Why I feel safer around white males...

2016-05-30 10:00

I’ve heard on numerous occasions that we have a black male crisis. Black men threaten the order of things; they are a danger not only to society in general but also to their female counterparts. Allow me to briefly reflect on my own biases for a moment…

I recall taking a walk to a nearby shopping mall at around 7pm on a weekday. This was in a relatively affluent suburb situated in Johannesburg North and around this time one will spot the occasional jogger and very few loiterers. While taking my walk to the mall, I felt safe but also had some reservations about how safe I really was. I felt rather relieved when I turned to look behind me and realised that there was a white male jogging.  One thing I knew for sure at that moment, was that if anything were to happen to me, it definitely would not be at the hand of a white man. After all, white males are not the type to attack or rape a woman. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before he overtook me and we were a significant distance apart; I then watched as he eventually faded into the darkness. I was now back to being all alone and just crossing my fingers hoping to make it to the entrance of the mall. It was getting darker and although I made it to my destination, I was now worried about the journey back. The frustrating part was that although my place was just roughly a 10-minute walk from the mall, when you are a woman taking a walk by yourself at that time of the day, a short trip such as this one can seem like a lifetime. I eventually had to conquer my fear, leave the mall and walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Barely a few minutes after leaving the mall, there was a black man walking behind me. I thought to myself “Why Lord?”. I literally began to pray and ask God to not let this man harm me. Physiologically, my heart was on 1000 beats per minute and I was in that “fight/flight mode”. I started praying that I would see another jogger come out of somewhere. Not a black jogger – he’d probably not help me and just go about his jogging business pretending not to see anything. So with no white male jogger in sight to possibly come to my rescue, I just kept praying that he would eventually surface while nervously proceeding with my walk. Before I knew it, I noticed that the black man was getting dangerously close to me and was clearly walking at a faster pace. In no time, I thought to myself, he will catch up and demand my phone or sexually assault me. That’s what black men do. I’d like to think I blacked out somehow in the minutes that followed and I found myself within my complex, at my doorstep. Unharmed. Safe and sound. But not so fast… I frantically began checking that I still had my belongings – you know these black guys and their swift pick-pocketing skills. Ok. My phone was still there and if I recall clearly, I was not harassed in any way. Now what followed, was a sudden overwhelming feeling of guilt. What a disgrace and what a shame on me especially as a black woman, for doing the very thing that I’m against. This black man had just defied a stereotype; he didn’t do what myself and the majority of society expected him to do. He didn’t wolf-whistle, he didn’t call me ‘baby’, he didn’t rob me and he didn’t rape me.

This experience alerted me to my own prejudices and the way in which I am a daily participant in the systematic oppression of black males. Most importantly, this encounter forced me to reflect on where these prejudices stem from. Well, I can’t exactly pin-point a particular source but I know that from a young age, walking from school and seeing a black man along the way was never a good thing; oftentimes my friends and I would plot an alternative route if we saw a suspicious looking black male. Funny enough we were terrified of homeless black men but never of white ones. Even if they are homeless, white men are harmless.

I’m smart enough to know that it is not in their ‘nature’ or ‘culture’ to kill and rape but society has conditioned even black men themselves to fear one another. I remember comedian Trevor Noah’s joke about how a black guy would respond by saying “this is not for you, put the gun down” if he was being hijacked by a white man. Crime is not for them, it’s for the blacks. I recall another joke by the same comedian about how in everyone’s’ heads, the men who Oscar Pistorius thought were climbing up his wall were black. It is just one of those automatic inclinations that our brains have been conditioned into. When someone reports that they were hijacked, raped or robbed, 99.99999999% of the time the imagery we have is of a black man. I am guilty of this as well.

Society has vilified the black man and even we as black women are the perpetuators of the dominant narrative surrounding our male counterparts. I recently attended a dinner hosted by a friend and her husband and, as is usually the case at such events, the males were in their own little corner and the females in theirs. Many of the women I sat with were either engaged or married and naturally the conversation turned into one which problematized black males including their own partners. In a nutshell, what I concluded from that conversation is that black men are unable to commit, they lie, they are chauvinistic, polygamist, they drink too much, they are uneducated, they walk out on their families, they are in debt and they see women as sexual objects. One of the ladies jokingly asked “can I just get myself a white man?”. The common (mis)conception amongst most of my black female acquaintances is that white males are romantics who truly epitomise love; they are sensitive and in touch with their emotions, they spend their time at work or at the gym and not at the club where they could potentially be tempted to cheat on their partners. If they do go out, they have their partners right by their side. They are financially wise and hard working. “Unfortunately white guys don’t go for black girls”, we chuckled as one of the girls quickly busted our bubble with this statement.

Having stated all the negative stereotypes about black men some of which I’m ashamed to admit that I subscribe to, it is imperative to note that black men are not a homogenous group – factors such as one’s upbringing or socialization have a bearing on the kind of man one grows up to be. The same goes for white males. What is more important to acknowledge is that it boils down to personal choice in terms of the kind of man you want to be.

An issue close to my heart is the mentorship of young boys. In a world that is so obsessed with the mentorship of girls, who is mentoring the young men that these women are supposed to date or marry? I would like to challenge the black male community to begin educating and mentoring each other. What I know for sure is that the dominant narrative of masculinity does not encourage open and honest dialogue amongst black males themselves with regards to their experiences, social and political subjugation. As a result, we are unfortunately inclined to internalise media portrayals of you because we don’t know you. Everything we know about you comes from the perspective of our mothers, grandmothers and aunts most of whom have been scorned, disappointed and hurt by you. Furthermore, even the books and articles we read in an attempt to understand you are from the perspectives of female academics and writers who write from a subjective and intellectual perspective.

So, why do I feel safer around white males?

Here is the sad and unfortunate truth: the black male has his story told on his behalf by society. The media continues to publish and report on the black male who steals and kills while the white male is doing well in business and making breakthrough inventions. I fear you because of what I am told about you, hence I feel safer around white males who I’m told are not as harmful as you are. I fear you in relationships because I am told you will get drunk and hit me because my success will threaten you. Black men, I urge you to not passively sit and allow this narrative to persist as I feel it is one that you, yourselves, have dangerously bought into.

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