Growing up in Louisiana, I was exposed to men and women who used animals to work their land and/or as a food source to sustain their families. It was fascinating that most of these men and women could gather their animals to a central location for feeding and other purposes with a unique sound, call or shout.
I was amazed at the amount of control these calls afforded these people over their “dumb animals.” I didn’t immediately think about a correlation between animals and humans, but after observation, I realized humans become conditioned to the influence of “noise” in our lives as well.
Because of scientific research, we understand the effect of “noise” on African Americans is responsible for many significant behaviors. In 1939, noted Black psychologist, Dr. Kenneth Clark and his wife performed an experiment where they asked Black children ages six to nine to choose between Black and white dolls that were the same except skin-color.
The test asked the children seven questions. “Show me…:
….the doll you like best or that you’d like to play with?”
….the doll that’s the ‘nice’ doll?”
….the doll that looks ‘bad’?”
….the doll that looks like a white child,”
….the doll that looks like a colored child,”
….the doll that looks like a Negro child,”
….the doll that looks like you.”
At question six, most had identified the Black doll as “bad.” When asked question seven, many replied that the white doll looked like them. Others refused to pick either doll or just start crying.
The Clark Test was presented as evidence in the Supreme Court Brown v. Board decision and, more than any other instrument, demonstrated the psychological impact of the portrayal of image and character upon a group; how image can shape and influence conduct and behavior. Considering the historically stereotyped images of African Americans, it is easy to understand OUR struggle to maintain positive character images rather than acceptance of the negativity projected/expected of us.
Those who enjoy history or who witnessed when we began to accept ourselves understand how WE embraced the beauty of our natural selves and reject the images of European beauty. We rejected “processed” hair, straightening combs and skin-lightening creams. Many can still remember the pride and self-confidence that surged through their bodies upon first hearing James Brown singing, “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
Many are now consumed with concern about the impact of another “noise” influencing our communities. Throughout the ugliness of our 400-year experience, our musical artists provided us with music that was uplifting and projected positive outcomes. I believe the recent introduction of gangsta rap has had a profoundly negative impact on our community.
With rare exceptions, our music pronounced respect for self and others, but something influenced our people to believe it okay to denigrate each other. Some rappers even stooped to denigrating their mothers, grandmothers, and women in general. The genre promotes the thinking that violence is the preferred method of conflict resolution. Lyrics normalize profanity which creates conflict and difficulties in school and the workplace.
Asked to justify their “art,” some say, “It’s the only way we can make money.”
Some report their White managers and producers tell them the filthier they are about Black people, the more money they’ll make. Denigrating our humanity becomes the norm and through this genre our worth comes into questionable value. Meanwhile, White promoters get the “gold.”
Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda said, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.”
OUR wounds are badly in need of healing! Our first step is to stop lying to ourselves!
E. Faye Williams is President of the National Congress of Black Women. She also hosts “Wake Up and Stay Woke” on WPFW-89.3 FM.