotypically Black than the target when primed with crime than when not primed with crime. Thinking of crime may have led officers to falsely identify the more stereotypically Black face because more stereotypically Black faces are more strongly associated with the concept of crime than less stereotypically Black faces. (p. 889)

    The media regularly categorizes and displays Black men as a dehumanized, obstructive, and unlawful group of people. This pattern of stereotyping, while guised as solely entertainment or news debriefings, monetarily profits the dominant WASP hierarchical structure and does nothing for Blacks as an entity except provide justification and reinforcement for the correlation between color and criminality. It also serves as a platform to transmit and enforce an agenda of institutionalized racial bias. Wing (2004) elucidates how everyday news reports and broadcasts will transmit internal biases between how Whites and non-Whites are portrayed:

    News reports often headline claims from police or other officials that appear unsympathetic or dismissive of black victims. Other times, the headlines seem to suggest that black victims are to blame for their own deaths, engaging in what critics sometimes allege is a form of character assassination. When contrasted with media portrayal of white suspects and accused murderers, the differences are more striking. News outlets often choose to run headlines that exhibit an air of disbelief at an alleged white killer’s supposed actions. Sometimes, they appear to go out of their way to boost the suspect’s character, carrying quotes from relatives or acquaintances that often paint even alleged murderers in a positive light.

    Placing this into context, a study was conducted by the Heinz Endowments’ African American Men and Boys Task Force (2011) which concluded that “a disproportionate amount of Pittsburgh news coverage of African American men and boys focused on crime” (2011). Consider this: Pittsburgh is the 20th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and only 25.8% of its inhabitants are Black. Yet, the study states that 86% of the reviewed crime-related stories on their televised news broadcasts had Black men or young Black boys as the criminals. In addition to the imbalance of negative focus on Black males, there is an even more alarming notion that positive images are not shown enough to highlight the achievements and accomplishments of Blacks in general, but more specifically, Black males. Beyond the news coverage, entertainment only adds to the negative depictions recurrently viewed in American mainstream culture. Historical legacies of slavery and Jim Crow, the material and economic disparities related to that…. the role of the criminal justice system in controlling black males, the flow of resources toward and away from black males, and so on.. (The Opportunity Agenda, 2011), are factors weighing heavily into choices made by media corporations to over exaggerate and distort views of what it means to be a Black male in a very biased American society. Larry Davis, Dean of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, stated that “one of the most important things any group of people can do is to control the image of themselves” (University Times, 2014). Conversely, the vast majority of visual representations of Black males are not controlled nor owned by Blacks, as evidenced by a study done by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). According to the NAACP, “The Report on Ownership of Commercial Broadcast Stations…. found that African American owned 231 broadcast stations in 2011…. of the 9,610 stations owned by whites. African Americans own only one percent of full power commercial television stations” (2012). Hip-hop has permeated society from a globalized standpoint and taking the poverty aspect into focus, the typical Hip-hop artist will be perceived as a common thug from the looks to the language. What this does is strengthen a stereotypical notion that young Black men only attain wealth by perpetuating that they are better served as professional entertainers, athletes, or dope boys; yet rarely offering the hypocritical warning label that the dominant American culture loves the gangster image but condemns Black youth aspiring to emulate it. It goes without saying that although there is nothing wrong with the chosen few who are both gifted and fortunate enough to reach levels of fame and fortune via their talents, it is an atrocity to believe that Black youth are not adequately equipped to become engineers, doctors, lawyers, and successful businessmen that can change how Black men are perceived and welcomed as a whole. “Interestingly, racial profiling is not isolated to just black male youths in urban areas with a gangster or rapper appearance or demeanor. Racial profiling is applied in a non-discriminatory manner among African-American males, regardless of their economic status” (Weatherspoon, 2000). Thus, it is a financial benefit

    It is easy yet inconclusive to propose that stronger ownership of large media outlets or financial corporations will erase the structure of racial profiling by itself. It is not enough to think that Blacks alone are responsible for how we are viewed in American culture. History provides a direct rebuttal to those standpoints and suggests that if this country was built on unequal relations between Whites and non-Whites from the beginning then it can be said that the entire socioeconomic infrastructure of this country was never meant to benefit us. Our educational and economic standing were always dependent on how willing we are to assimilate our mind and money into a dominant ideological culture which tries to subject us to second class citizenship. In this day and age, it is impractical to only offer a speech of the importance of collectivity within Black communities, affluent and impoverished, without a basis or focus on how it can change lives and perceptive realities of those who know nothing about us. Black ownership must rise, yet support of anything detrimental to our survival must fall. This includes the images and ignorance embraced by our own culture and by everything outside of it. Self-sufficiency and mobilization is only a start because it gives way to another truth: our dependency on foreign interests and products largely uninterested in our goals of generational independency contribute to a stunting of growth towards our goals rather than a stimulation of it.

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    Cam McCoy

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