#IfTheyGunnedMeDown Hashtag Calls Out Media's Portrayal of Black People

3 years ago

The hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown is currently trending on Twitter, as a well as a Tumblr devoted to side-by-side images of the same black person, in "respectable" attire and in outfits that could be deemed "thuglike." Which picture would the media use to represent you: the one where you were goofing off with friends and look like a “thug,” or your graduation picture? Guess which one the media tends to use?

On average, a black man is shot by a police or security officer every 28 hours. A lot of the time, these guys are young and unarmed and had committed no crime, or something as minor as jaywalking. Moreover, black men are shot by authorities when in the same circumstances white guys aren’t.

WTF? Are cops just that racist? Are we, as a culture, so racist we don’t understand black humanity?

Cynthia Lee of George Washington University Law School suggests:

“Borrowing from Charles Lawrence's theory of unconscious racism, I suggest that racial stereotypes operate at a subconscious level to influence the police officer's decision to use deadly force. The police officer may not consciously decide to use deadly force because of the suspect's race, but the suspect's race nonetheless influences the officer. Racial stereotypes thus may alter the officer's perception of danger, threat, and resistance to authority. A simple question, Officer, why am I being stopped? may be perceived as behavior challenging the officer's authority when asked by someone who is Black. Police officers may also see danger more readily when dealing with a person of color. Just as racial and ethnic stereotypes influence private citizens' decisions to use force in self-defense, such stereotypes can also influence police officers' decisions to use force.”

In short, the odds are good that most of the police officers who are filling innocent black men full of lead are not consciously targeting young black men; it’s that they have been told by media messaging all their lives that black men are “dangerous” and that black people are “other” than white people. Thus, they shoot first before the “monster” gets them.

Racism comes from the enculturation of black people as dangerous aliens on Planet Whitey.

This representation of black men as “thugs” continues even after an unarmed teen has been shot. Here are some examples shared by tweeters of themselves with the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown hashtag, that explain how context makes the narrative radically different:

Recently, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, MO. His body was left uncovered, in the street, in view of his parents and grandmother for four hours. Here are two of the Facebook pictures that the media could have chosen from to represent him:

Guess which one national media went with?

Meanwhile, protesters for Michael Brown have been called an “angry mob” and protests were labeled “riots”. When some people used the protests to loot stores, police officers used tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowd of protesters who were not looting. Newspapers reported the protesters where shouting “Kill the Police” when they were actually shouting “No Justice, No Peace”.

In the modern world, the media shapes the cultural narrative. If we ever want to see a cessation of the tragic slaughter of unarmed black men by cops, then we need to stop having black men and black people displayed as “scary” all over our TV, movies, and news. Until culture shows cops that fear is not the necessary axiomatic response to black men, they will overreact violently when in even a minor confrontation with black men.

Jesus wept.

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