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Fear of black men — not for whites only: Mitchell

Updated: January 14, 2014 12:30PM



I crossed the busy intersection with my chin tucked in my collar trying to avoid the bite of the hawk.

When I looked up, standing a few feet away were two young black males in front of the downtown garage where my car was parked.

I immediately felt a twinge of apprehension.

Every since I saw a video clip of an unsuspecting woman getting sucker-punched in a sick game known as the “Knock-Out” game, my nerves have been on high alert.

I managed to step between the two young men, but noticed there were two other males — one black and one white — in the lobby standing near the pay kiosk.

“So what’s up,” I said to the one black youngster who appeared to be heading inside.

“I was just trying to get the door for you he said,” pulling open the door and letting me go ahead.

I tried to brush off the uncomfortable moment with a remark about seniors being scary.

But I knew — that he knew — I had recoiled because I was afraid he was about to do me some harm. It was an irrational fear. The street was well lit. It was early evening. And there was nothing about the young men that suggested they were up to no good.

But I reacted as if their very presence posed a threat.

When I told this story to my editor, a black man, he related his own way of handling what I would describe as the “fear of black men.”

He said he has crossed the street rather than walk behind a woman on the street because he doesn’t want to appear threatening.

Obviously, I know that every black man is not a criminal. What’s happening to me?

“What you are describing is the subjective criminalization of black men, which is the inability for individuals to separate a black male identity from crime,” said Rashawn Ray, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maryland.

“Despite an overwhelming majority of black men never committing crime, the plethora of images and messages we see and hear in the media imply that all black men are savage criminals.”

Ray made the case in a recent article posted on a fitness website that black men are less likely to jog in areas where they have white neighbors.

“Black men might wave at people, stay away from places with dark lighting, carry their IDs and even wear college t-shirts to show that they are educated,” he wrote.

Recently, when I popped onto the elevator in my building, the young black man already on the elevator tried to shrink into a corner, while smiling and making small talk.

His gesture seemed forced, as if he was only chatting to put my mind at ease.

“What you need to realize is that there is a historic process — I call it the ‘white gaze,” said George Yancy, a professor of philosophy at Duquesne University, in a telephone interview.

“White people since the founding of America has perceived black bodies, primarily, male black bodies, as hypersexual, dangerous, idle, unemployable, criminal and the epitome of death and doom,” Yancy explained.

“What has happened is America has constructed such a powerful image of the black male body that blacks themselves have internalized this perception,” he said.

Obviously, I don’t want to be one of those black people.

Additionally, “these type of prejudice incidents affect black men’s mental health,” Ray pointed out.

“They have to realize that these unfortunate incidents will happen. They will be stereotyped regardless of what they wear and where they are,” he said.

Still, it’s not right.

That black people are beginning to do it too makes it even worse.

Email: marym@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST



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