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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. The synonymy of Blackness with criminality is not a new phenomenon in America. Black on black men historical s have shown how myths, stereotypes, and racist ideologies led to discriminatory policies and court rulings that fueled racial violence in a post-Reconstruction era and has culminated in the exponential increase of Black male incarceration today.
Despite the connection between disproportionate criminality and Black masculinity, little research has been done on how unarmed Black male victims, particularly but not exclusively at the hands of law enforcement, have been posthumously criminalized. This paper investigates the historical criminalization of Black males and its connection to contemporary unarmed victims of law enforcement.
Action research methodology in the data collection process is utilized to interpret how Black male victims are portrayed by traditional mass media, particularly through the use of language, in ways that marginalize and de-victimize these individuals. This study investigates how language is used to describe Black men who have been killed by law enforcement in the past year July April Specifically, there is a demonizing process that happens to unarmed Black men posthumously.
Unlike earlier Black icons and figures, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To illustrate, we examine six different unarmed Black men ii who were killed by police throughout the United States in order to understand how media coverage addresses their deaths. By utilizing local, national, and international media coverage of these cases, we are able to find both overlapping and unique themes to each case which support the notion of posthumous demonization and criminalization of unarmed Black men. In order to explore this notion of posthumous demonization and criminalization, we examine this inquiry in several ways.
First, we look at the terms historically used Black on black men describe Black people in the United States. Secondly, it is important to connect the historical legacies of racial demonization to contemporary criminalization of Blackness, particularly in a Post-Obama America. Therefore, we utilize four major groups to categorize the language and imagery of the articles being investigated for this study: 1 Behavior, 2 Appearance, 3 Location, and 4 Lifestyle. These are used to specifically address both overt instances of racism as well Black on black men micro-insults and micro-invalidations.
Moreover, we look at the cases of each unarmed Black male and how they are treated by media sources focusing particularly on the primacy effect, or the first impression media outlets create when describing these males posthumously which either justifies or negates their death by law enforcement. Finally, the paper discusses the growing social movements of BlackLivesMatter and the impact these collectives have on both national and international awareness of White privilege, White supremacy, and coded race-based language.
Race is the most ificant sociodemographic distinction in the United States. The social construction of contemporary racial ideology finds its birth in the period known as the Enlightenment Eze, Enlightenment thinkers such as David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and Thomas Jefferson contributed to the literature and theory behind biological racial differences.
Jefferson, a founding father of the United States, third U. President, and slave owner, wrote about the differences between the races in his essays, Notes on the State of Virginia. Jefferson uses observable data — presumably his own slaves — to come to his conclusions, stating:. Besides those of colour, figure, and hair, there are other physical distinctions proving a difference of race. They have less hair on the face and body.
They secrete less by the kidneys, and more by the glands of the skin…They seem to require less sleep…They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome…They are more ardent after their female; but love seems with Black on black men to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation.
Jefferson,p. These sentiments and ideologies were carried on to develop notions of race, and more specifically the racial dynamics of superiority and inferiority. As slavery prevailed this dichotomy of racial superiority and inferiority metastasized because of the need for economic labor Fields, The need for a surplus of cheap labor, which was acquired in Africa, was justified through racial distinction primarily set by law Fields, ; Memmi, Separations were made clear through the passage of laws that determined the race of child via the matrilineal line and anti-miscegenation laws, harsher punishments for Black runaway slaves, and the use of poor Whites as laborers to monitor and guard against slave rebellions.
However, we must be cognizant of other sociodemographic variables such as social class and gender and the authority they play on influencing the dynamics of the superiority and inferiority dyad. Therefore, to understand racism in the 21 st century we must look at the intersectionality Crenshaw, of these variables in how Black on black men relates to the use of excessive and deadly force by law enforcement on unarmed Black males and its relationship to historic views of race, class, and gender. During the institution of slavery, the image of Black people, specifically Black males, was of a docile character.
The images of buffoonery, blissful ignorance, and juvenile angst were seen as the primary traits of enslaved Blacks. This is characterized in several portrayals of Black males of this time. The use of Blackface — a type of performance that generally used White actors wearing black make-up to portray Black people in stereotypes — became popular in the 19 th century.
White actors popularized minstrel shows, depicting stereotypes of Black life as foolish, messy, and overall comedic at the expense of Black culture Lhamon Jr. In addition, other popular literature and media characterized antebellum enslaved Blacks as content with their place in society. In literature, the character of Uncle Tom in Uncle Tom's Cabin is portrayed as an older Black slave Black on black men is faithful and dutiful to his White master. The film Gone with the Wind depicts content slaves, specifically the role of Mammy who even fends off freedmen.
