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“Only in America can a dead black boy go on trial for his own murder.” – Syreeta McFadden [1]

Racism sucks. Retrieved from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/newstaco/5635106360/in/faves-18687099@N04/

Unless in a psychotic state, everybody has a conscience. That conscience is formed through the individual’s belief system, and that belief system is usually our justification for what we choose to do in life. That belief system is influenced by imagery. Advertising agencies depend on this influence to survive. Each year, millions of dollars are spent to influence the minds of consumers. Unfortunately, in America, the influence of imagery affects a lot more than economics.

There has been outrage and a continued cry for justice in the Trayvon Martin case for many Americans – whites included – who do not subscribe to America’s system of white supremacy. Every negative emotion has been felt: from hurt to sadness to guilt to mistrust to anger and there have been calls for retribution. But what to do about this? No one really knows. The chilling case of Martin’s murder divided the nation, largely due to it’s racial implications, and not necessarily because his murderer was a biracial white man [2], but because Martin was black. Being black holds a stigmatism that is unknown to any other racial group in the world. It’s not that other non-white groups don’t suffer racism and the consequential prejudices and discriminations that follow. It’s just not to the extent of the black population [3]. But why is this so? This article hopes to address this question.

I have been involved in frequent discussions and study surrounding the plight of black Americans and what can be done in regard to their standing in the nation. What I have found is that there are those who don’t really know why they feel what they feel about blacks. Some project the behavior of the youth movement onto the entire population. In this sense, Martin was painted as a thug with behavioral problems who was deserving of his fate [4] [5] [6]. Some use the traditional, stereotypical views of blacks as reasons [7]. But these characterizations often times steer the perception away from the imminent facts. In the case of Martin, he hadn’t done anything during this particular incident to be killed. And indeed, he was innocent. But the defense played on the stereotypical fear of blacks [7].

These are just examples of the power of portrayal. I often hypothesize that blacks, especially the youth today, have been spoon-fed their identities. People of all races and ethnicities identify with standard imagery of themselves. It is natural to imitate what’s popular, especially for those who lack a strong sense of identity. Blacks in America have traditionally fought for the right of establishment, but have seen their advancements subdued time and time again, and usually by the powers-that-be rulers of the institutional white supremacy system. Many blacks today feel that they are not represented positively in the media and that the media outlets have a negative effect on the entire population [8]. The youth today may only be acting out the characteristics of who they are being told that they are. Solomon Comissiong, in his article, Corporate Hip Hop, Corporate Media & Mainstream Black “Leadership,” states [9]:

Rich white men knew exactly what they were doing when they invested hundreds of millions of dollars into a cultural medium (hip hop) in which they did not give a damn about. They were primarily concerned with two things: money and stifling the progressive energy coming from Hip Hop music during the Golden Era of the genre (1986-1995/6). Hip Hop became another cash cow by which they could make billions from—all the while ensuring that only the most racist and deleterious images made their way to their mainstream airwaves. The last thing these white men wanted was to continue to let the radical, and much needed, political perspectives of black and brown rappers to be made popular.
He goes on to add:
Embracing your African and Latino roots became increasingly popular and was the antithesis of what much of white America wanted us to do. They wanted us to shed as much of our cultural identity as possible in exchange for the same European-American value system that was responsible for much of our oppression. Hip Hop music gave youth like me added energy, ideas, and confidence to combat this systematic oppression (psychological, economic, and physical) head on. Hip Hop was educating black and brown youth in a way that the flawed and Eurocentric modeled American school system was clearly not willing to do. Hip Hop music of the liberating ilk was, and still is, a natural enemy of white supremacy, capitalism, and injustice. This is why today’s most popular rappers and images of “hip hop” featured are eerily reminiscent of the minstrel shows of yesteryear. Having black men and women parade around mainstream airwaves as modern day sambos, mammies, jezebels, and social deviants, is what makes media corporations, like Viacom and Clear Channel, comfortable. These are the safe images of people of color that they wish to make most popular and therefore socially engineer how people think of black people and even how black youth think of themselves.
Where do these portrayals come from? What are their roots? It is important to understand this premise when trying to comprehend the state of black America today.

It begins with the justification of slavery. In 1781, while serving as United States Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, wrote the book Notes on The State of Virginia, in which he included the chapter, The Nature of the Negro, and the Difference Between Whites and Blacks. In this chapter he describes blacks as being physically ugly, malodorous, cowardly, thoughtless, imprudent, lazy and unemployable, oversexed, mentally substandard and overwhelmingly inferior [10]; traits bred for servitude.

