When I was younger I used to talk to many adolescent Black boys both formally and informally. Sometimes it would be the young boys I coached in youth soccer. Other times it would be random young boys I would encounter. Back then, as I do now, I would ask the boys what they wanted to be when they grew up. The overwhelming majority would say they wanted to be basketball players. A few would say they wanted to be rappers. There was one time when a young boy said he wanted to be an engineer. It was an interesting dynamic.
Now I also encountered young white boys as well. I would ask them the same thing. They would say things like stockbroker, attorney, doctor, CEO, and one proudly announced that he would one day be President of the United States. That one should be old enough now. The contrast between the Black boys and the white boys was quite remarkable. Being the inquisitive person that I was I pondered the significance of the contrast. The answer was quite literally on a TV screen.
The Black boys said “basketball player” and “rapper” because quite frankly those were the prevailing images they saw of themselves on TV. Sure there were plenty of dramas that had Black men playing roles such as doctors, police officers, and attorneys, but how often did they see those roles? Even with adults there is a limited amount of Black male images being shown outside of sport and other entertainment. An exception maybe the evening news where the picture of a Black man merely suspected of a crime is shown across the screen. Of course, dramas where a Black man is playing a criminal are prominent. In contrast television programs showing white men in a variety of roles are numerous.
Now I know someone may say that the boys shouldn’t be watching TV like that but let’s be real. Black America as a whole watches more TV than everyone else. It wouldn’t be so bad if we had more shows like “A Different World” from the late eighties/early nineties which encouraged many Black young people to attend historically Black colleges. For better or worse the medium influences the behavior of people. If it has to be there it needs to be used as a positive force.
It’s interesting that even in this age of social media and the ability of Black people to create more diverse images in entertainment we will are still limited. Someone studying Black culture 500 years from now would conclude that all Black people did was get into problems with male/female relationships with some gay, and interracial relationships thrown in for good measure. They would also think that our most successful business people were drug dealers.
We live in a time where we have the technology to create a diversity of images. The cable networks are corporate controlled so there will always be limits on the positive images of Black people in general, and Black men in particular that will be shown. There are no excuse why someone with a small budget can’t create not only more positive images but more diverse images.
We might get the images of a doctor or attorney but why not a store owner? Why not a legitimate businessman who has built something from scratch? Instead of a Black man and woman engaging in relationship drama let’s see the two people work together to build something for them and their family. If we have to have the relationship drama why not have women go crazy over the nerdy brotha with a career in STEM?
We really need a diversity of Black male images. Of course there will be images of Black men playing ball and being the entertainer. We just need other images to balance the scales. It is in our power to make this happen.