I am a black female who was raised by a single father, and there has never been a time when he wasn’t in my life. He is and has always been everything.
When I was little, he let me put barrettes in his hair and played tea party with me every evening in our living room. In middle school, he talked to me about boys and made every effort not to pass out the first time I got my period. In high school, he helped me shop for my first school dance and bought me Mexican food when I received my first college rejection letter. He’s no hero, no superman. He’s just dad (and mom).
Stories like mine are hardly ever portrayed in movies or TV shows, and it is obvious from media headlines to music that the image of the black father has been placed into a box. They are portrayed as aggressive, self-centered and irresponsible.
I guess it’s true when people say that there is some legitimacy to every stereotype. However, the biggest problem with stereotypes is the fact that they discourage any form of social progression. They force us into a stale way of thinking so that we assume that we know everything and everyone based on generalizations. They make us unable to recognize individuality and depreciate the value of uniqueness.
Stereotypes are safe because they are familiar, which is why people rely on them so much. Humans gravitate toward lines being drawn. For some reason, we’re afraid of the unexpected. Perhaps we think we won’t be able to handle it, or maybe we’re just too lazy to try anything different.
Stereotypes are also dangerous in the fact that they can make the targeted group feel as if they have to meet a certain expectation. There’s a lyric in the song “Hold Us Down” by Childish Gambino that goes: “This one kid said somethin’ that was really bad./ He said I wasn’t really black because I had a dad./ I think that’s kinda sad, mostly ‘cause a lot of black kids think they should agree with that.” And it is sad because there are people in the black community who feel as if they need to struggle in order to truly be a member of their race. Because of that, there’s a lot of tension when it comes to identity, and ridiculous debates such as the “talking white” vs. “talking black” quarrel arise.
Another thing to stress is that whether the image that is being popularized appears to be positive or negative is not important. What’s important is the lack of diversity in perspective. Black fathers being constantly portrayed as deadbeats is not any better or any worse than the overly photoshopped covers of magazines that are forcing girls to feel like they need to starve themselves in order to be beautiful.
Often, people forget — because of the labels placed on them — that, in actuality, every individual has complete control over his or her identity. We assume because of our race, our gender and our socioeconomic class that fate is already decided for us. We assume that because of these things, we have to behave a certain way. Why? It’s because we’re not sure what would happen if we acted differently. Or it’s because the world tells us that if we do behave differently, then we’re not being ourselves.
None of this is to say that we should attempt to completely abolish stereotypes. To think that is possible is both overly ambitious and a little unrealistic. However, educating the public so that they are neither ignorant nor afraid of diversity is definitely possible.
As cliche as this topic may seem, it is definitely something that needs to be talked about as it is still an issue. Men like my father deserve credit. And that goes for every other under-recognized group too, as there is no worse feeling than being unable to be the person you are or being told that who you are is not who you are supposed to be.
Jasmine White is a freshman in the College. ’Bama Rogue appears every other Friday in the guide.