On Saturday, August 20th, the Black Lives Matter Atlantic City chapter had their 10th monthly forum. The forum’s theme was Perceptions of African Americans in the Media, with guests Dr. Donnetrice Allison, Associate Professor of Communications at Stockton University and Glynnis Reed, Atlantic City based visual artist.
We discussed how mainstream media views African Americans through one lens—a constrained lens that is shaped by what sells. What sells are images of African Americans that perpetuate stereotypes, and our history has proven this: black men as the “happy slave” to the “coon” to the “brutal black buck.” For black women, images are either over sexualized or under sexualized/masculine beginning with “the mammie” to “hoes” to powerful overly feminine black women who lead complicated and dramatic lives.
Glynnis Reed’s work as a visual artist seeks to counter the mainstream stereotypes specifically about black women by using powerful imagery of them to influence the photographs she takes and manipulates. By taking photographs of black women in nature or with halos, Reed elevates black women within intentionally exalted positions adding to their power and spirituality. Reed’s work also seeks to highlight aspects in the lives of black women that you don’t see in pop culture. This point reminded me of W.E.B. DuBois’ thoughts in 1926 about the problem facing black artists by saying “we shrink at the portrayal of the truth about ourselves” (DuBois). She draws on history through the use of strong black women archetypes, but more superficially how they use ideas of survival in their work. Reed also provided examples of how Audre Lorde’s “Litany for Survival” and Nina Simone’s song “Four Women” influenced her work. This influence resulted in attempts to create both an affirming artistic and queer space that rethinks and challenges heteronormativity and conventional notions of black women.
As a forum, we discussed the double edge sword of blacks having more visibility in the media, but at the same time, popular images of black women and men still perpetuate stereotypes. Black women are still presented as complicated people with messy lives even in executive positions or positions of power. In the entertainment industry, black artists need to ask themselves a hard question because their choices are constrained. More visibility is great but the images that sell perpetuate images that aren’t consistent with everyday black people. This makes interactions tough because in spaces where those don’t regularly come into contact with the black community, there is pressure for blacks to adjust their behavior and to act far from the images that the media perpetuates. We use one lens to look at black people in the media. The impact is that the media influences the vilification of African Americans playing into our implicit biases.
We ended with some tangible advice to the Black Lives Matter group: 1) Don’t just consume media, interrogate it, because there is much much more then what we see. 2) More intercultural experience is needed with one another. 3) Be an advocate of art and independent media. 4) Hear other stories that inform new viewpoints.
Save the date. On Saturday, November 19th, as a community, we will reflect on all of our forums over the past year by connecting all forms of violence, sudden as well as slow, that impact black lives. We will discuss action steps for how to continue to implement practical and policy changes that demonstrate how black lives matter.
About the Author:
Dr. Christina Jackson is an urban sociologist, educator, researcher and community arts advocate. She has worked in academic, evaluation and the non-profit settings. Her teaching pedagogy and overall interests combine issues of race, class, gender, social justice, community work and experiential learning. She is currently Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stockton University in New Jersey.
About Black Lives Matter AC:
Black Lives Matter AC was organized by a coalition of community organizations in and around Atlantic City that meets monthly at Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City to bring together people across lines of race, religion, age, gender, economic & educational levels, in order to learn and listen to one another. We honor the future through our youth, creating space for arts, culture, and local ministry to guide youth away from gangs and toward the arts. Various speakers present on topics, so we better understand the underlying systems of oppressions which people of color have inherited and which white Euro-Americans have often taken for granted. Since November, we have covered areas such as domestic violence, the prison industrial complex, housing, the current state takeover of Atlantic City, and more. We provide safe and facilitated space for people to begin listening to one another’s stories, to build trust, and to foster relationships that lead to organizing and building projects for change. Our goal is to create relationships where none existed, and then to allow the process of creativity and cooperation to flourish for good, so that the future of Atlantic City and Atlantic County is enhanced for as many people as possible, starting with our children.