The stories around me that are being told are the stories of being Black in America. Thinking about the different modalities, especially visual, the portrayals of the mistreatment of Black people in the media is a story that I am told on a daily basis. Whether it is on news programs, or on television programs, I am told the same narrative. These stories do indeed tell us how the world works; meaning, that there is power and privilege in our world. There are people with advantages and others with disadvantages. Privilege is given to those with a certain status, and power. As a Black woman in this society, I am not given that power nor that privilege. I can consider myself to be amongst those who are disadvantaged. Therefore, my behavior and demeanor must be “controlled.” I have to behave in a certain way in order to be treated well in this world. The same narrative that I am told on a daily basis, whether it is on television or social media, has an impact on me and all of us as well, because it changes our perception on people and things.
Furthermore, when considering who has power in this narrative, we must look at the modalities in which this narrative is being told. Who is pushing this narrative and why? If we look at the news programs, the same story that is being told is that a Black man has been shot by the police. Usually, with this story, the Black man was unarmed and the police officer that shot him is on probation or suspended. I have become desensitized to this narrative because it is the same. Depending on the news program, they may decide to portray any criminal history the victim had. Other news programs will portray what is known as the Black on Black crime narrative. This narrative perpetuates the stereotypes associated with Black people. Though I do not know specifically who makes the rules, I know that the people that are in power have a motive. The motive can be to portray Black people negatively. These narratives teach society how to treat Black people, especially as criminals for Black men.
Thinking about the stories around me, my identity plays a significant role. As a Black Muslim woman, I am told that I need to work twice as hard in order to make it in this world. I have to prove myself because people’s perception of me is different from how I would like for them to perceive me. With the way people perceive me, I struggle with my identity. The world around me want me to be someone that I am not. In consideration of the media, there aren’t that many stories portrayed on Black Muslim women. Yet, there are stories on Black women and Muslim women. It’s as though I need to choose between my race and my religion. There isn’t much power given to me; I am not given the power to choose where to fit in. Whether I choose my ethnicity or religion, I am still at a disadvantage.
Other stories I am told are the continuous mistreatment of Black people. Recently, I was on social media and I saw the story about two Black men who got arrested in Starbucks. They were arrested after waiting for their friend. The two men were arrested for trespassing. The story went viral on social media and there were many people furious about it. Based on this story, Black men, specifically, are not treated fairly. Black people must behave in a certain way in order to be treated well. Black people must watch for what they say, and how they say it. Black people must meet certain expectations, so that they are not viewed differently. A constant story that I usually hear a lot is a Black student being told to go home from school because of his/her hair. If the student has dreads or braids, it is considered inappropriate and against the school’s policy. Not only do Black people need to monitor their behavior but also the way they dress and look. This all goes back to power and the understanding of who is at a disadvantage. In this case, it’s not about what is being punished, but who is being punished and why they are being punished. Those who are at a disadvantage are being punished for who they are.
There are so many more stories of the mistreatment of Black people and being Black in America, but they are all similar. No matter how far along we are, it will continue to be the same because of power. Those who have power are able to control and do things that will benefit them. These stories are being told on platforms with a large audience. Because of this, it matters that we know what perspective these stories are being told from. But, it must be noted that these stories shape the way people view others. And, the fact that these media platforms have a large audience, they can be influenced.
The power is with those who are telling these stories of being Black in America. However, if Black people were the ones telling their own story, it would be quite different. Maybe they would be treated differently. If they had power to tell their own story, people’s perception about them would change. And, the negative narrative of Black people would cease to exist, right? The stories that are told to us do indeed shape us to become who we are. It is difficult to make sense of the world when there are too many stories to be told. But, most importantly, it is difficult to make sense of the world when you lack power.