This photo is currently making the rounds on social media in response to open carry demonstrations taking place in Texas
By KAREN KAMMANN
The intent of the image of the four scowling black men may be harmless enough: To highlight the hypocrisy of some gun enthusiasts who see nothing wrong with a pack of mostly white men strutting around Texas cities brandishing firearms. But the photo also plays into stereotypes about the scary, criminal black male bent on violence.
Part of the message of the image, found posted on the Progressives Political Discussion Group Facebook page is: “You assholes think this is scary, but you’re not? ” That may not be what everyone takes away from the photo; nor should it be taken for granted that this part of the message is even apparent to everyone.
To a lot of people–especially to a lot of white people–the idea that black men with guns are seen as scarier than other people with guns isn’t a problem, I know. I think it’s idiotic and, more importantly, damaging and dangerous to young black men everywhere in the US.
The fact that the open carry crowd would find these guys with guns scary doesn’t just speak to the fact that the guns are scary; it speaks to the fact that many of the open carry demonstrators are bigots and hypocrites who don’t recognize their own privileged assumptions about how people see them. They assume that people who look like they do — that is, white people with guns — shouldn’t be scary. Hell, they probably think it should be reassuring. And it speaks to their privilege in another way: They don’t really want to see open carry being practiced by everyone, certainly not by men who look like the men in the photo above. They just feel naturally entitled to tote big old guns and be treated with friendly respect.
The stereotype of the criminal black male is part of the reason that such double standards are so common.
That stereotype is all around us, perpetuated by pop culture, by our flawed criminal justice system, and overwhelmingly, by the media: It’s reinforced every time a cable news channel airs racially biased crime coverage; every time pundits and columnists speculate about the possible criminality of black victims of crime, like Trayvon Martin; and every time the idea of discrimination is dismissed or racial profiling is justified. The media helps instill and perpetuate unjust and unjustifiable fear of young black men. And young black men die because of that. If we, as consumers of the media, want news organizations to be more responsible, shouldn’t we practice what we preach, in our own small, social media spheres? Complicity is complicity, and that’s no more or less true for an individual human being or a giant media conglomerate.
It feels clever to use a stereotype the open carry folks believe in to show that their beliefs are wrong. But this graphic still puts black male bodies into the role of “scary criminals.” Many people, even those with likely good intentions, believe in the idea of the criminal black man as a truth. And to them, the message of the image isn’t necessarily about the open-carry people’s assumptions. It could well be about how seeing someone really scary with guns might show them that open carry demonstrators look scary, too.
So, we shouldn’t take it for granted that the people who created this graphic or the people who see it share an innocuous view of it. This image shows how we should be more sensitive to the fact that using this picture was as likely to perpetuate, as to combat, the stereotype it portrays. People, especially those of us who are white, should stop and think before posting this image. It’s important to be aware of the potential gap between what we intend to say and what we actually end up saying.