King Kong Ain’t Got Nothing on Me: Study Proves the Myth of the ‘Big Angry Black Man’ Prevails
I’m quick to say that some stereotypes are true and when it comes to my partner the big, angry black man stereotype just may apply. I can’t say I exactly blame him for the frustration his broad shouldered, light-skinned behind faces the world with each day. He’s had experiences in the past where he’s walked into work leading an all-black crew while being employed by the city and been greeted by a noose in a department that employs mostly white men. He’s witnessed friends die from gun violence while growing up in a rough section of Southwest Philly. He’s lived next door to crack houses and seen fiends fighting and overdosing on the porch next door. But despite all that he’s grown up to be a professional, a father, a husband and a son that makes himself readily available to the needs of his family and friends. Still in a world that thinks black boys like Tamir Rice are the world’s biggest threat, it’s understandable that he goes through each day with his defenses up and a temper that like Drake said can go “0 – 100 real quick”.
He is just one of the many black men I know on a personal level from my own father, to colleagues, to friends. They’re retired veterans, teachers, mentors, athletes, singers, songwriters and convicted felons but they aren’t all running around being big, black and angry.
However a recent study just revealed that no matter how many Barack Obamas and Al Rokers our society may be exposed to, black men are for the most part perceived through a singular lens by their white counterparts. The Washington Post recently highlighted a study published on Monday in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which ultimately explored the perceptions of male’s bodies based on race. John Paul Wilson, author of the survey and his colleagues at the Miami University of Ohio and the University of Toronto conducted seven experiments, asking 950 online participants to gauge the physical and threatening characteristics of men, based on male faces and bodies. The overwhelming conclusion? Even if white and black men share the same height and weight, people tend to perceive black men as taller, more muscular and heavier. Furthermore, non-black participants believed black men to be more capable of physical harm than white men of the same size. The survey also found non-black observers believed that police would be more justified to use force on these black men, even if they were unarmed, than white male counterparts. Because of course white men were absent the day that God was giving out that “King Kong gene” that makes men stronger, go harder, act more violent and possess an increased penis size.
“Participants also believed that the black men were more capable of causing harm in a hypothetical altercation and, troublingly, that police would be more justified in using force to subdue them, even if the men were unarmed.”
“Our research suggests that these descriptions may reflect stereotypes of black males that do not seem to comport with reality.”
In other words whether you’re raising Michael Blackson or Mike Tyson, there are many folks who still believe if he were placed in a room with Rocky Balboa, not only would he dominate any physical altercation, but the police would be justified in subduing him by force all because he’s black.
What’s even more interesting is that even when the survey included both black and non-black participants, both black and white participants equally overestimated the strength of black men, but only non-black observers considered the black men to be more dangerous.
What saddens me is that as a woman married to a black man, with recent police violence and the bias that seems to be evidenced by this study, I carry a subconscious worry every day that whether my spouse is pulled over for a traffic violation or he’s walking to his car in a dark parking lot, there is probably some bystander who feels that he should be feared. It’s a conversation that too many black mothers have found themselves having with their sons for the past few years:
“Make sure your insurance and registration are straight. Don’t make any sudden moves around the police. Don’t wear that hoodie. Don’t wear your hair in dreads….and maybe just maybe you won’t end up dead or in jail.”
Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, America is a country built on racism. We live in a land where African-Americans were once viewed as property. From that, stigma and stereotypes have grown where the black man has become likened more to a savage beast than a human being and while strength, confidence and physical ability or great things to possess, my feeling is that most black men want be respected more than feared. They want the world to know they are capable of more than dunking a ball, spitting some bars or being arrested. But since I am not a black man in America, I’ve decided to ask my husband about his thoughts about the image of the black men in America:
“What’s crazy to me is how people don’t take ownership of how much their assumptions play a part in situations. Most days I’m just out here working and trying to feed my family. I’m usually talking to a customer scheduling a day when I can fix their clogged train. I might stop at the store on the way home because we need milk and I may do that wearing a hoodie because it’s cold. You treat me with respect and I’ll treat you with respect. You come at me with aggression and I’ll probably react the same way. My point is we’re all not out here trying to shoot and fight. Trayvon just wanted some Skittles. Mike Brown was walking down the block. And no matter how ‘big, black and angry’ I may appear more than likely I’m just out here living my life, just like anyone else.”
Images via Bigstock
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.