"Once upon a time there was an old goat. She had seven little kids, and loved them all, just as a mother loves her children. One day she wanted to go into the woods to get some food. So she called all seven to her and said, "Children dear, I am going into the woods. Be on your guard for the wolf. If he gets in, he will eat up all of you, even your skin and hair. The villain often disguises himself, but you will recognise him at once by his rough voice and his black feet." The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids by the Brothers Grimm
If you grew up reading fairy-tales then you’ll know who the Big Bad Wolf is. In these stories, the Big Bad Wolf is always trying to kill and eat the good people. He often wears a disguise and tricks people (or animals) into letting him into the house. He preys on the innocent and seems good at first but is as ruthless as they come.
Look at them closely and you’ll see that fairy tales are very disturbing. I have a disturbing incident to share but this one is not fictional. It’s something that I witnessed when I was sitting in a waiting room at Johannesburg’s Park Station, waiting for my bus to arrive.
A black woman (a tout) walked in looking for a passenger whose bags she had helped carry. Apparently the passenger had said she would come back and pay her the fare they had agreed on as soon as she could find change for R100 but she hadn’t returned as promised.
Clearly irate, the tout was going from person to person asking if they’d seen said passenger. A few minutes later, two security guards walked in and one of them handcuffed her on the spot. Her complaints and pleas were ignored and she was dragged out of the room. The entire room was silent as we witnessed this woman’s dignity being violated.
Who was the Big Bad Wolf here? Who are you feeling sorry for? What if I told you that it wasn’t a black woman who walked in but a black man? Would that change your perception?
The reality is that if I’d told you that story as it happened, your reaction would have been very different. The reality is that, most of the time, black men are cast as the villains and never the victims. The reality is that our perception of black men is very stereotypical; he is the Big Bad Wolf. He is the Big Bad Black Man.
Do you recognise any of these stereotypes?
#1 The Big Bad Black Man in your bed.
This is also known as the "All black men are dogs!" stereotype. Listen, black men do cheat, beat and abuse. But they also love, nurture and can be faithful. The idea is that black men can’t be trusted as lovers and this idea has consequences.
Mothers warn their daughters against black men. Black women are terrified of being trapped in a marriage with a bad black man. Black women even prefer white men because they’re perceived as less likely to cheat on you, abuse or abandon you.
#2 The Big Bad Black Man in the street.
I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve seen what I thought was a suspicious looking black man and crossed the road. The times that I’ve tightened my grip on my handbag if it’s too late to cross. Or the times that I’ve rolled up the window and locked the doors when I see a black man approaching at the robots.
It’s the kind of stereotype that’s fed by movements like Red October. It’s the kind of stereotype that makes it okay to shoot and kill an unarmed black man. No one cares because it’s normal to assume that a black man is dangerous.
#3 The Big Bad Black Man in a suit.
This is the sophisticated black man, the BEE endowed, BMW driving black man. Even though he speaks well and cleans up nicely he’s still a black man so he can’t be trusted. All that money he has was probably stolen. That PhD on his CV is probably a lie. Those political promises he makes are probably empty.
The moral failures of black men in leadership today become a confirmation of what we’ve always thought, ‘Black men are useless and can’t be trusted with anything.’ This stereotype is also often used to justify people’s racial prejudice.
Here’s the thing, I’ve met all these black men, and I know them well. They are my fathers, brothers and neighbours. I’ve not only seen them on TV but I’ve lived among them for my whole life. In spite of that, I find this stereotype problematic.
"The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story." ChimamandaNgozieAdichie
The Big Bad Black Man stereotype may be true but it’s only partly true. It’s a perception that doesn’t reflect the whole reality. And you should care,
Because, statistically, as a black woman, you will probably make a black man your husband.
Because your son will one day grow up to be a black man.
Because in our patriarchal society, most of our leaders are black men.
Black men are our lovers, sons and leaders so the way that black men are perceived and portrayed is important; these ideas that people have about black men feed stereotypes about black women. We should care. We don’t have to deny the bad reality in order to recognise the good. But we must have a space where the other story, the whole story can be told.
Black men are faithful lovers.
Black men have integrity.
Black men are good leaders.
Black men can be trusted too.
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*This article was originally published on www.realmukoko.wordpress.com