Black Representations

Three weeks ago I boarded a plane from London to New York. I seated myself in 34K, adjusted the air valve above me and immediately conducted my usual safety check (avidly reading the safety manual and checking that my life-jacket was under my seat) until the cartoon saftey video popped up on my TV screen. I watched the little on-screen caricatures and laughed sardonically. The safety clip depicted a pale attractive white woman with her obedient baby, an average looking teenager, a yabbering Chinese kid who had two slits for eyes, an elderly Indian man sporting a rather large bindi with a rather suspicious looking backpack and a black man. The black man wore a slouchy hat, sunglasses and had two bulky, gold chains round his neck with a beatbox on his shoulder, a cigarette in his mouth and a big fat red 'X' over his head. Now tell me that's not racist. Well...actually it's not racist, the person who made the video was probably racist. The outcome was just another bromide against the negative stereotypes of the black man (and albeit the Indian); a video clip that was culturally insensitive and completely tasteless...and tactless.

This observation got me thinking about the many other unfavourable cliches associated with black people in modern day society. The media does nothing to quell the negativity. Take the film industry for example; why is it the black person usually dies first? Well that used to be the case. Nowadays movie-makers have cottoned on to the fact that having a black man die within five minutes of violence was so noticeably transparent that they've allowed the him 15 more seconds of fame. Thanks. In the very few circumstances the black man makes it to the end of the film alive, it's usually because he's playing 'the baddie'. It's almost comical how predictable some films are when it comes to things like this. Although saying that, one film of late that shocked me to the very core was The Hunger Games. I had no real desire to go but was tempted into seeing it by the media speculation surrounding its release, and by my boyfriend. I sat in my seat, watched the movie and as soon as I saw two black characters come on screen, I muttered "10 bucks a black man dies first." Well, there went my 10 bucks. Refreshingly, the black people weren't the first to die, but more importantly they played vital and amicable roles within the film. I was pleasantly surprised...until I found out they were depicted as the poorest and most destitute of the lot.  This sinking feeling continued when it was the black man's turn to die. After watching white person upon white person die valiantly in battle, the black man was killed by a dog. A dog. To top it all off, his death didn't make it on screen, instead the audience was confronted with a black screen with the sound of a bark and a whimper. A black man in the audience two rows down from us said loudly (and sarcastically), "Reaalllly?" Humourous as his response was, he was right; his death lacked both honour and credibility in comparison to all the other characters. Sadly I, along with many others have become accustomed to such black misrepresentation and what I saw in The Hunger Games didn't really effect me. What did anger me was the response it got from movie critics; white people up in arms about how all the 'good' characters were black, and how the director should have chosen an all white cast. Erm...excuse me? Deal with it. Black people have been dealing with that shit all their life. Did white people ever have a problem when the role of Cleopatra (who is known to be black) was given to Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film? Didn't think so.

More worrying is the fact that this continuous black prejudice within the media only serves to support and provoke these embedded negative attitudes. You only have to flick on the TV and watch the news to see the evidence. Look at the case of 17 year old Travyon Martin, an innocent Floridian citizen who was gunned down by a neighbourhood watchman who says he acted in "self-defense". Most of you know the story, but the bottom line is this young man wouldn't have died if he was white. As if this case wasn't disturbing enough, the stories that have leaked out in the press recently about the extraordinary levels of racist, sectarian misconduct within the UK police force are far more chilling. You only have to listen to the recorded clip (click here) of a London Met policeman racially abusing a young black man to know that racist attitudes are inherent amongst officers. As shocked as I was after listening to the clip, I am glad it's gone viral. Why? Because apart from exposing how corrupt the police force is it poses an important question. Racism: who's problem is it? The racist's or the victim's? In the clip the officer says: "See the problem with you is that you'll always be a n*gga. That's your problem." No, I beg to differ. The problem with YOU Mr. Officer is that you'll always be a racist. That's your problem, and society's problem; black people don't have a problem with their skin colour. The fact that black people are seven times more likely to get stopped and searched when they account for only a slight majority in London's crime levels should not give police officers justification to racially abuse them. Police are meant to protect citizens from crimes like these, not contribute to the problem.

It's sad to see that even in the 21st century the majority of Western society as a whole is saturated with passive attitudes towards racism at every social level, but black (mis)representations within the media and racially corrupt police forces only serve to desensitize this ever-growing, real life problem. Until an example is set and ignorant beliefs are ousted, wider society won't even begin to endeavor regulating the problem of racism; it's a losing battle.