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Stereotypes of the Young African American Male

As a poet, therapist, and observer of human behavior, Janis has a keen awareness of what makes people tick and behave the way they do.

Stereotypes of the African American Male Define an Entire Group

A black male wearing a hoodie conjures up a myriad of stereotypes about who he is and how he is perceived through the eyes of others.

A black male wearing a hoodie conjures up a myriad of stereotypes about who he is and how he is perceived through the eyes of others.

A New Sense of Awareness in 2020

I wrote this poem many years ago but hadn't published it until 2016, inspired by the death of Trayvon Martin. The message of the poem remains the same today, as it always has, for black men and for people of color: "Don't judge me based on your perceptions and stereotypes." But never in my wildest imaginings would I have seen the intensity this topic would take on in the year 2020.

I am still shaken and haunted by the image of Mr. George Floyd begging and crying for his life before taking his last breath, while in the custody of Minneapolis police. Mr. Floyd's murder has brought our country to such a poignant pause in history that the entire world looks on and shares our anger, sadness, and demand for justice.

But beyond police brutality against people of color, the incident has caused us to look at the impact systemic racism, bigotry, bias, and stereotyping has had on how we treat and relate to each other. It has caused people to engage in honest and sometimes uncomfortable self-examination. This was the purpose of this poem article and poll questions when it was first published. I invite you now to re-examine yourselves using the polls as introspective exercises in the era of George Floyd as he has come to represent generations of injustices that have plagued African American people for hundreds of years.

I challenge you, especially those who have not considered themselves privileged by their race or position in life, to take a closer look at how you may have seen black men through a lens that may have been tainted or at the least influenced by your own biases.

Stereotypes Affect How We See Others and Ourselves


"Black Man Feeling Under Siege"


I look at you not because I want to harm you

I wish I could be where you are in life


I stare at your purse not because I want to steal it

I wish I could afford to give one as a gift to my lady


I drag my feet when I walk, not because I'm lazy or shiftless

My feet are tired from looking for better employment


My face appears hard not because I'm a criminal

I'm angry because I just got laid off from my job


I dress the way I do not because I lack self-respect

It's the best I can do and all I can afford right now


I would love to save a little money

But there isn't much left after expenses


So when you see me through your cloudy lenses

Stop and adjust for the perceptions in your head


What you think you see may not be the real me at all

So let up and relax your critical nature


Reach out to me non-judgmentally

Greet me with a hello, smile before you scowl


Do not fear, but pray for me and for you

That all your stereotypes of me will be extracted from your mind


And that those stereotypes we see acted out by a few

Will no longer define your perceptions of me, and me of myself


JLE

Young Black Males are Perceived in Mostly Negative Ways

Depending on who defines the black male, the same traits and behaviors are perceived differently from one individual's lense to the next.

Depending on who defines the black male, the same traits and behaviors are perceived differently from one individual's lense to the next.

I have a dream that my four little girls will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bigotry Underlies and Influences Our Perceptions

Young Black Boys are Impacted by Stereotypes and Labels

The self-perception of a young black boy becomes tarnished when he internalizes the negative stereotypes ascribed to and placed upon him by others.

The self-perception of a young black boy becomes tarnished when he internalizes the negative stereotypes ascribed to and placed upon him by others.

Our Stereotypes Affect The Way We See Others

Questions & Answers

Question: Why do you think African American men are discriminated against and cannot get a job to support their families when they try so hard?

Answer: Several factors play a role and would require a dissertation about lack of access to education and training, legal issues, and the devastating impact of the "school-to-prison pipeline." But the factor I'm emphasizing is the negative assumption about the type of person the African American male is, which assumes the type of employee he will be. These assumptions come mainly from what employers experience personally and/or see in the media about African American men. These assumptions are applied across the board to define a segment of the population, therefore, feeding into the potential for these young men to be discriminated against. Thank you for reading.

© 2016 Janis Leslie Evans

Comments

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on February 21, 2020:

Thank you very much!

Anya Ali from Rabwah, Pakistan on February 21, 2020:

Good poem - eye-opening!

