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Stopping the Stereotypes

Stopping the Stereotypes

By Dr. Lawson Bush V

I am in my third year as a professor at one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the nation. In the college of education, words such as social justice, critical pedagogy, diversity and equity saturate most documents.

However, it was two years into my professorship before another
faculty member engaged me in a conversation about my research or any other intellectual matter. Previous conversations centered on my physique, working out and sports. Yet embedded and evident in these conversations is the age-old Black male experience of being both feared and desired.

“We’re scared, we’re scared,” said a White male colleague when he and a group of other White men saw me walk down the hall.

And I could write a chapter on some of my experiences with students. One is particularly emblematic. I taught a 9:00 a.m. Saturday class and, as I often do before class began, I walked around to welcome students. As I approached a middle-aged Asian male student, he pulled a picture of a Chippendale dancer out of his pocket and said, “You can be one of them.”

A senior faculty member approached me in a hallway after a department meeting. She said that they were just talking about me in their meeting. She told me that they were considering a fund-raising calendar, and they wanted me to pose for all 12 months.

I certainly do not think any of these people meant to insult or objectify me. If these were independent incidents, they might be inconsequential and, in some cases, flattering. Yet, placed in a larger context, in terms of how Black males are often perceived, they concern me. 

People do not see Black males as we are; rather, they see a constructed image that relegates us to object status. Our humanity
becomes invisible, and we are treated accordingly. These stereotypes and perceptions give license to White men to openly joke about being scared of me, for the student to proposition me with a picture of an
exotic male dancer and for faculty members to discuss me posing for a calendar.

As an educator and researcher, I am particularly interested in how stereotypical images of Black males play out in K-12 school settings. There is an emerging body of educational literature that asks a profound and sobering question: Are Black males beyond love?

In other words, some suggest that negative stereotypes of Black males have become so pervasive that many teachers regard even the youngest Black males as unworthy of empathy, compassion, love, effort or high expectations. As a result, Black males become expendable to
society and to school systems — including the academy.

I am far from being a prude. However, stereotypical images of Black men have been allowed to run rampant in the psyche of society. I think it is about time to put them away.

— Dr. Lawson Bush V is an associate professor and director of the UCI/CSULA Joint Doctoral Program, Educational Leaderships,
Charter College of Education, California State University, Los Angeles.

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