Early Sunday morning I was watching a Public Broadcasting Service program called A Biography of America. The show was making a detailed explanation of the mechanics of social programming from a gender perspective. For years, women have been conditioned to be softer and gentler and guided for traditionally female occupations such as being a nurse, being a secretary, or being a telephone operator. Females are taught to wear their emotions proudly on their sleeve. Women were taught to give in to their fear and respond to dangerous situations paralyzed from fright. On the other hand, males are taught to deny their emotions and to be the rugged hero with chiseled jaw reserve and a stiff upper lip.
This programming happens in television shows like the cowboy western where a single civilized gunman can take his pair of six shooters from his holsters strapped low around his hips and wipe out an entire tribe of Native American savages. The cowboy western is one of the more obvious examples. There are many others like the space movie where the space suit clad hero has to save the woman from the Martians or the pirate movie where the swashbuckler will scalawag his way across the screen to save the damsel in distress.
Now recent years shows this trend is reversing. Recently, there are many movies where the hero is the female. There are futuristic action movies where the hero is actually a heroin such as Aeon Flux, Resident Evil, and Ultra Violet. But other genres are showing the woman as the heroin in such programs such is Xena the Warrior Princess and Laura Croft. There has been a resurgence of television programming and the woman is the main detective, the hope of humanity’s future being chased by cyborgs, or the bionic enhanced, karate chopping, bar tender. The walls of gender programming are under siege and are coming down quickly.
But the social programming that falls along the lines of race are still very much present and are becoming even more enhanced. The other day as I watched the local news, the word black was tied to a lot of crime. The black suspect was found in the black neighborhood in the black side of town with a black victim. But when the crime perpetrator was a white person the word white was never uttered. When the story was about something negative such as dropping school grades or about school attendance falling, the video clip associated with the story was of black children. When the story was about the mortgage crises, it was accompanied by a video clip of black neighborhoods.
It is seldom that the black character is a man of courage and integrity. Usually, the black character is a man that struggles to deal with past demons. One of my favorite black characters on television, Warrick Brown from CSI: Investigations (the one situated in Las Vegas) is made to deal with gambling addiction and a drug addiction while his partners may suffer issues like angst from their offspring or growing up in foster care.
Most black fictional roles have the heroic black character playing second fiddle, at best, to a white superior. There will always be an exception to this rule. But it is a rule nevertheless. When was the last time there was a movie where the majority of characters are sensitive to the issues of the black community, dignified, and black? When was the last time a black woman was depicted in a movie as the bionic enhanced heroin or as the other worldly entity superior to humanity? You might find one example. I would be surprised if you can find two. But if anyone can name anything more than a handful of other than Halle Berry portrayed role, who by the way claims that she is not a black woman, and I will be pleasantly shocked.
Our culture is greatly influenced by what we see in magazine, television, the big screen and elsewhere. Our culture is greatly influenced by what we hear on the radio. When we are exposed to more diverse roles in our social construct we will become more diverse. However, when we continue to perpetuate racial roles that show black people as incomplete, limited, and all to willing to accept our constant portrayal as second class citizens, we will continue to be second class citizens.
Many of us might pretend we are immune from such programming. We never know how deep it goes until we are put into a situation where we think we are following are instincts, but usually we are relying on our social programming. Black people are taught to fear their black neighbors and will flee the black community instead of making a stand and changing that which we despise. Black people are taught to conform to standards of acceptable ethnic behavior and appearance rather than wear our ethnicity proudly in order to find a professional job. We are made to believe that we will be safer if we just move out of the black areas into the more white areas where people welcome us with open arms.
But the truth of the matter is that from the first moment a black person sets roots in a formerly all white area many white people will start pulling their roots up to move away. Why? The perception will be there goes the neighborhood. It may be a cliché but it is real nevertheless. Why? Black people have been stereotyped as everything negative with few redeeming qualities other than they run fast, dribble well, and throw footballs. Why? Stereotypes say black people are good at physical activities as if black people are nothing more than beast of burden. But those same stereotypes paint black people as criminals with low moral and ethical standards.
A lot of people think all we need to do is stop contributing to the stereotypical images and clean our selves up. Black people should stop wearing white sleeveless shirts and get doctorates. But even if such a feat were possible, the propaganda would only adapt. Even if every black person on the planet conforms to a more acceptable image to the racially generic dominant community that happens to be predominantly white, the dominant community will still portray blacks as less than and incompetent. The reality doesn’t matter. People will believe whatever they read or hear or see about black people being the root of all evil. And with enough propaganda to reinforce the message, too many black people will believe whatever the media says about black people along with everyone else, generally speaking.