As the number of funerals mount that are linked to black males dying after encounters with white police officers, the appropriate response to promote change has become an issue. Join the marchers in the streets and take part in die-ins by lying prostrate with hands folded across the chest? Support professional athletes and others who wear T-shirts with phrases such as, “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” on them?
What about the response of some NYPD officers, who, as they mourned two of their comrades (one Hispanic and the other Asian) assassinated by a mentally disturbed Baltimore black man simply because they wore blue, turned their backs on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio at the funerals? The officers felt de Blasio failed to support the NYPD when he shared that he has warned his biracial son to be cautious when confronted by police officers.
The merits of these passionate responses can be debated endlessly. However, the majority of people who have been deeply moved by the senseless deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY and Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu want to engage in positive and respectful actions that will lead to real change.
Mocha Moms, Inc., a support group of mothers of color, launched the #blackboysmatter social media campaign to attack what many believe is at the root of the problem – fear of black and brown males that has been fueled by decades of negative stereotyping via the media. The campaign which is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, began a day after the Ferguson grand jury ruled in November against indicting then-Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson (Wilson has since resigned) in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Women – mothers, wives, sisters, etc., — from across the country submitted/are submitting positive photos of their sons, husbands, brothers and so on to humanize black and brown males, particularly boys. It eclipsed 10 million impressions in less than two weeks, according to Mocha Moms.
“I literally just put an appeal out to our Mocha Moms on all of our social media resources…” said LaShaun Phillips-Martin, the organization’s national social media director who thought of the campaign. “I asked them to submit photos of their sons and husbands to change the view of how our black and brown men are being viewed across America. We were just flooded (with photos) from day one.”
The mother of two young girls, Phillips-Martin said she was frustrated by the negativity and wanted to express herself and give people a place to share their frustrations in a positive way. Among the many photos that moved Phillips-Martin, was of a toddler with his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. All of their names are “Eddie.” The caption written by the boy’s mom said that she wanted to make sure that her baby had at least the same opportunities as the men who had come before him.
Other moms post photos with captions such as, “Here’s my college graduate.” Still, other moms express their fears. One mom wrote a caption saying that she was holding her son “a little tighter” as unrest erupted in the streets of Ferguson and New York, after a Staten Island grand jury dismissed all potential charges against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo. The officer was videotaped choking Eric Garner, an asthmatic who later died after he was heard on video gasping, “I can’t breathe… I can’t breathe.”
Social media provides a way for people to express themselves and let off steam. However, just like offline conversations at the dinner table, workplace, or church, the venting isn’t always positive or productive. For example, much has been reported about cyber bullying, or how people anonymously post rants and spew hatred during chats. But when used strategically, social media can be an extremely effective tool for galvanizing people around a cause in a productive way. According to the HuffingtonPost.com, hashtags such as, #BringBackOurGirls, #BoycottClippers and #WhyIStayed have been among the most socially impactful in 2014.
The mass media industry is among the key reasons black males are, for the most part, perceived negatively in society. In 2011, Opportunity Agenda, in three studies, observed a pattern of distorted images of African American men and boys. For example, black men are underrepresented as experts on news talk shows and overrepresented in reports on crime and poverty. If there are positive images, they are still stereotypical with Black men shown as sports and entertainment figures only. The lives of black boys are often ignored. Since Americans are inundated with negative stereotypes of black males, fears are heightened. Encounters can become unnecessarily volatile instantly, including when black and brown males encounter other black or brown males.
“I want to make sure that my girls are seeing our black and brown boys differently,” Phillips-Martin said. “They see their father, my husband, in a certain way. They see their grandfathers in a certain way and their uncles in a certain way. I want to make sure that that image that they see of all of these positive black and brown male figures in their own lives is the same way that they see all black and brown boys and men across the country… We as parents we have to make sure that we are our children’s first teachers.”
We also have a responsibility to the next generation. Recently I saw the movie “Selma,” which shows the behind the scenes work of the civil rights leaders led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A major takeaway of the film is their calculated, strategic approach that led to the successful Selma to Montgomery march that began with a bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettis Bridge. They had specific goals in mind, which were to change discriminatory laws. They succeeded. In 2015 and beyond, protests must also achieve specific, substantive goals. For example, getting police forces to reinstall community policing policies that encourage partnerships between residents and the police, or that a special outside prosecutor is brought in for all local police brutality cases. If we believe a radical change in how young black males are perceived (and perceive themselves) could prevent some senseless deaths, perhaps strategically boycotting advertisers who support media (ex: films, TV shows) that promote negative black male (and female) stereotypes would lead to more positive depictions.
The fact is that #BlackLivesMatter, #PoliceLivesMatter, #AllLivesmatter.
Some other Positive Black Male Image Websites