Debunking Myths About African Americans


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There are many myths and facts that surround different racial and ethnic groups. However, the ones that I am the most familiar with are those that surround minorities. On a daily basis, these groups in particular are targeted both directly and indirectly by these myths that rarely work in their favor. Because these myths have been around for so long, from generation to generation these bold statements constantly affect minorities and those of the majority as well. However, it affects minorities the most because they are the ones who deal with the aftermath of it all. Whether it be not getting a job because of a certain stereotype, or if it just receiving unnecessary comments by peers that might not even apply to them. It affects the majority because it shows ignorance. Many of these stereotypes are taught directly and indirectly as well.

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I have been in a restaurant where a white man said right to my face in front of this children that, “black people do not have the brain power to wrap their heads around the simplest things.” This child was only 4 years old. Because of his parent’s influence, he will more than likely grow up and instill those very same beliefs into his own children. Indirectly, there are many cases where white parents will not allow for their children to play with other people who do not look like them. Most of the time these children are not given an excuse as to why they could not play with them. The root of this action is within many myths of the group that in many cases is not true. Although different groups are associated with different myths, I am the most familiar with the myths and stereo types of the black community. Some of these include; that all black people love fried chicken, are involved in drugs and crime, and black women are always angry. Black people only eat “Soul Food” I have heard this stereotype about black people loving fried chicken from the time that I was in elementary school from my friends. I had heard it so much that I eventually began to believe that it was true. According to Claire Schmidt in an NPR interview, chicken has been a huge part of Southern diet for years. But in particular, chicken was given to slaves for one reason. It was cheap.

The film Birth of a Nation (1915) really set the tone for many stereotypes on black people. In one scene, a white man wearing blackface, a very common thing in theatre and movies, was sitting eating fried chicken at a very quick rate. This seems to be where this stereotype comes from according to Gene Demby from National Public Radio (NPR). A term that gets thrown around when speaking about African American recipes and diet is Soul Food. According to African American Registry, Soul Food is used to describe ethnic cuisine, specifically food prepared and eaten by African Americans in the Southern part of the United States. However, many of these recipes that we refer to as Soul Food today actually has its roots in the White American household. As previously mentioned with chicken specifically, it was fed to slaves because it was cheap. Very often, slaves got only leftovers from each meal as well as the parts of many animals that would not be seen as the most desirable. One example of this would be chicken livers. This was a part of the chicken that many people to this day would throw away, however because that was what the owners of slaves were given to cook, they thrived to make the best of it. The result of this came nothing but judgment from White Americans then and even now.

More dishes that are apart of Soul Food are biscuits, chitterlings, collard greens, cornbread, fried fish, neckbones, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and watermelon. A key part in the stereotype is that when whites think about African American cuisine, these are the only dishes that come to mind. When in reality, black people eat many different things than just Soul Food. After realizing that it was hard to find research on my myth specifically, I decided to ask 10 students who identify as white at Bridgewater College “What do you think black people eat?” The responses from these individuals were at least three of the foods I have mentioned already. However, when I asked 10 students who identify as African Americans the same question, some individuals mentioned something from the list, but a majority of responses correlated with my favorite. One student responded with, “We eat the same thing everyone else does. After all, don’t we all live in the same place?” This debunks this myth perfectly. Even though some African Americans may enjoy Soul Food, as it is a part of culture, this does not mean that this is the only thing that they consume. Black people are involved crime. Another common stereotype of African Americans is that a majority of them are somehow affiliated with drugs and crime. In an article entitled Racial Stereotypes and Whites’ Political Views of Blacks in the Context of Welfare and Crime, Mark Peffley discusses how to the average white person, when they think of crime they automatically think of black people.

African Americans are viewed by society as being one of the inferior races or ethnicities. With this comes the belief that no matter where you see a personal of color, society has instilled a belief that one knows a lot about a person just by the color of their skin. In this case, by looking at a black person one may think that they are of the lower working class and cannot afford much. Now, there are some African Americans who are of the working class. With that comes the association with drugs and crime. Personally, I was not aware of this stereotype until high school. This caused me to do a lot of research to see what this statement was all about. Where I am from, it is majority white, however the few black people we did have in the area were hard working and well known people in the area who clearly were not dealing drugs and did not have a criminal history. I quickly discovered something that was very shocking. A black man is often sentenced to more time in prison for committing the same crime as someone who is white. According to Christopher Ingraham in his Washington Post article, a black person’s sentence is nearly 20 percent longer than a white person’s who committed the same crime. This fact seems to be put on the backburner when it comes to discussing the issues with crime in this country. On top of this fact, innocent black people are being murdered by officers who do not look like them. In many cases, these police officers are white, and are killing African Americans over minor things, and in too many cases, nothing at all. Why? These stereotypes or myths are pressed into many individuals of the majority and make such an impact in their minds that they do not even realize that what they are doing is wrong. This notion has been so widespread that even those who are of authority show it in their careers daily. One example of this is the justice system. On numerous occasions when white police officers murder innocent black people it almost seems as though judges look very deep to find any excuse they can to make it seem like the officer was in the right and the black man was in the wrong. This goes back to something simple- the concept of superiority. Those of the majority want to do all that they can to remain on top and to keep that idea of being the superior group in this country. According the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as of August 25, 2018, 58.2% of the prison population consists of whites while 37.9% of it consists of blacks. This proves that the myth or stereotype of black people being overly involved with crime is simply wrong. However, at one time due to laws like Jim Crow, black people were thrown in jail for absolutely no reason which is one of the roots of this myth.

Black women are always angry. Whether it be in drawings, cartoons, or the most popular, movies, black women are somehow always portrayed as always being the angry one. Ferris State University is home to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. One exhibit that they have is known as the Sapphire Caricature. This portrays black women as being rude, loud, malicious, and stubborn. It is more commonly known as “The Angry Black Woman,” on television. In some cases, the interaction with African American men and women showed that the women were trying to do certain things that her husband would not approve of. This caused conflict not only in the home, but sassiness and passive aggression from the black woman outside of the home towards others. In many other cases, black mothers were seen as the head of their households due to stereotypes stating that black women have many children but their fathers never stay in their life. This also carried over into another stereotype that because of this woman running the house by herself, she expresses her stress and disappointment through being angry. In today’s society, the portrayal of the angry black woman may not be so scripted. It should be expected of any individual whose descendants were oppressed and whose family members continue to be oppressed by people who are supposed to help them to be angry and dissatisfied. For example, Representative Maxine Waters has been a key speaker since President Trump started his campaign for election. She is visible angry every time she goes on the air on MSNBC. However, she has a reason to be. She expresses her concerns about the President of the United States as well as the inequality in many other aspects in the government. Black women as a whole are not angry. It is through experiences that black women get fed up and sometimes express their dissatisfaction through aggression, as many other groups do.

I have learned a lot from debunking these myths. For the most part I have learned the history behind all three of them. For all of them I had no idea that these stereotypes went all the way back to slavery. I had always thought that these beliefs were only a few decades old. It is interesting to me that these still exists due to the fact that the average American is becoming more educated as time progresses. Although Soul Food has a role in black culture, it is not the only thing that black people eat. There has always been a huge misconception when it came to percentages of blacks in jail versus percentages of whites. Through research I was able to discover that there is a higher percentage of whites in jail than any other racial group in the United States. And finally, not all black women are angry due to the fact that it is through experience that anger is developed.

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