It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousands words; but is it really? After Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012 finally made national news after pressure from the public, depending on the media outlet, you saw two versions of Trayvon: the “typical American teenager” photo that showed a smiling Trayvon being embraced by his father and the “thug” Trayvon who was seen shirtless pointing a middle finger at the camera.
Whenever someone wanted to justify why Trayvon “deserved getting murdered” after walking home from 7-11 in Florida, they used shirtless Trayvon.
For any grieving parent, the fact that their unarmed child is gunned down is painful enough, but when the media buys into negative stereotypes of African Americans by scouring through the dead child’s personal Facebook and Twitter photos and using an image of the teen blowing smoke into a camera, it adds insult to injury. And this past on Sunday, black youth took to Twitter to talk about it.
Using the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, dozens of black males and some females posted two social media images of themselves side-by-side: one picture that someone might consider to be negative or “thuggish” and the other one in which society would find as positive. It was in response to the murder of 18-year-old Mike Brown, who was shot multiple times on Saturday afternoon by a police officer in Ferguson, MO.
I compiled some of the images posted by black men on Twitter. It is one of the best lessons I’ve seen on how one image can change the way a black person is perceived in the media.
I know what it’s like to be stereotyped. It has happened quite often living in my Old Town Alexandria neighborhood. It’s a historic district that has pristine homes between $500,000 to multi-millions sprinkled in with public housing. Despite the fact that the Washington, DC metro area is home to the most affluent and educated African Americans in the nation, on numerous occasions I’ve been mistaken for someone who lives in the housing projects. When walking my dog, I’ve been asked more than once: “How can you afford him?” Last year while my husband and I were planting grasses in our front yard like many of our white neighbors do, on two occasions people walking by asked about our “landscaping rates.” Once at a community meeting on the construction of a new school, an official mistook me for a Section 8 resident. She said that the entire neighborhood needed to work together for the sake of the new school, “whether you own a home on Cameron Street,” pointing at a white male, “or live in Jefferson Village (low-income housing),” pointing at me.
A year after moving into our newly renovated row house, I let my dog out front before bed. With my dog’s leg in the air doing his thing, a female cop drives by, sees me, stops and backs up right in front of my house. She flashed a big light on me. I began to ask her what was the problem. She ignored me. Instead, I could hear her describing me on her walkie-talkie. Again, I asked, “What’s the problem.” This time I said it a little louder. She never told me anything. She just kept flashing her extremely bright light at me. “What is your problem? “I screamed. There were still no words from her, just the light in my face. When my dog finished his business, I turned around to head back inside. The entire time she kept her light flashing on me as I closed the door behind myself. Once inside, she finally drove away. I was furious. I felt like I was in Mississippi in the 1960s trying to segregate my neighborhood and getting intimidated by the cops. Even as a black, professional woman, I’m still seen as a possible threat or someone who couldn’t afford to live in the house in which I was standing in front of.
What if that female police officer would’ve thought that my tone was threatening to her and used deadly force on me, I wonder what image the national media would had used of me?
I originally published this piece in my online magazine, emPowermagazine.com.