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 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
Young Black Males are Perceived in Mostly Negative Ways
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
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