Mainstream American companies such as H&M are negatively depicting Black children with insensitive ads that perpetuate racially motivated ideals. America has a history of negatively portraying black citizens, especially black men and boys in the media. Millions of Americans just watched and celebrated the accomplishments of both Sterling Brown and Oprah Winfrey last evening which seem often too rare. It reminds us that we still have work to do in 2018, when we still have the first black Americans to be recognized in industries in this country. It also highlights that we still have an alarming lack of diversity in companies in which one in particular, H&M, allowed the release of such a thoughtless ad on today. “It sends a dehumanizing message to black children, that your lives do not matter.” It clearly shows how mainstream America will celebrate you one day and highlight negative images of you the next. This has too often become the narrative for black citizens portrayed in media. Image the changes in conversations of households in America with black children who see this ad and hear this being discussed Nation wide as if it was 1918.
Racially insensitive ads have become more frequent in 2017 with Pepsi, Dove, the Atlanta Beltline and now H&M; it’s not an accident, there’s a direct message being sent. Using a black child to display a historical message of white Americans calling black Americans “monkeys” displayed on a hoody. Hoodies took on a new meaning for this generation now symbolizing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, young black male shot and killed due to being labeled for wearing a hoodie in his families community. The Martin case showed how the depiction of Travyon as a typical description of young, black boys in America as dangerous, uneducated and thugs. The hashtag #IAMTrayvonMartin showed all variations of Black men and American citizens saying get that they too are Trayvon. The only way to break poor social norms is to empower the good ones. We must stop allowing the misrepresentation of cultures through poor ethical values within our society regarding cultural appropriation. Since how we think about ourselves helps determine the level of success that we achieve, the next step after bringing awareness to this injustice is improving educational outcomes. Schools can lead this effort by implementing social, emotional learning into their curriculum, partnering with communities and families to address cultural issues and implementing social justice learning projects and encouraging more black male educators to get onboard at your school.
Social, emotional learning (SEL) empowers schools to implement affirmations into their curriculums. “What children see and hear about themselves impacts their development.” It’s important for children to see themselves in the world around them especially images of successful families, schools, businesses and communities. It begins with what children see and read. It’s important for children to see themselves in books and in media. Negative images of black culture portrayed within media (i.e. social media, reality tv, news reports, television series and movies) does effect the self-esteem of children. Schools play an important role in how children feel about themselves. Imagery and the role of the media must be taught in schools and discussed in homes. Many black children who wear H&M products to private, charter and public schools are not targets of being referenced as the “coolest monkeys” in the jungle due to the recent ad. I seen some comments and feedback on articles from Black parents who think this isn’t a big deal. They believe that H&M’s mistake with this ad doesn’t affirm negative images of Blacks. In 2018, I would just like to affirm that we should not be accepting things that have continued to happen year after year to be simple mistakes. A solution to reaffirming black children from this ad can be to challenge them to support black owned clothing lines and to develop their own clothing lines. We have to change the narrative for them to be in positions to create or influence development. Media depictions of black men in particular have always attributed to the economic, educational and social struggles we face and been brushed off as simple mistakes. This is why diversity in all fields, companies, departments and aspects of our society needs to happen. Until we affirm this type of action, we will continue to take way opportunities for our youth to be in positions to maintain change.
Another solution to changing the negative effects of this ad are to support recruitment efforts for more black male educators. Having a Black male educator is not only empowering for black children but it changes how black children interpret stereotypes of black men. All children need to see black men throughout their educational experiences from Pre K through graduate schools. Not solely as building engineers, cafeteria managers, athletic directors or bus drivers. We must be equally represented as teachers, paras, instructional coaches, administrator, board members, superintendents, Deans, College Presidents and even charter school owners. black male teachers make a difference. This is so important to me as a black male educators because I see the effects of how we’re portrayed in the media on our children. Children must be able to see Black men outside of how the media portrays us. If they see us as educational leaders, then they see us not just as what society says we are. Students would also be able to learn and explore ideas in science, language, social studies and mathematics on a different scale if they connect with their teacher. The school I currently work in has a good balance of male and female teachers and it definitely helps. Black male teachers are growing but we are still in the minority. Children must have a balanced representation of themselves that shifts a cultural mindset. Too often, we as black men are missing from the picture but never from the conversation. In order to change the cultural bias displayed in the media it begins with the mind. It’s been proven, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. The best solution to changing the dynamic of how black children themselves is to empower more black men to become educators. Educational outcomes are impacted by reflective cultural images presented by media. Educators have influence to change the mindset of people. More black men educating children weakens the medias negative portrayal of black men and lessons occurrences of cultural bias and incentive ads like H&Ms. We may not be able to change the power players in media companies and Hollywood over the next 20 years but we certainly can increase the number of black male educators to help reset the image of black men in our society.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.