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on April 19, 2019:

Absolutely, Alexis. That is the message. Thank you so much for stopping by.

Alexis Kenyatta on April 18, 2019:

I love this article and I agree because so many African American men are not taken seriously when they should be because they have feelings too and want a good life.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 05, 2018:

I'm touched by how it affected you. Thank you so much for reading and leaving such a moving comment. I appreciate it.

Kshipra Pal on October 05, 2018:

Janis, your poem invoked so many feeling in me of helplessness, anger and hope! It was difficult to read but I am really amazed by the way you wrote it. Absolutely amazing and beautiful!

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on June 02, 2018:

I love your poetic response to this poem, Dana. Well said, very simply, with compassion. Thank you very much for stopping by.

Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on June 02, 2018:

Jan, I love this strong piece of poetry. I wish that we all could stop judging people from the stereotypes that were passed down through generations after generations.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if at some point we could stop the silliness and give each person coming into this world their God, given right.

To be free...

To be happy...

To be equal...

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on May 17, 2018:

Much love back to you Jai. I'm so pleased you liked this poem. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment.

Jai Hitachiin on May 16, 2018:

ohh this is priceless ... I really love this poem..

"What you think you see may not be the real me at all

So let up and relax your critical nature"... I can totally relate to this one . Much love Ms. Janis

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on May 11, 2018:

Thank you, hari. Glad you liked the poem. I appreciate your comments.

Hari Prasad S from Bangalore on May 11, 2018:

Janis,

great poem and sensibilities towards this community. Socio economic problem dont go away so easily and such stereotying is also caused due to media reports in tv and newspapers.

- hari

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 07, 2018:

Wonderful, so glad it resonated with you. Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. Peace.

Abdul Hood from 90037 on March 07, 2018:

I see me in this article. " I don't want to provoke you," is my response to police brutality and racial profiling. And I said " WE gotta get it together to what we allow to enter our minds cause it alway's finds it's way to the surface " speaking to humanity from a human perspective. I know our prejudices toward others are stemming from things in our own character. I enjoyed this article. I see me....thank you for sharing this poem.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on December 07, 2017:

Beautiful comment, Patricia. I can feel you get it, in your heart. Peace and angels back to you.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on December 06, 2017:

Sadly the perception of others not just young black males is one made by what we see with our eyes and not with our hearts. I grew up in a Lily white town but was taught from the time I was old enough to understand that we are all so very special.

How to stem the tide...how to make these negative views of not just young black males but all others who do not share our heritage (be we white black or another race or ethinic background, you know)...it is about getting to know and understand...that sounds to simple...but unless I can walk a mile in your shoes and you in mine we do not really get it... well done...keep on being the voice of those who feel they do not have one. Angels are on the way this morning ps

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on November 20, 2016:

Wonderful! Thanks for stopping by and liking the poem.

Akwasi Maru on November 20, 2016:

Great poem, I'm a poet myself. You gave me a great idea for a hub. Thanks!

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 22, 2016:

RTalloni, thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on this poem hub. Your observations are very thoughtful. I love how you broke down the many layers of this issue including sharing your own experience of being stereotyped. Your visit is very much appreciated, so glad you liked the poem.

RTalloni on October 22, 2016:

First, your poem is wonderful. The heart-rending situations too many young men are in is what we need to focus on. I believe that many young black men feel just like you write about in the poem, and I believe that government policies have contributed to the conditions they find themselves in at no fault of their own. I am thankful to help with a group that is teaching some very poor kids how they don't have to live out the stereotypes on any level.

I tried to respond to the polls but felt the wording was troubling. Honestly, clothing does have an effect on my perceptions of young black males. The problem is the unfairness of the wording, or maybe it is that the wording's context is biased. Clothing affects my perception of everyone most of the time, and the same is true of most people. Learning to dress appropriately is part of growing up. Businesses require employees to wear uniforms partly because they want their presentation to the public to be sharp. Schools know that when kids are in uniform behaviors are better. We wouldn't wear jeans to formal church wedding.

