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Avery Jonas ’16 Discusses Black Masculinity in the Media

“It’s hard growing up as a black male and having the media show you images of yourself that are pretty negative,” said Avery Jonas ’16 during his Brace Fellow Presentation last Monday in the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD).

Jonas’s presentation, “An Oppressive Ideal: The Contemporary Representations of Black Men in the Media and Their Repercussions,” focused on the representation of black masculinity in the media and the way this portrayal affects black men.

“[The workshop] also touches upon a few areas of black masculinity in the media, from the early Blaxploitation films to recent news coverage from the events in Ferguson and the negative impact each representation has on the whole, especially the black male psyche,” said Jonas in an interview with The Phillipian before the presentation.

Jonas said that the media’s perpetuation of the stereotype that black men are unintelligent, aggressive criminals is harmful to black males who grow up seeing these negative depictions.

During his presentation, Jonas showed three video clips from three different movies in chronological order, showing how the representation of black men in the media has changed over time and focusing on how these portrayals reflect negative stereotypes about black men.

The first clip from “The Birth of a Nation,” a silent film released in 1915 and set in the Civil War and Reconstruction era, depicted a black man, Gus, chasing a white woman, Flora, whom he desired. Flora eventually jumps from a cliff, choosing death over Gus.

Jonas talked about how the movie, widely criticized for its representation of black men as sexually aggressive and unintelligent, used racist notions built around black inferiority to reinforce the notion that slavery was profitable and good for America.

Jonas said “The Birth of a Nation” also used patriarchal masculinity to sexually repress black men and keep them from reaching the masculine ideal. Patriarchal masculinity promotes the concept that the ideal man is straight, white, cisgendered, able-bodied, financially stable and Protestant.

“Black men are excluded from this ideal because of systems of economic and social oppression,” Jonas said during his presentation.

The second clip showed how the stereotype evolved to view the black man as a sexual object. Since the values of patriarchal masculinity dictate that men should be sexually dominant, the fact that the woman in the clip was in control of the situation once again undermined black masculinity, said Jonas.

The third clip portrayed the more modern stereotype of black men as gang members. Jonas said that black men trapped in a low-income neighborhood without opportunities for advancement join gangs in order to fulfill the masculine ideal.

“[Joining gangs] is a way to reassure yourself that you are a man, especially in a society like this. These men are stuck to the neighborhood because there’s no way for them to get out,” said Jonas.

Jonas hopes that students leave his presentation with a better understanding of how the misrepresentation of a group of people in the media affects not only members of that group, but also anyone who sees such a misrepresentation and assumes the stereotypes to be true.

“I hope students will learn the basics of media representations in America, how everything that they see is not necessarily true, how to think critically about representations of any group of people and how those stereotypes can influence their own decisions about who they meet and interact with,” said Jonas.