Let’s Change Perceptions of Black Men And Boys

Alexis McGill Johnson

The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington presents a critical opportunity for this nation and the African American community to redefine the 21st Century vision for racial justice and freedom. To succeed, this must be a collective vision focused on changing individual perceptions through united action.

Our racial progress is undeniable:

  • In 2013, 86% of Black men have completed high school or the equivalent. In 1963, just 38% of Black men and women completed high school.
  • In 2012, nearly 20% of Black men have completed college. In 1963, that number was only 5.4%.
  • Right now – 1.4 million Black men are in college.
  • 92% of Black men with college degrees are employed.

The vision that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., set forth 50 years ago has been hijacked on both sides by people who are pushing for a colorblind vision that is simply not possible – socially or physically.

Dr. King himself understood the pervasiveness and power of race in his iconic speech when he described a day when “right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

To truly achieve Dr. King’s dream for freedom, we must rewrite the script on the Black experience, instead of continuing to argue against it.

Certainly, many disparities remain that create challenges to racial progress, but we must urge our media to convey agency to black men and boys themselves, not just to reinforce negative stereotypes.

Our truths are not being presented or promoted in the mainstream media and we all lose if we are told only about the disparities and not the achievements and successes of Black men and boys.

It’s time for us to change this.

The challenge before us today isn’t to simply continue working to bring about Dr. King’s dream, but to reinterpret his vision in a way that delves beyond fear and anxiety to bring about a productive and honest conversation about race in this country.

Together we must engage culture to transform perception; hold media accountable for depictions that reinforce negative associations; and reset the vision of race for this and future generations.

Dr. King’s vision was the blueprint. Today we are empowered and equipped to execute on his dream and finally make our great nation everything it was intended to be.

 

Read the Talking About Race Memo here.


Alexis McGill Johnson is a political strategist, writer, and organizer. She is the Director of the American Values Institute — a consortium of researchers, educators, and social justice advocates whose work analyzes the role of bias and racial anxiety in our society.

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