The second poll I simply did not answer, but if I had to I would choose the one on news media influence. Still, the news media does not often fairly report the facts on any of the violence and everyone is aware of that. Some use that kind of reporting for their own purposes, some dismiss the reports, and others are left wondering. It is a no win for all.

It's good to have discussions about the effects of stereotyping, but I have been victimized by stereotyping, too. The first time I remember it was at a time I did not recognize it. I was in the 9th grade and a new choir teacher came in the middle of the year. Though he looked older to me at the time, he was a young black man.

I thought it was great and that we might really enjoy the rest of the year. As it turns out he accused me of not liking him because of his color. I didn't know it at the time, nor was I old enough to understand his attitude toward me. I was much older when I understood what had happened and am still puzzled by it. Why he made an assumption about me that couldn't have been farther from the truth is a question that was the beginning of my understanding of stereotyping. I have been the victim of this at various times throughout my life.

It would be ridiculous to think that you owe me an apology for the behavior of these other people. You don't. You aren't responsible for them. Maybe they aren't responsible. Perhaps someone taught them to behave that way.

Telling young black males what "white people" are like, what "white people" think, what "white people" want is as wrong as the reverse. All young boys should be raised to respect themselves and others by respecting high character and ethical behavior. We live in a fallen world. People hurt each other. Bad things happen. But each one of us has to learn to rise above it all or else bigotry and hatred will grow in the hearts and minds of both black and white people.

I just want to add the fact that in my large circle of friends and acquaintances, young black men are not perceived in mostly negative ways. As a matter of fact, we have great compassion for many of their circumstances and a working desire to help as many as possible not only rise above their situations but to go on to become strong examples in their families and communities. We spend resources and time and energy on many levels to reach out to them. Maybe we don't do it perfectly, or to the satisfaction of some, but we do not view young black men in mostly negative ways. We know that we all, each one of us, are exactly what God says we are and that we have a responsibility to do what we can to help each other.

Finally, thank you for opening up an honest discussion on the concerning issues surrounding stereotyping. It should continue to be insightful to everyone.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on September 26, 2016:

Hi toptengamer. I appreciate you sharing your experience, particularly the honesty with which you express it. You are very much in touch with the truth: we view people based on our encounters with them or teachings about them and it informs our perceptions, justified or not. Thank you for validating that truth. I very much value your visit and comment.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on September 26, 2016:

Thanks for reading, Audrey.

AudreyHowitt on September 22, 2016:

Amen Jan! Amen!

Brandon Hart from The Game on September 22, 2016:

I appreciated the poem and don't like the stereotype of African American young men. That being said I admit that I do it at some level based upon how they approach me and where they are from.

Growing up in Indiana I lived in an area where kids (mostly African Americans) were bused in from the inner city of downtown Indianapolis at my high school. Many of these kids lived troubled lives. The white kids bused in from there had many issues as well. The area they came from was gang-ridden and unsafe.

Still, I had relatively few good experiences from those kids. In school they were the center of a lot of fights, a lot of sleeping in class, and a lot of segregation. I did have African American friends that lived locally that didn't seem to cause any issues.

Having lived in Brazil a while I had many African American friends from there as well. However, the population was diverse enough there that the stereotyping simply didn't exist. It couldn't.

So where am I going with all this? I guess I just don't know how to act at this point. Some of the stereotyping I did of the inner city children seemed justified at the time and kept me away from any trouble. I imagine if I went to downtown Indianapolis to certain neighborhoods I'd still have the same feelings.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on July 30, 2016:

Well said, Dorothy. Thank you for sharing your opinions. I appreciate your visit and comment. Ugly judgment is a terrible thing. It prevents us from having unconditional love and acceptance of each other, regardless of appearances.