This led to many publications on the Negro Question, such as White supremacy and Negro subordination; or, Negroes a subordinate race, and (so-called) slavery its normal condition, with an appendix, showing the past and present condition of the countries south of us [11], and Slavery: its origin, nature, and history, considered in the light of Bible teachings, moral justice, and political wisdom [12] which likened blacks to apes, orangutans, and monkeys and gave justification of slavery because of the assumed feeble mindedness, irresponsibility, childlike/animalistic character of blacks and which was, in some cases, acceptable by God [12].

In 1837 United States Senator John C. Calhoun who would later serve as Vice President of the United States under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson in his Speech on the Reception of Abolition Petitions, stated [10]:

Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually. It came among us in a low, degraded, and savage condition, and in the course of a few generations it has grown up under the fostering care of our institutions, as reviled as they have been, to its present comparatively civilized condition. This, with the rapid increase of numbers, is conclusive proof of the general happiness of the race, in spite of all the exaggerated tales to the contrary.
After the end of slavery and during the era of Reconstruction, every effort was made to stop black progress. From 1865 to 1877, blacks, being protected by the federal troops, were able to fight resistance from white southerners, vote, partake in political activities, influence policy, own land, seek employment, and make use of public accommodations [13]. But in 1877 a compromise was made between the two presidential candidates, based on a deadlocked decision in regard to the United States presidential office.  Samuel J. Tilden agreed to give the presidential seat to Rutherford B. Hayes, if he would bring about the end of Reconstruction by withdrawing the Federal troops from the former Confederate states, which he did. Blacks were again, through the force of violence, relegated to the bottom of the racial hierarchy [14].
“I’se so happy.”  Israel, Ysrayl. Retrieved from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30259487@N04/6286613407/sizes/s/in/faves-18687099@N04/
“I must acknowledge I'm a victim of Cupid.” Israel, Ysrayl. Retrieved from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30259487@N04/6286611177/in/faves-18687099@N04/
More so now than ever before, the media of the day pumped out images of black inferiority, maintaining the racial oppression and suffrage of blacks. The landmark 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson US Supreme Court decision ushered in the Jim Crow laws that would legally remain until the end of the civil rights era [15]. Many images of blacks portrayed them with exaggerated features, such as huge, red, lips, especially dark skin, and unintelligible speech. They would be barefoot and happy, with their rear ends exposed, chasing chickens and eating watermelons [16]. But one of the most lasting negative images of blacks emerged in 1915, when D.W. Griffith released the race movie Birth of a Nation.
The Three Bares .... A Hearty Hello. Taylor, Jason. Retrieved from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonctaylor/3932929506/sizes/n/in/faves-18687099@N04/
“Gran’pa done say dat his face it am old. So I’se give him dis new one and hope he won’t scold.” Ysrayl Israel. Retrieved from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30259487@N04/6287132976/sizes/n/in/faves-18687099@N04/
Birth of a Nation, though glorifying the Ku Klux Klan, is more memorable for its depiction of blacks characteristically as lazy, indolent, scheming, oversexed, predatory, all of which played upon the fears of white Americans of blacks in terms of violence, sexuality, and miscegenation, and warned the audience about the deceptiveness of the mulatto (people of mixed race) [17]. With this movie, as reflected in the scene describing black politicians in Congress during the Reconstruction era as fried chicken eating, liquor drinking, shucking and jiving characters (all while in session), any chance of taking blacks seriously as functioning members of society was lost [18]. Many of the white Americans that didn’t live in the south, as in modern times, had little or no contact with blacks. Most of their imagery came from pictures, movies and word of mouth. As if it needed more support amongst white Americans – which it didn’t, President Woodrow Wilson applauded the movie and stated:
It's like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all terribly true.
Birth of a Nation. dengre.bj. Retrieved from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/59124558@N06/5663161688/sizes/n/in/faves-18687099@N04/

It is this imagery that followed blacks throughout the civil rights era and beyond. So it should be clear why black people get upset when someone makes a “joke” about black people loving fried chicken and watermelon, or of President Obama and his family resembling monkeys. It is part of the deep-rooted psychosis of racism. One of the most profound statements on the power of imagery in racism came from a series of related comments from a previous article I wrote. This one in particular actually overwhelmed me [19]:

I am white from an all white town in rural Ohio but I have stories from the other side of the fence to tell.

Growing up a redneck in a small farm town makes people automatically assume that I am a racist like them.  People share their feelings with me as if they expect me to agree with them.  My parents were racists.  The KluKluxKlan was an admirable group to many in my family.  I knew people so nice that they would lay down their life for their friends and family, little old ladies that could pass for Aunt Bee on the Andy Griffith Show and they would swell up and let loose some of the most vile and repulsive comments ever spoken as if they were commenting on the weather.  

A lot of people have not experienced the raw verbal racism that occurs when a bigot thinks there is no one around who objects.  I know that I will never truly understand what it is like to be black.  However, I do know how the other side truly thinks and it is almost like the twilight zone sometimes when you see seemingly respectable people reveal their true selves when they think no one is looking.

