In Whose Image: Trayvon Martin and the War on Black Male Identity
I do not expect the white media to create positive images. Positive black images are created through revolution. – Huey P. Newton
by Jamye Wooten
“They killed my son, now they’re trying to kill his reputation.” These are the words of Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old American African teenager who was gun down and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community in Sanford, Florida.
The Sanford Police Department has admitted that they leaked a story to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper that Trayvon was suspended for 10 days for being in possession of an empty marijuana bag. And now conservative bloggers have begun posting photos on the internet to try to portray Trayvon as a thug and suspicious suggesting he brought his murder on himself.
Demonization and mis-characterization are very familiar tactics of white supremacy racism. You may recall Hurricane Katrina where blacks were “looting” while whites were “finding”. We must understand that there is a war being wage against the black community and the implications of this war.
The evening news often begins each broadcast portraying black males as the most violent in society. No mention of white banksters who have rob the American citizens of billions of dollars or white men and their numerous never ending wars on people of color throughout the world. The white male image is always protected and elevated.
I will purposely generalize white men in this article to make my point. White men in this article are synonymous with institutional power – the power to define reality, norms and culture ; not the white male next to you in your cubicle at work. This is not about my white childhood friends or allies. This is about understanding institutional racism and how the white elite use their institutions, specifically the media, to portray black men as criminal, dangerous and suspicious. Perpetuating the lie of black inferiority and white supremacy reinforces negative stereotypes that often lead to discrimination and other harmful treatment. No group in America is more researched and labeled then the black family. This bias research helps the white male to continue to wage war on the black family and other peoples of color unabated.
A recent New York Times article reports “black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.” A new study released this month by The Sentencing Project finds that Black males are grossly overrepresented among juveniles that are sentenced to life without parole in the United States. And many of us a familiar with the brilliant work of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow “. Alexander reveals that the war on drugs is really a war on us and part of a racial caste system that has imprisoned and disenfranchised over a million African American men. So either black males are inherently prone to violence and crime or white males and their systems are waging war on our identity to justify such harsh treatment.
Character Assassination: An Act of War
Character assassination and demonization are the first acts of war. Retired Army Colonel Harry Summers stated “It always makes it easier to fight a war if you demonize people so that you’re not killing human beings, you’re killing the devil.” The demonization of blacks is a war strategy that we are all very familiar with. If you think about it, every war the white male wages begins with character assassination. He must first convince you that his enemy is your enemy and that his interests are your interests. So whether it is Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Fidel Castro, Marcus Garvey, Patrice Lumumba, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Minister Farrakhan, Malcolm X or even Dr. Martin Luther King - character assassination is the first act of war .
I am reminded of a book I read about 15 years ago entitled “Lies My Teacher Told Me“. In the excerpt below, author James Loewen uses Christopher Columbus to provide us with an example of Character Assassination and cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting cognitions (e.g., ideas, beliefs, values, emotional reactions) simultaneously. You know, how can you attend church on Sunday morning and lynch blacks in the afternoon, cognitive dissonance.
[quote]Columbus’s own writings reflect this increasing racism. When Columbus was selling Queen Isabella on the wonders of the Americas, the Indians were “well built” and “of quick intelligence.” “They have very good customs,” he wrote, “and the king maintains a very marvelous state, of a style so orderly that it is a pleasure to see it, and they have good memories and they wish to see everything and ask what it is and for what it is used.” Later, when Columbus was justifying his wars and his enslavement of the Indians, they became “cruel” and “stupid,” “a people warlike and numerous, whose customs and religion are very different from ours.”
It is always useful to think badly about people one has exploited or plans to exploit. Modifying one’s opinions to bring them into line with one’s actions or planned actions is the most common outcome of the process known as “cognitive dissonance,” according to the social psychologist Leon Festinger. No one likes to think of himself or herself as a bad person. To treat badly another person whom we consider a reasonable human being creates a tension between act and attitude that demands resolution. We cannot erase what we have done, and to alter our future behavior may not be in our interest. To change our attitude is easier.
Columbus gives us the first recorded example of cognitive dissonance in the Americas, for although the Indians may have changed from hospitable to angry, they could hardly have evolved from intelligent to stupid so quickly. The change had to be in Columbus.[/quote]
Once you demonize the Native American as a savage, you can treat him like a savage and justify your actions. And the narrative continues in the 21st century. Once you label African-American males as suspicious, violent and dangerous, you can put them into your prison industrial complex or use deadly force whenever you deem necessary.
What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors.- James Baldwin
[American] history … paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.- W. E. B. Du Bois
During slavery white men participated in the rape, castration, crucifixion, lynching, buying , selling, breeding, torture and enslavement of our African ancestors, yet throughout “his”story he remains the hero/savior-like figure. According to James W. Loewen the process of heroification makes “individuals into pious, perfect creatures without conflicts. ” Christopher Columbus, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson represent this phenomenon in human history where individuals responsible for some of the worst atrocities in our human history are portrayed as heroes/ savior-like figures and commemorated with national holidays. White male identity is always protected.
What if we begin to label white men the same way they have labeled black men? How safe would little white boys be?
As righteous people of all races and nationalities from across the globe stand in solidarity with Trayvon Martin we must also stand against the negative portrayals of the black community and all who have been mischaracterized. Remember mis-characterization and demonization are the first signs of war.