These depictions of Blackness as docile and manageable reflected the ability to control the Black body and mind, creating the idea that slavery was the best position for Black people. This status of inferiority is echoed in W. Additionally, according to David Pilgrim:.
These portrayals were pragmatic and instrumental. Proponents of slavery created and promoted images of blacks that justified slavery and soothed white consciences. If slaves were childlike, for example, then a paternalistic institution where masters acted as quasi-parents to their slaves was [sic] humane, even morally right. More importantly, slaves were rarely depicted as brutes because that portrayal might have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, this image of Blackness ended after the American Civil War.
During the period of Reconstructionnewly freed Blacks began to obtain social, economic, and political rights with the passage of the 13 th14 thand 15 th Amendments to the Constitution. Senators in Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce. This growth in power challenged White supremacy and created White fear of Black mobility. Particularly, wealthy Whites were fearful of political power newly freed Black people could acquire via voting, whereas poor Whites saw Blacks as competition in the labor force. Thus the rise of the Jim Crow era began, which was solidified by the Supreme Court ruling of Plessy v.
Media portrayals of this mythical Black brute began to grow using the same initial science Jefferson and other Enlightenment-era theorists proclaimed, which was based on inaccurate anthropological and biological factors. This time, the argument was that Blacks were naturally more prone to violence and other aggressive behaviors. Charles H. This myth of cruelty and vicious disposition was directed towards White Black on black men. As the myth grew and stories spread about the savage Black brute, so did the occurrences of lynching. Lynching — the extrajudicial punishment — was ritualistic and struck fear into Black residents throughout the United States Litwack, The most prevalent accusation was the rape or sexual assault of a White woman by a Black male.
This allegation would have reverberating effects throughout entire communities. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a young White woman accused a Black male of sexual assault and roughly Black people were killed and more than 9, people were left homeless after White mobs destroyed the Greenwood community Pickens, Regardless of producing evidence or facts, White mobs would seize Black defendants or attack Black on black men neighborhoods to seek out revenge for this crime. The case of Sam Hose is an example of how different and various versions of the truth were reported.
Hose killed his employer in self-defense after being threatened with a pistol. The report drove White fear to lynch Hose Litwack, In reality, these charges were mere excuses to exercise exorbitant amounts of violence on Black people. The lynching of a Black body became a form of ritualistic violence where limbs and other body parts were taken as souvenirs. Litwack wrote:. After stripping Hose of his clothes and chaining him to a tree, the self-appointed executioners stacked kerosene-soaked wood high around him…they cut off his ears, fingers, and genitals, Black on black men skinned his face…the contortions of Sam Hose's body as the flames rose, distorting his features, causing his eyes to bulge out their sockets…Before Hose's body had even cooled, his heart and liver were removed and cut into several pieces and his bones were crushed into small particles.
The crowd fought over these souvenirs. This overkill of the Black body became part of the racist ideology that was used to justify these acts of violence. This mythical act of Black savagery was situated in this idea of Black brutality and criminality that had no other recourse but death. Hence, uncontrollable desires of Black males were illegal, criminal, and needed to be stopped through the use of physical force. Therefore, this justified vigilante justice in the name of Black on black men White womanhood pure.
The brute image of Black men became ificant moving into the early 20 th century, when fear was reinforced with depictions of Black men as harmful. The film Birth of a Nationmade inshows Black men as savages trying to attack White women. Their brutality is met with propaganda depicting the Ku Klux Klan as heroic and honorable. The result was Blackness becoming closely associated with criminalization.
The criminalization of Blackness Davis, ; Alexander, ; Muhammad, allowed for White supremacy to use Black bodies as their scapegoat for all problems, real or fictional. The driving forces behind Black criminality as savage and unmanageable were structurally reinforced by passage of stricter sentencing Black on black men in prison and the expansion of the War on Drugs in the second half of the 20 th century Mauer, For example, George H. While the ad overtly discusses a single Black man, the subliminal and larger take away is Willie Horton's face became synonymous with all Blackness.
In short, the mythical brute became the realistic thug via the process of criminalization. The image of Black men as brutes in society has a long legacy that begins with the social construction of race and brings us to the current period of mass incarceration. In the United States, Black men are six times as likely to go to jail or prison as White men Gao, This disproportionate and unequal indicates the skewed representation of Black men in U. However, the argument is shifted to no longer being about race but about crime and community safety. While historically in America overt racist language was socially acceptable, there has been a cultural shift of social intolerance to this blatant racist behavior.
