The 'Hustle and Flow' of Black male stereotypes

The image of Black men as overly aggressive and senselessly violent has been cultivated and perpetuated by mainstream media since slavery.

The film Hustle and Flow garnered international acclaim in 2005. This is unfortunate. What millions saw and millions more will see are stereotypical images of the aggressive, uneducated, sexually immoral Black male in the character played by Terrence Howard. Despite its acclaim, Hustle and Flow is a microcosm of numerous negative stereotypes.

Terrence Howard, was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a violent and aggressive pimp. In the movie, we witness this gifted actor physically throw one of his hookers — with her child in tow — out of their broken-down home. In another scene, we witness Terrence brutally and senselessly attack the character played by rapper Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, for not taking his music demo seriously.

The image of Black men as overly aggressive and senselessly violent has been cultivated and perpetuated by mainstream media since slavery. Dr. G. Smith in Walking Proud: Black Men Living Beyond the Stereotypes notes, since the late 1800s “a consistent stream of media images dehumanizing Blacks, particularly males, in the most grotesque manner [has] consciously and unconsciously âe¦hammered away at driving home the point of the Black male as an immediate and long-term threat to the social order.”

A 2004 report by Correctional Service Canada speaks to this truth. It explains that Black offenders are over-represented in the Canadian justice system. “Although [Blacks] account for about two per cent of the population in Canada, Blacks make-up six per cent of the offenders incarcerated in federal correctional facilities and seven per cent of those serving time in the community.”

Numerous reasons can be sited for the over-representation of incarcerated Black males. Whatever the reasons, one thing is certain — society is removing a significant number of Black men from its midst. For those who have not seen Hustle & Flow, jail is exactly where Terrence Howard's character ended up.

Intelligence

Earlier this month, Dr. Frank Ellis, the lecturer of Russian and Slavonic studies at Leeds University in London, England repeated his theories of a 15-point IQ gap between Blacks and Whites on BBC Radio Five.

Dr. Frank is not the first researcher to believe Blacks have inferior intelligence. These theories have existed since slavery, but they do not bother me. These theories have not held up and will not hold up under close scrutiny. What does bother me is how these theories have insinuated their way into our education system.

A study conducted by Professor Herbert Foster corroborates this point. The study found of 3,130 participants, of whom 1,627 were educators: teachers, school administrators or guidance counsellors across the U.S. and Ontario, the average person continues to hold the stereotype that Black males are lazy and stupid.

This finding is not a surprise to Kirk Mark, president, Canadian Alliance of Black Educators (CABE). “The marginalization of males, specifically Black males, is real. It comes down to individual educators, some who strive to achieve equity in the classroom, and others who don't. But is there a system in place that creates barriers to success for Black males? Yes there is.”

The marginalization of Black males in the education system has two very relevant and long-term effects. First, the participation of Black males in higher education is under attack. According to Statistics Canada, in 2001, 62,700 Black males graduated with a college diploma or university degree compared to 81,660 Black females.

Second, not only is your level of education related to future employment and income potential, but also to the likelihood of incarceration. A study by Charles Ungerleider from the University of British Columbia on Canadian elementary and secondary education found, “non-graduates areâe¦75 per cent of the federal prison population and 73 per cent of the population in provincial jails.”

Keeping our sons in schools is pivotal to ensuring their future, not only to improve their employment and economic potential, but to reduce their chance of incarceration.

Sexuality

The stereotype of the Black male's heightened sexual prowess is a stereotype accepted and even perpetuated by Black men themselves.

Over time, what it means to be a Black male has become inextricably linked to the size and function of the male appendage. The essay “The Dark Side of Black Love” argues, a Black man can lose his job, have little or no education, be convicted of a crime or be financially challenged but can “maintain a sense of his manliness [and]âe¦be convinced he reigns supreme” as long as he can perform sexually.

Although a significant number of Black men have freed themselves of this stereotype, becoming faithful partners and loving fathers, there remains a segment who use this stereotype as an excuse — if not a reason — for irresponsible behaviour. The essay argues, this stereotype “compels some Black men (particularly young ones) to sire a multitude of children as tangible proof of theirâe¦manhood.”

As a culture we are all too aware of the negative consequences of this behaviour. To suggest otherwise would be disingenuous. Some of us are products or victims of it. In the article “A New Black Heterosexual Male” Dr. Dwight Hopkins notes, “[Some] Black men are making conscious choices to carry out the negative aspects of this structure.” It is only recently, that as a culture we are demanding that all Black men do better.

Dr. Hopkins also suggests, “[Black] men can do one of two things. They can accept this understanding of the Black male gender or they can choose to create something new.”

I think it's time we choose to create something new.

Conclusion

Spurred on by the media, stereotyped images of uneducated, overly aggressive and highly sexualized Black males have survived slavery, the reconstruction era, the civil rights movement and twentieth century enlightenment.

These stereotypes are increasingly being challenged by community initiatives. Organizations like the 100 Black Men of America, Inc., strive to foster the intellectual development of youth and the economic empowerment of the African community based on the precepts of family, spirituality and integrity. With numerous branches in America and internationally, the goal of the organization is “to serve as a strong force in the world by overcoming the cultural and financial obstacles that have limited the achievements of some [Black], particularly young [Black] males.”

Despite all the obstacles Black men encounter, I have not met one who is not proud to be a Black man. The documentary Ethnic Notions, explains this dichotomy most precisely: “There is no shame in being a Black man. It is just awfully inconvenient.”

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