‘Being a Black Man in America’: Event discusses cultural portrayals of African-American males

U-News Staff

As part of an event titled “Being a Black Man in America,” participants gathered at the African-American History and Culture House (5245 Rockhill Rd.) last Thursday to raise awareness of how black men are perceived in American culture.

Hosted by The African-American Student Union (TAASU), the event began with participants spliting into three groups to play a game of “musical rooms.”

Every 15 minutes, each group traveled to a new room that focused on issues affecting black males: stereotypes and statistics, media influence and relationships.

In each room, students discussed the three different topics, exchanging opinions, posing questions and offering solutions to common misconceptions and misrepresentations of black men.

The first room, in which stereotypes and statistics were discussed, presented both facts and generalizations about black men. Led by Erica Portley, Administrative Assistant of UMKC Intercollegiate Athletics, students said they felt black males were more commonly associated with sports and entertainment than areas such as business orientation and intellectual sophistication.

Some stereotypes discussed included being athletically gifted. Minstrel shows and other forms of comedy poking fun at black males have been exploitative entertainment catering to white audiences.

Other stereotyped personality traits of black men that were discussed included anger and intimidation.

The discussion of media influence in the second room was led by Shawnta Clark, a graduate assistant for Multicultural Student Affairs. Photos on the walls featured famous black men throughout history, ranging from President Barack Obama to comedian Dave Chappelle to slain  Florida teen Trayvon Martin. Students considered how public figures have contributed to the views of black men.

The discussion of relationships in the third room was led by Chelsia Potts, a graduate assistant for Multicultural Student Affairs. Students confronted beliefs about family values and interracial relationships.

After the rotation sequence, the groups joined together to reflect on the three different themes in a discussion panel led by students Lane Burris, Darius Jackson, Demetrius Mays and David Jordan Jr.

“It’s basically a political dialogue about the image society has, and the image we have of ourselves,” Burris said.

TAASU Culture Chair Meosha Smith-Russell planned the evening event to help introduce new students on campus to the organization and to open a dialogue about diversity.

“It is not limited to just black people,” she said. “It is not limited to men. I’d love to tell people that, because I love hearing the opinions of other races.”

Although Smith-Russell created specific questions to guide the dialogue, the atmosphere was casual and open, providing an opportunity for students to introduce other topics.

“I feel like the room rotation was the most powerful part of the event,” Smith-Russell said. “It’s one thing to just talk about something, but when you can actually see the words and images and the conversations that come from that, it’s very powerful.

“People said some things that I didn’t expect to hear, and they actually made me think about things in a different way than how I’d thought about them before.”

Students talked about how to defeat the perpetuation of negativity by being living examples of positive people, but not just inside the walls of the Culture House. Participants said that they consider it a responsibility to rise above the impressions that have been made of them by society.

“As far as being a man in front of a camera and actually practicing what you preach, it’s a moral and an ethical issue,” Burris said. “Anybody can do the right thing in front of a group, but to do it on your own without any kind of pressure takes a lot of strength. And developing that strength is the only way that we can really ensure that this happens.”

Some comments addressed the residual psychological conflicts with which many African-Americans struggle as part of a culture that has endured—and continues to endure—social injustice.

“This event was about what we can do to dig deeper and solve this problem,” Smith-Russell said. “This conversation has been had by various people, but it’s more about what we’re going to do following the conversation; where we are going to go from here.”

The purpose of TAASU is twofold: “to foster a sense of community among African-American students at UMKC,” and, “to stimulate the intellectual, political, cultural, and social growth of all students,” according to its purpose and mission statements.

TAASU’s next general body meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Nov. 14 in the Student Union.

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