Dorothy Pritchett, DC on July 30, 2016:

Hi, Janis. I find it very sad that people judge others (mostly, black young men) by what they perceive. Who really knows anyone by the person's appearance alone? No one, and most people of non-African descent judge black men by negative media standards, not on the facts that are evident. Most black male, if given the same opportunities other racial groups who are either born in or enter America are given, would excel just as those non-black privileged males are excelling. And as far as appearances are concerned, President Barack Obama is an excellent example of what an intelligent black male should and can be, yet ignorant racists try to denigrate this fine man,while ignoring the ugly deeds the men in their own race are doing to people in the community. Ignorant people do not need an excuse to be evil, unjust and ugly in their behavior; for this reason, black men who possess decency, character, and intelligence should just ignore the sleazy people who attack and judge them solely on the way they look.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on June 20, 2016:

Hi Ron, great analysis of the polls. I do plan to tally them at some point and add that to the article or write another one. I do believe in most cases that prejudice is taught. But you are correct; it can be fed by how we represent ourselves. However, the most interesting contradiction of this is the studies that have shown over and over that the negative perception of the black male still exists even if he's hailing a cab in a suit and tie, carrying a briefcase. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Ron, glad you found the poem thought-provoking.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on June 19, 2016:

A thought-provoking article, Jan. I was interested in the responses to your two polls. They indicate that the factors influencing people's perceptions of young African American males have less to do with in-bred prejudices than with behavioral choices that mark young black men as "other" and potentially dangerous. (I realize there is probably a lot of prejudice that is not admitted in the poll results). What that tells me is that the African American community has the power to influence many of those perceptions by the way we represent ourselves to the wider population. As I said, thought-provoking.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on June 08, 2016:

Hi Jennifer. Thank you so much for your very detailed, candid, and substantive comment. I appreciate hearing your views and your personal experience. I totally get your point regarding the polls. However, it wasn't my intention to assume that prejudice exists inherently for every reader, as serious deficits in character may exist in a chronic wife beater. My point was to make us look at ourselves within the context of how we view black males and see that we all, no matter who we are, have some level of stereotypes that have influenced how we see each other, by what we've been exposed to. I truly believe God and unconditional love exist at our core but can be unfortunately tarnished by what we are taught or by negative experience or influence.

It is so true that we end up walking on egg shells because of the barriers placed between us as humans. This certainly renders us afraid to be "cast as the bad guy," hindering us from having regular conversations. Again, I'm grateful for your input and response to this hub. I'm glad you liked the poem, loved the critique. Thanks for stopping by.

Jennifer Mugrage from Columbus, Ohio on June 07, 2016:

Hello Jan, thank you for this poem. It is so soft, tender, and human. No matter who we are, it is hard to put ourselves in someone else's shoes.

I did not vote in either of your polls, because both polls seem to assume the person voting is already prejudiced against young black men and you are just asking *in what way.* There is no way to vote without appearing racist. That is like the question, "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?"

Of course, my impressions of every person I meet are influenced by the sum total of their appearance, dress, mannerisms, etc. This is the only way we can encounter strangers and estimate their intent. I would have to say that for me, it is speech and facial expression that are the most potent.

My main experience with young black men was in my high school, which was a public prep school. The young black men I knew there tended to be very scholarly, hard-working, and driven. Often, I have found that black men compared with white men are more articulate, polite, better-dressed, and often more obviously devout if they are Christians.

So, that's my observations from personal experience. From entertainment and media, I have received the impression that I am considered racist until proven otherwise. So, when I encounter young black men at the library, or other parents at the playground who happen to be black, I feel shy. I give a friendly smile, but I'm cautious to strike up a conversation lest some random comment of mine be taken as "proof" that I'm racist.

We are all afraid of being cast as the bad guy.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on June 06, 2016:

MsDora, you are welcome. That was the purpose of the poem, to give a segment of black males who are trying really hard to do the right thing, a voice. Thank you so much for your visit and comment.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 06, 2016:

Jan, thanks on behalf of many black males to whom your poem gives a positive voice. Good knows how hard some of them try!

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on June 05, 2016:

Hi Clive, good to see you. Yes, you've touched on many factors that sum up a complicated issues with many layers, the most important of which, as you've eloquently stated, is the layer that begins from within. Thank you for your visit and insightful comments.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on June 05, 2016:

Hi Faith, always good to see you. No need to feel the need to explain your position, I understand you very well. I do appreciate you taking the time to be so real and expressive about your feelings that this hub topic triggered. The one thing that resonates you shared is the disregard for human life. It is disheartening, sad, and rampant in our communities. Thanks for your comments and visit.

