Changing how we view African-American men

by LP Green, II

Gary Mays of Douglasville defies whatever ugly stereotypes — take your pick — that exists about African-American men.

He’s educated. He’s worked for a major corporation for 28 years. He’s the father of two college-age children. He’s been happily married for 23 years to his children’s mother and is an active member of his church and community.

And yet, at 53, Mays is all too familiar with the derisive term “black man driving.” He can cite at least two instances in the last couple of years when he says he was stopped by police for no apparent reason other than he’s African-American.

Still, Mays is not an angry black man with a chip on his shoulder.

He understands that not all cops are bad and neither are all black men.

It’s a hard sell. Look at the Fox TV series “Empire.” African-American men have long been typecast in the public consciousness as ballers, drug dealers and absentee fathers.

Mays is none of these and neither are his friends and family.

Although, he acknowledges with a smile, “we all have a wide range of characters in our family.”

That, of course, is about right. There’s a “wide range” in every group imaginable. High achievers and slackers. Educated and uneducated. The industrious and the unmotivated. Rich and poor.

Trabian Shorters, founder and CEO of BMe Community, a non-profit organization of African-American men who work to mentor youth, strengthen communities and create businesses, blames the media and entertainment industry for too often painting black men as violent criminals.

“When black males are portrayed everywhere we look in a negative light, our brains — no matter our race or sex — are prone and primed to believe that this portrayal is correct, even the norm,” Shorters says. “In fact, it’s not. Not by a long


Shorters, who co-edited a collection of essays titled “Reach: 40 Black Men Speaking on Living, Leading and Succeeding,” believes updating the narrative with a fuller picture of black men and boys is imperative.

For instance, there is the oft repeated myth that there are more black men in prison than in college, which, by the way was probably never true, according to a study by Howard University professor Ivory Toldson. What’s true is this, his study found: More than 80 percent of black males age 25 and older have at least a high school diploma.

The United States is bursting with black males who are educated, successful and great fathers, yet their contributions to society are overlooked, Shorters says.

Gary Mays sees them every day. At work. At church. In his community. Me, too.

I’m married to one. He is not perfect, but he is present and has been for nearly 30 years, trying desperately to carve out a healthy family like the hundreds of others I know, white, Hispanic and other.

Just as Mays sees them at Elizabeth Baptist, where he is a deacon, I see them every Sunday at Antioch Baptist Church North, where I’ve been a member for 15 years.

You have to wonder whether the stories about black men would be different if the media could see what I see on Sundays and through the week. Is it in us — the press — to give a more balanced view of who these men are?

This much I know for sure: When you begin with the notion of pathology, you look for pathology and it feeds on itself.

Updating the way America views black males is critical. Here’s why, Shorter said: Our nation is in the middle of perhaps its biggest cultural transfer in history. Over the coming years, baby boomers will give way to the millennials as the largest generation in history. As that happens, America will no longer have a racial majority.

“All of the social myths will be updated for better or worse,” Shorters said. “If we make a concerted effort to understand each other over the next decade, I think we can change them for the better.”

Let’s hope, but here’s another reason. Recognizing that black men are assets opens up opportunities for all people to build better cities by working with those black men who are willing to uphold important values and take constructive action.

And finally, letting go of stereotypes about black males will help more than just black males.

“All of us should reject any narratives that denigrate people and prejudice one group against another,” Shorters said.

This week, Gary Mays and his wife, Felecia will drive their son, a freshman, to college. They’re about as happy as any parents could be, and even though they’ve had “the talk” with him through the years about how to conduct himself if he’s ever stopped by a cop, they’re also a little worried.

Gary Mays has done his part. Now if only the media and the entertainment industry were willing to provide a more balanced view of African-Americans and black men in particular.

On Thursday I’ll tell you about TV shows, including some created by African-Americans, that help perpetuate negative stereotypes of black men and women and a Lithonia grandmother who refuses to watch. ___

By Gracie Bonds Staples from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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