Michael R. Williams, Ed.D.
August 14, 2019
It started off as a routine lunch stop at the local pizzeria in the small rural township, but this familiar stop turned into “The Look”. America’s increased publishing of Black male stereotypes is a direct result of White America found itself after slavery (Jefferson, 2012). As recently shown by P&G at the Cannes Lions festival, The Look happens more than I was previously aware of. Even as a Black man that hypervisual and aware of my body in public spaces, I caught multiple stares over my entire lunch break. Black masculinity has a unique position as it is assumed to be monolithic and disconnected from accessing capital (Malton, 2016). If you haven’t seen the less than two-minute video, it’s visual storytelling of eyes following Black men and marginalized community members daily, every second. The eyes are not of “oh, you have something on your shirt”, the “I like that ensemble” or “hmm, you look very familiar”. These are vindictive looks that criminalized and punish Black men before you hear our words, view our credentials, and notice just like you, we are human too. Without question, Black men are viewed and assumed to act through a White hegemonic lens (Pelzer, 2016) to access the title of being a “man” and overcoming “The Look”.
Again, we are humans too.
For centuries, Black men have been visually depicted, medically examined, and academically described as a hypersexual and barbaric beast (Ritt-Coulter, 2018). The video weaves in implicit biases, these biases are unchecked, learned and reinforced by societal standards. Implicit biases are insecurities or fear that we have not engaged in to question or challenge. This video starts by showing a father walking to drop his son off to school; who sees a classmate and the driver of a Mercedes Benz immediately locks the door and rolls up the window. First, this encounter with luxurious property shows how Black men are denied economical advancement and thus assumed to be thieves in American living. I can also recall the first time I heard the bold car door locking while walking as if I deserved to be excluded from the desires of life and labeled a threat. As the video progresses, the same man is denied access to an elevator upon turning the corner in a city building. As I began to order my lunch meal, I felt the stares of the patrons in the local pizzeria deny me the same access to in a public building. As I sat down during my meal, I thought about the countless instances of Black men being denied access and died as a result. Although my death was not of physical sense, it was more spiritual. A soul-wrenching death of my presence and my stature as a man. The second underpinning of this stunning video shows how Black men are unnoticed or assumed to be out of position. Frequently, I feel out of place while living in a predominately White community and moreover in society in general; as a matter of fact, I’ve subconsciously blocked the stares out. However, my repressed awareness of “The Look” does not deny the first layer of implicit biases towards Black men nor does it create teachable moments for change. The climax of the video comes at the end when the same Black man that has been followed throughout the video assumes the seat of a Judge. The irony of the final scene shows how despite the disenfranchisement that Black men have been socially constructed to live within or moral obligation is to provide a moral, restorative, liberation lens to many of the systemic systems within our civilization.
As a Black scholar and educator who has a dedicated career towards the liberation of Black men and the teaching of existence, I feel that society brawling with implicit biases. In the current news medium, it has been an implicit vendetta against immigrants, members of the transgender community, women, and Black men. It was an outstanding job by P&G to start the conversation about implicit biases, but it takes everyone who watches the video and read this article to check our internal biases to search our innermost being to unlearn and face our insecurities or fears.
Jefferson, L. (2012). Masculinity In Comparative Black Literatures (Doctoral dissertation, University of Mississippi).
Matlon, J. (2016). Racial capitalism and the crisis of black masculinity. American Sociological Review, 81(5), 1014-1038.
Ritt-Coulter, E. (2018). Gendering the Black Body: Race, Masculinity, and Violence in the First World War Era. University of Central Oklahoma.
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