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I remember this like it was yesterday. My family went on one of those shopping trips to Reading, PA to take advantage of all the discounted outlets. It was 1985, and I had to be about 14 or 15 years old. I was feeling grown, so a few of my cousins and I went off to do our own shopping. I had about $200 that I earned working during the summer. Within an hour I had a little less than $25 left—I really made the most out of the money I had and I figured I was done shopping. However as we were leaving I noticed a sign by the exit stating “All items under $20”. There were a pair of Polo sneakers that fell in this under $20 category. So I stared at the sign and the sneakers and began to calculate how much money I had left. Should I spend my last dime on these sneakers? Were they damaged? Did I really want them? All of these thoughts were going through my mind, and that’s when I sensed someone staring at me. I turned and saw it was a white woman who I figured was a supervisor or employee in the store. She then proceeded to say out loud to security positioned across the room—“Make sure all these sneakers have security alarms on them!!!”
Now, as a 14 year old boy I didn’t really pay attention to her motives until I got back on the bus and thought about it. I was in the store thinking whether or not I should make a purchase but from her perspective she saw me and assumed I was trying to figure out how to steal the sneakers. I was not dressed inappropriately, I wasn’t loud or menacing, I wasn’t posing a threat to anyone. I was just a regular teenager shopping in an outlet store. However, to her I was a black teenager in a store and that made the world of difference on her skewed perspective of the situation.
This experience has stayed with me for my whole life. My question is—what caused this biased view of me? If I were white or of a different race would she have reacted the same way. As I became an adult, I found out that the situation from years prior was not an isolated one. Time and time again I would experience similar reactions from people in various settings—the culprits were mostly white but other races as well were just as guilty (including black people). I walk down the street and people grab their bags or switch their bags from one side to the other. I walk into stores and security is alerted. Actually when I worked at a department store as a teenager they instructed us to make an announcement to security if 2 or 3 black males came in together.
I thought about it and realized that people spend a great amount of time watching television and surfing the internet. Most people get their information from either one of those sources—whether it is the news, reality TV, social media or some website. People utilize these outlets to educate themselves on many different matters. The images from most of these outlets overwhelmingly depict black people (especially males) as criminals, thieves, drug dealers, unintelligent, and unsuccessful. Thus, this is the image most people have of black men. This is the image people see when black men go into stores. This is the image people see when black men go for interviews. This is the image people see when black men walk down the street. This is the image police have of black men. This is the image the store employee had of me when I was contemplating buying those sneakers.
As I think about it, mostly all of the heroes in movies or TV I watched growing up were not people of color. Blacks were actually the villains, the bad guys, the enemy. No real super heroes, no black men saving the day, no black men being celebrated and praised. They were depicted as the total opposite. Some will say, “well we have a black president now, and things have changed recently”. That is true to a degree but the last 6-8 years cannot erase the previous years so quickly in our minds and our perceptions.
It can be stated that a lot of crimes are committed by blacks so these media outlets are just displaying the reality. However if the only interaction of black people you have comes from what you see on TV or discover on the internet, then your perception of blacks in general will be off. Image plays a tremendous role in life. If a black man goes for a job interview but the person interviewing him has a distorted perception of black men then his chances of getting that job are greatly diminished. If a black man starts a business and his potential clients have a distorted image of blacks then he will suffer because people won’t trust him to run an excellent business.
That is why I am so happy for the work we are doing at That Suits You. We first and foremost try to change the image that black men have of themselves—this is of utmost importance. Once a person has a positive image of themselves they are more prepared to handle the adversities of life. We give presentations and work to encourage men young and old to help each other to achieve greatness in life.
We work with programs all over NYC who train men to get back to work or to start their own businesses. Once they have completed their training we provide the icing on the cake by donating suits, shirts and ties to them to assist them with their outer image. The suits are only a reflection of how they feel on the inside. We know that not everyone may not see a man differently because he’s in a suit, but we know that wearing a suits greatly helps men in increasing their confidence, strengthening their inner image, and getting their lives back on track.
We may not be able to change everyone’s perception of black people but we can definitely help men have a better perception of themselves.
Who is todays black woman?
If I was to just answer this question simply based on what I see and hear on the internet and television that would not be to pretty. Those outlets do not do the black woman justice. I know I can hear people yelling, “Those are just shows”, “let them live”, or “we need all the roles we can get”. Trust me I understand all of that but I believe the impact that these images have are tremendously impacting young ladies and women of color all over in such a negative way.
Reality is imitating fantasy all the time. If Olivia Pope wears an outfit, the sales on that outfit goes up. If Mary Jane has a nice bag, the sale on the bag goes up. If someone has sex in the bathroom using a shower pole, the sale on that item goes off the charts. Life is definitely imitating art, good and bad. This is only part of it, when there are fights among black women on these shows, or cheating or any other negative behavior social media will have the same activity from ladies young and old. Now the stars on these shows are definitely benefitting and being paid handsomely for it, which some of them should, and why not since the companies are making tremendous money off of it. But at what cost? I asked a question on social media this week…Who is the most positive African American woman on television today? People were hard pressed to give me an answer. So many of the roles on TV are not roles that young girls should imitate. I hear you saying why not? Olivia is hugely successful, intelligent, savvy, well dressed, and beautiful. She is a leader, an entrepreneur, and very determined. Mary Jane is a business woman, gorgeous, stylish, fit, highly motivated and very successful. Cookie, although a little aggressive, is determined, resourceful, stylish, focused and intelligent. Aren’t these qualities that we want our daughters to have? I would have to agree with you there. However they all share a common problem, men. For some reason they all have men issues. As I do a lot of networking and meeting different woman a lot of them say they have the same issues as well. They are becoming more successful in business but not so successful in love. I believe that is a reason why these shows are so successful because people can relate to them so well.
Another big part of it is that men have done a big number on so many woman. They have called them all kinds of names (THOT, HOE, BITCH, etc.), treated them all kinds of ways. You even have videos now going around where so called men are fighting woman and posting it. Everyone knows black women outnumber black men, and men use that to their advantage. So if you have a young girl who does not have high self-esteem because her father, or parents didn’t fill her with confidence growing up. Now she begins to be called derogatory names and treated horribly by young boys and men, and she is watching negative images of black women on TV, she becomes a prime victim to men all over to be used and abused.
I think of my mother, who used to work, come home, cook, clean, make 3 kids do their homework and put us to bed, then get ready for the next day. My father didn’t get home to midnight from work so she had her work cut out for her. I never heard her complain or say this is too much. It might have been but she handled it like a trooper. My grandmother did it with 3 kids the same way, and my great-grandmother did it for 8 kids, just the same. Now women have never had it easy in society, especially not African American woman. But they always seemed to persevere and shine through with incredible strength and grace. Somehow and someway they made things happen, came through when it seemed impossible and all with a smile. This is what I think of when I think of Black women. Not what I see on television or the internet.
So who is todays black woman? I know she is definitely not a THOT, whore or a bitch. I believe she is a strong woman who loves her family. I believe she runs her business or employment highly effectively. I believe she dresses as a queen and keeps her home in order. I believe she is not defined but TV roles, or social media but has high self-esteem and allows God to define her. Whether in a relationship or not she is confident in her abilities and talents. Who is todays Black Woman? I believe she is a true Queen. So no matter what society says, dust of your crown and straighten it out on your head. Just read Proverbs 31, I married one.