Clive Williams from Jamaica on June 05, 2016:

The young black men of today destruction is caused by the media, racist white people and of course, BLACK PEOPLE! Not because you are poor that means you should act or dress a certain way. Not because you are poor means you should not be a good father to your child. It is really difficult for a young black man to grow up in a nation conquered by Europeans and live within European rules and confinements. But guess what, there must be a rising, a rising of understanding and extreme knowledge. A rising where all black people will unite mentally, and physically to let the true power given unto them by the king of Israel shine. No longer will they be hypnotized subliminally but have a unified consciousness which will see them sit among the kings in heaven. But all that has to begin from within yourself.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on June 04, 2016:

Hi Jan,

I do not judge young black males and do not judge anyone really, or at least I try not to. Although I live in the Deep South, my parents did not have one racist bone in their bodies, and I am so happy about that fact! However, as Word55 mentioned above, the extremely high rate of black-on-black crime in the city in which I work and where we used to live, is insane, and does give one pause as to why they are killing off their own race. It seems they have no regard whatsoever for the human life, and even kill over a pair of shoes or even a quarter in a gambling game? It makes no sense to me. I know I have not walked in their shoes, but I still will never understand it. All of that needs to change before anyone understands the "Black Lives Matter" because it seems that black lives do not matter to black lives? Of course, black lives matter, but so do all other lives. I know I am not explaining myself well here, but I hope you understand my sincere concerns on this topic.

My husband and dad were both in the military and so we have had and still do, many black friends, who are amazing people, of course.

Again, I do not judge, but just confused as to some of their actions against each other. Seems to be a blatant disregard for human life.

Your poem does speak a lot to today's reality though. We are all responsible for our own actions and should never blame others for what we have control over.

I am sorry to be so forthcoming, but it is an issue that concerns me greatly and I am at a loss to understand it all. I, too, just as savvydating has, had a not too pleasant experience with young black males, nothing criminal, just not pleasant.

Peace and blessings

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on June 04, 2016:

Hi Eric, so so true. Presentation affects perception, no matter who you are. Thank you for taking the time to visit, read, and comment.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on June 04, 2016:

Absolutely, word55. Lacking knowledge of one's spiritual power and how some treat each other is a huge part of the issue. Thank you so much for your comment and visit.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on June 04, 2016:

Hi Jodah, I'm glad you liked the poem and the message. It means a lot from you. I pray and hope for the same, too. I appreciate your Australian perspective. Thanks for stopping by.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on June 04, 2016:

Hi there, savvydating, good to see you. I appreciate your candid comment, thanks for liking the poem. I thought it was pretty relevant, too. I understand what you're saying about marginalization as most ethnic groups have experienced it. I'm so grateful for your comment.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 04, 2016:

Well done and gave me much to think about. Through experience I can notice a gang banger. Through experience I can expect someone with their pants down past there butt as someone with an attitude. Through my experience I can stereotype a well dressed upright standing man as having pride in themselves.

The color of their skin has nothing to do with it. Great folk and bad folk come in all races, gender and upbringings.

Al Wordlaw from Chicago on June 04, 2016:

Hi Jan, nice poem. For black young brothers to avoid the stereotyping stigma put on them they need to adhere to the spiritual advantage of existing with faith in God and being unique. They need to remove the negativity that they display in exchange for more positive influences in society. There is too much black on black crime showing too much hate toward one another as well. Thank you Jan for sharing.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on June 03, 2016:

A wonderful poem with a very important message, Jan. I pray that Martin Luther King's words come true someday soon. It is the same in my country with how our black Aboriginals are perceived.

I have had no bad experiences with young African-American males so have no reason to judge them negatively.

Yves on June 03, 2016:

I have steroytyped black males my age due to an exceptionally bad experience. However, I do not "judge" young black males.....for whatever reason. I think that some minorities are rising above the victim mentality. I see it in their eyes when I look at them. Forgive me for being so blunt, but my ancestors were marginalized too. We know what it means to learn how to stand tall despite prejudice.

I like your poem. It brings important matters to mind, and it is relevant.