As Brenda was walking home one dark evening, she noticed someone in a hoodie walking behind her. Feeling uncomfortable, she crossed over to the other side of the road. The hooded figure also crossed the road. She began to walk faster; the hooded figure did the same. Looking around, she became rather alarmed as she realised that there was no one else around. She was on the verge of panic as she noticed the hooded figured was getting closer. Suddenly she heard a familiar voice call out “Mum”. She stopped dead in her path, relieved by the realisation that the hooded figure was her son.
She laughs with embarrassment when she tells the story of how she had stereotyped and become scared of her own son, a young professional, on the basis what he was wearing. He also laughs about it, it was his mum that had reacted negatively to him and there were no real consequences. If anything, the joke was on her. It was quite different from the many times when he was given funny looks by strangers or stopped by police as he was innocently going about his business.
Recent Home Office figures show that you are 10 times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic group than if you are white. Some will justify this on the basis that a high proportion of knives and other crimes that lead to searches are seen to be committed by young black men. This does not take account of the implication of constantly being stopped and searched on people, their psyche and their communities.
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission Report, “Stop and Think” highlights the case of Ken Hinds:
Ken Hinds is a pillar of his community. He is a youth worker and conflict engagement specialist involved in high risk gang mediation.
In his day-to-day encounters with the police, however, Hinds says he is often assumed to be a criminal. ‘I’m stopped and searched on average five to six times a year,’ he says. ‘It started happening when I was 13 or 14 and I’m 50 now, so you can work out the numbers. It can happen anywhere – when I’m driving, or on the train, or when I step out of my house to go to the sweet shop. It always starts with a question about something small, and then escalates to a search. They usually say you fit a description.’
As a young man, Hinds says his experiences of stop and search formed his perception of the police as ‘the enemy’: ‘it was made clear to me that there were two sides, and the police were not on my side. As a result, I felt that I could not approach the police when I had a problem. I had to deal with the problem myself.’
The negative treatment and portrayal of black men in particular in the media; and the lack of focus on the positive things that black men do, professionally and within the community led Cephas Williams, a young black architecture to set up a media campaign – 56 Black men. 56 Black Men highlights the positive contributions of black men in the community. The men are a cross section of professions ranging from teaching, politics, corporate law, product design, manufacturing, entrepreneurship and what have you. It hopefully leaves the impression that there are successful black men in almost every area of professional life that you can imagine.
Earlier this year, there was a great interview of some of the men on the Victory Derbyshire show. They spoke of some of the stereotype based challenges that they are constantly faced with such as people perceiving them not to be intelligent; being told to smile so that people aren’t scared of them; people being surprised when they speak articulately and telling them they sound white; and people expecting them to have had a difficult upbringing.
They had decided to take part in the 56 Black men project with the hope that the awareness campaign would help people to see them for who they really are beyond the stereotypes i.e. professional men in all kinds of professions; successful individuals, doing something positive that contributions to society and should be taken serious; critically to be seen as role models for young black men and women beyond the negative stereotypes.
I was inspired by the versatility and achievements of the 56 Black men and they are just a small representation of the black men all over the country. I truly believe that we are privileged to have them in our midst.
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