By Chan Tov ’16, Contributing Writer
I originally decided to write an article this week about how Democrats use their political party and ideology as an accessory, but frankly, it’s a bit too early in the year to talk about politics, and after recent events concerning Richard Sherman this past Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I thought it important to address a very pressing yet controversial topic: The “Angry Black Person” stereotype.
For those who missed it, the Richard Sherman debacle revolves around Sunday night’s NFC championship, when the Seahawks destroyed the 49ers with the help of Sherman, who made many amazing plays. Yet the controversy doesn’t revolve around the plays made; it revolves around Sherman’s comments after the game. Pumped up with adrenaline and fueled by his victory, Sherman delivered a thrashing rant against his opponent Crabtree:
“I’m the best corner in the game,” he told reporters. “When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re gonna get! Don’t you ever talk about me!”
Post rant, the media worldwide took off with hundreds of thousands tweeting that Sherman was a “thug,” “a monkey,” “an ape,” “a gorilla,” calling Sherman a “scary black man,” and using the n-word and other racial slurs liberally—all on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Now, if anyone knows anything about Richard Sherman, they know the last thing he is, is a thug. Sherman, who was raised in Compton by a sanitation worker and a teacher, graduated from a high school with a graduation rate of 57 percent, and continued his studies at Stanford, finishing his degree there with a 3.9 GPA. Furthermore, Sherman has a ridiculously long list of philanthropy involvement in the very same neighborhoods in which he grew up.
Now, I could be mistaken, but, in my humble opinion, this all confirms the fact that Sherman is not a thug. Additionally, it was later reported that Sherman’s reaction was a response to a physical altercation started by Crabtree at a prior charity event they had both attended, as well as Crabtree’s constant Twitter jeering.
But why is it so easy to brand a post-game rant by an athlete of color as a sign that one is an overly-aggressive thug, when we don’t brand the always-ready-to-fight, constantly-cursing hockey players the same?
Very few will deny that there is an underlying stereotype of black people as “too loud,” “too aggressive,” and as “having a chip on their shoulder.” These very same stereotypes have led to the branding of several black civil rights and political leaders as “violent rebels” during their own lives, only for those accusations to later be realized as mistaken and retracted.
These very same stereotypes caused Americans to react viciously when President Barack Obama stated that the Cambridge police acted “stupidly,” and when many expressed the fact that they expected Obama to be more aggressive in his reaction to the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. These very same stereotypes are used to brand First Lady Michelle Obama as angry and irrational in much of her media coverage.
These stereotypes help discredit the reactions of black people by branding what is actually passion, confidence, and assertiveness as aggression or violence. These deeply ingrained stereotypes undermine true reactions as irrationality.
In my own life, I’ve seen these very same stereotypes being used. In a recent interaction with another student, I asked a question three times, about four minutes apart each time. After realizing I was being blatantly ignored and disregarded, I became frantic for an answer and a tad annoyed.
Yet, I kept my cool and asked a fourth time in a more direct tone. The reaction I got was that I was aggressive, rather than my fellow student realizing the fact that I had indeed asked three times before and was ignored for no reason. To be honest, I was very calm; I was no Samuel Jackson in Snakes on a Plane. And yet, my annoyance was immediately branded as irrational aggression.
To call my behavior aggressive was absolutely unnecessary. I reacted in an expected manner of someone who is annoyed, yet it was very easy to assume that I was being overly aggressive. Why is this the case? I will admit that I am very ignorant of
American culture as I am an international student. But even having grown up in one of the “better” areas in Jamaica, I was able to see what I would deem aggression: I’ve witnessed people being physically attacked for not sharing the views of their opponents, and I’ve witnessed people being bashed and insulted in ways that are nothing short of devastating — I am talking about verbal attacks that I can’t even imagine occurring in America.
It stands to reason, then, that I may have a skewed perspective of what qualifies as aggression and what does not. Nevertheless, I do believe that there are several stereotypes in American society which brand people of African descent as “violent,” “aggressive,” or “thugs” even when they are not.
Finally, I write all this calmly, not to accuse but to highlight and perhaps stir a discussion as to why we have these stereotypes and how these stereotypes alter the way we view and react in our everyday lives. How is it that these incorrect stereotypes color our impressions of others, and lead us to see things which aren’t really there?