This does not mean that racism or discriminatory actions have been eradicated but rather driven beneath the surface and reemerged as coded language, gestures, s, and symbols to indicate difference. Over the last several years with the proliferation of social media, many more events are documented and shared via social networking sites Yar, ; Smiley, Some of these events captured on video are cases involving unarmed Black males being killed by law enforcement agents.
While some videos show the disturbing death, such as Eric Garner, others show the aftermath like that of Michael Brown's body in the street. These deaths and others have sparked outrage across communities looking for justice and ability of law enforcement's excessive force when dealing with Black people. In this case, the blame moves from law enforcement agents to the Black males who have been killed. For this study, media coverage of the deaths of six unarmed Black males resulting from law enforcement interaction were investigated. Specifically, the portrayal of the incidents and the victims involved via newspaper articles were examined.
Newspaper articles were chosen as the Black on black men for investigations because of the understanding that all published articles go through a vetting process.
As a result the articles, including the perceptions created, are an organizational decision. The cases garnered ificant national and international coverage for a notable period of time, leading to a considerable database from which to select samples. The incidents chosen for analysis are as follows, listed in chronological order from earliest to latest:. Michael Brown, Jr. Tony Robinson — 19 years old, died March 6, due to multiple gunshot wounds after altercation with Madison Police Department officer Matt Kenny in Madison, Wisconsin.
For each incident ten news articles, each published no more than 30 days after the victim's death, were selected. The time range allowed for an accurate capturing of the newspapers' initial portrayals of the victims, underlining the influence of the primacy effect Holbert et. All newspaper articles were retrieved from LexisNexis Black on black men only the names of the victims. An effort was made to select an equal of articles from national and international outlets if possible, and particular attention was paid to articles from news outlets in the cities where the deaths occurred.
Analysis of the articles were based on the concept of autoethnography, which allowed the authors to utilize personal knowledge of and experience with racial profiling, harassment, negative interactions with law enforcement, and involvement in protests stemming from a of police brutality cases, as a primary foundation of expertise and evidence. While this Black on black men is an exercise in academic writing about current and social issues, for the authors — both of whom identify as Black males — the intersections of race, police brutality, and harassment are part of the lived experience which contextualize our social milieu.
The relevance and urgency in creating a discourse around state violence, particularly law enforcement, upon the Black community, specifically unarmed Black males, is not at a distance but an immediate threat to the health and livelihood of the authors. Therefore, autoethnography becomes an important and useful methodology to include in this work because it relies on the narrators' credibility of using Black on black men as legitimate data Ellis et. In other words, as Blacks in America experiencing racism through forms of overt speech and actions, as well as through micro-insults and micro-invalidations Sue et.
There has been a precedent set by scholars using autoethnography. Byfield, who is a Black woman and a reporter for the New York Daily News at the time of the event, covered the case from the arrest, trial, and conviction, and then followed up when another person admitted to the crime. People such as Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Malcolm X elucidated their narratives of being victimized by state violence, and their memories and experiences validated their claims.
Our personal encounters with harassment by law enforcement become a way in which we corroborate the narratives of unarmed Black males being killed by law enforcement. Additionally, he has experienced the physical and social manifestations of anger and pain due to the death of an unarmed Black male by law enforcement as a lifelong resident and participant in protests surrounding Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore, Maryland.
These are just a couple of illustrations of law enforcement's abuse of power through micro-aggressions, believing the police were looking for a hostile reaction in order to escalate the situation. Autoethnography is characterized by personal experience narratives, auto-observation, personal ethnography, lived experience, self-ethnography, reflexive ethnography, emotionalism, experiential texts, and autobiographical ethnography.
Thus autoethnographic s are characterized by a move from a broad lens focus on individual situatedness within the cultural and social context, to a focus on the Black on black men vulnerable and often resistant self. The election of Barack Obama as the 44 th President of the United States and the first Black president led many to believe that America achieved racial equality.
Despite the abundance of research specifying stark differences by race and creating enormous racial disparities, White Americans believe racial differences are declining Sue et. In addition, many White Americans view themselves as good, moral, and believe in equality, which would refute ideas of prejudice or discrimination Sue, Therefore, racism in a post-racial America is much more covert and implicit as opposed to earlier forms of overt and explicit forms of racial aggression.
Scholarship indicates that new forms of racism have emerged via micro-aggressions that imply traditional racist ideology without having to be explicit in using race but now use other traditional American values e.Black on black men
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