Racial imagery is how people from an all white town in rural Ohio, across America and around the world formulate their opinion of blacks without ever having come into contact with them. This imagery stimulates fear, and fear generates and breeds racism. This is the real reason, I believe, that Trayvon martin is no longer with us.

References
1.       Bradley, Richard (2013). “Only in America can a dead black boy go on trial for his own murder.” – Syreeta McFadden, If Only It Weren’t So, Shots in the dark, July 14, 2013. Retrieved from:  http://www.richardbradley.net/...
2.    US Census Bureau (2011). Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010, 2010 Census Briefs, March 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.census.gov/...
3.    Color World (N.D.). Universal preference of whiteness over blackness? Color Q. Rerieved from: http://www.colorq.org/...
4.    Rogers, Kyle (20120. Trayvon's school transfer hints at behavioral problems The Examiner, March 26, 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.examiner.com/...
5.    Lisabeth, Zach (2012). School Report: Trayvon Martin Found With 'Jewelry And Burglary Tool,' Politics, Opposing Views, March 26, 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.opposingviews.com/...
6.    Sundance (2012). Trayvon Martin was apparently a 17 year old undisciplined punk thug, drug dealing, thief and wannabe gangsta…, The Last Refuge, The Conservative Treehouse, March 27, 2012. Retrieved from: http://theconservativetreehouse.com/...
7.    Christopher, Tommy (2013). MSNBC Guest: Zimmerman Defense Invoked Same Justification As Lynching: Protecting White Womanhood, Columnists, Mediaite.com, July 14th, 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.mediaite.com/...
8.    Mintel Group, Ltd. (2011). Portrayal of Blacks in the Media, ReachingBlackConsumers.com. Retrieved from: http://www.reachingblackconsumers.com/...
9.    Comissiong, Solomon (2010). Corporate Hip Hop, Corporate Media & Mainstream Black “Leadership,” Before It’s News, October 4, 2010. Retrieved from: http://beforeitsnews.com/...
10.    Allen-Taylor, J. Douglas (2009). Real American Racism: A History Lesson In Our Own Words, The Berkeley Daily Planet, June 11, 2009. Retrieved from: http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/...
11.    Van Ervie, John H., (1868).  White supremacy and Negro subordination; or, Negroes a subordinate race, and (so-called) slavery its normal condition, with an appendix, showing the past and present condition of the countries south of us, Archive.org. Retrieved from: http://ia600508.us.archive.org/...
12.    Stringfellow, Thornton (1861). Slavery: its origin, nature, and history, considered in the light of Bible teachings, moral justice, and political wisdom, Archive.org. Retrieved from: http://ia700401.us.archive.org/...
13.    Library of Congress (2008). Reconstruction and Its Aftermath, African American Odyssey. March 21, 2008. Retrieved from: http://memory.loc.gov/...
14.    Ending Reconstruction - 1877 - Hayes-Tilden Compromise (N.D.). Global Security. Retrieved from: http://www.globalsecurity.org/...
15.    PBS (2002). The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Public Broadcast Service. Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/...
16.    Abagond (2011). The watermelon Stereotype, March 10, 2011. Retrieved from: http://abagond.wordpress.com/...
17.    Dirks, Tim (2013). The Birth of a Nation (1915), AMC Filmsite, American Movie Classics Company. Retrieved from: http://www.filmsite.org/...
18.    Brody, Richard (2013). The Worst Thing About “Birth of a Nation” is How Good It Is, The Front Row, The New Yorker, February 6, 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/...
19.    Smith, Will (2013). An Open Letter To the Black Kos Community, Black Kos Community, Daily Kos, July 11, 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.dailykos.com/...

Photo References
1.    Racism sucks. Retrieved from: http://www.flickr.com/...
2.    “I’se so happy.”  Israel, Ysrayl. Retrieved from: http://www.flickr.com/...
3.    “I must acknowledge I'm a victim of Cupid.” Israel, Ysrayl. Retrieved from: http://www.flickr.com/...
4.    Birth of a Nation. dengre.bj. Retrieved from: http://www.flickr.com/...
5.    The Three Bares .... A Hearty Hello. Taylor, Jason. Retrieved from: http://www.flickr.com/...
6.    “Gran’pa done say dat his face it am old. So I’se give him dis new one and hope he won’t scold.” Ysrayl Israel. Retrieved from: http://www.flickr.com/...

3:48 PM PT: This diary has been updated to include 2 videos: one which questions the degradation of Trayvon Martin's character and the other is actual footage from the movie Birth of a Nation. Both videos have been previously supported by the diary


Originally posted to Will Smith on Mon Jul 15, 2013 at 12:57 AM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community and Barriers and Bridges.

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