“I feared for my life,” He looked big and scary,” “He looked like a grown man,” “He fit the profile.” These and other statements have been used to justify the murder of Black males across the country. These Black males were young, old, fathers and husbands who were engaged in activities such as asking for help, walking home, or playing in the park. They are forever tied together by the narrative that the Black male body is dangerous, deviant, and unworthy of fairness and justice. Instead, the guilt and execution of Black males is determined by any citizen on the street when often their only crime was existing in spaces as Black males where they are hated and feared.
Scientific research has consistently supported the unspoken phenomenon of the perceived “Scary Black male.” Black boys are aged by two years compared to their White counterparts contributing to the expectation of accountability for “boys will be boys’ behavior.” Unarmed Black males are more likely to be shot in “shoot/don’t shoot scenarios” by police than armed White males. Also, the fear response is more likely to be activated in the brain when White individuals are shown images of Black males compared to any other racial group. Almost daily it seems the media is highlighting the consequences of this perception in the form of murder, criminalization, and lower expectations. Society has bought wholesale into the brand of intentional, institutional and cultural racism that discounts, devalues, and despises Black life. An equally unfortunate phenomenon is the number of Black males who have internalized this form of racism contributing to a hatred of themselves and other Black males.
Despite the perceived forced choice of engaging in stereotypical Black maleness under the threat of a gun or refusing the “Black male stereotype box” under the fear of emasculation, Black males have a choice regarding how they receive and respond to the scary Black male narrative. When facing overwhelming racism that threatens the lives of Black males, we can be conscious, courageous, and, committed. We can be conscious of the intentional narrative that has been created to deny the humanity of Black males. By assuming a posture of greater attentiveness to the messaging we receive, Black males can critically assess the social content they are exposed to rather than a passive acceptance of the scary Black male stereotype.
With heightened awareness, Black males will also experience a call to action to rewrite the narrative associated with the Black male body. However, rewriting and reimagining the Black male experience can come at significant cost. Black males who refuse to accept the scary Black male stereotype can face ostracization, claims of being “uppity” or having a greater association with Whiteness, and even violence. To challenge the scary Black male narrative, Black males must engage in courageous action by addressing racism at the institutional and cultural levels. Lastly, recognizing that change requires persistence, we must remain committed to challenging the scary Black male narrative over time.
There is an intentional effort to undermine, redefine, and malign the Black male experience. This effort has contributed to the development of the “Scary Black male” narrative. The scary Black male narrative depicts Black males as dumb, dangerous, and deviant individuals. There has been a significant cost for the proliferation of the “Scary Black male” narrative in popular culture creating a fear of the Black male body. This manufactured fear has been used to justify the murder of countless Black males throughout the country. We can rewrite the narrative concerning the Black male experience by being conscious of intentional racism, courageous in anti-racism and advocacy, and committed to the long-term struggle of dismantling systems of racism and discrimination.