Can We Really Trust Black Men?

"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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14 thoughts on “Can We Really Trust Black Men?

  1. Stereotype number one has proved itself to be true time and time again in my experience with friends, family and in my own relationships. The only part of that stereotype that is false is the assertion that black women prefer black men. Black men are twice as likely (in the US) and even more likely in some other countries to date/marry non-black women. We have their backs, but I don’t feel we have the same level of support from them.


  2. I never knew (still don’t know) what it was like having a black man in my life. :( the only male in my family are my brothers who have no male figures (father/ uncles) in their lives to teach them how to become men of the world. They have no choice but to learn from the world itself. Its hard to think highly of someone who has abandoned you. In actual fact it makes me question the strength, love, pride (ubundoda) of a man (any man). All the black men I know whom I would have considered my fathers/ uncles or looked up to as a matter of fact have cheated/ had affairs or still waiting for their next pay cheque to buy a crate of Castle to drink with a couple of friends in the hood.All of my friends are fatherless. We have become a fatherless generation. I look up to Black Women though. Black women are my pride. There is so much I could go on about black women. all that I have said is due to experience therefore I would not consider it a stereotype.


  3. I found this site when I came across the 16 Things Black People Wish They Could Explain To Their White Friends post, and out of curiosity I decided to see what else you had to offer. Colour me impressed. As someone who tends to have a negative outlook on black men (because growing up in a black family these are the men I have been exposed to) I have found this post enlightening. I often do exactly what you describe, crossing the street in fear of harassment or locking car doors as soon as him approach, but this piece has brought a new light to it. Anyway my point is I really enjoyed this post, its spot on.


    1. Hi Milly! Thanks for your very honest comment. It’s good to confront our own prejudice and realise that they’re not grounded in absolute truth. Looking forward to more of your comments!


  4. This is so true, the stereotype only telling half a story, coz as much as we suffer so many things from our black brothers, we are in turn great people, lovers, leaders and friends to many


  5. I’m speechless, words are failing. You reminded me of a sticker in a minibus I used to take to work which read as: A black man is always a suspect. If only people knew how painful it is to see people’s behavior suddenly changing because of the arrival a guy who happens to be black, I’ve experienced it and it hurts.


  6. Wherever you find a great man, you will find a great mother or a great wife standing behind him — or so they used to say. It would be interesting to know how many great women have had great fathers and husbands behind them. Shula you have dissected this one well.


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