In “Poem about Violence,” poet June Jordan poses a question about what would happen “if everytime [the police] kill a black boy…everytime they kill a black man/ then we kill a cop” (3-6). Although this question is the focal point of this work and is certainly intriguing, the “diction of the powerful” (21) that she uses to describe black people and actions against them from the perspective of white police interests me most. The word “subdue” particularly stands out to me because of its animalistic connotation. A person can subdue a wild animal or even a serial killer running rampant. A person cannot, however, “subdue” a person whom is standing outside of a store minding their business. Nor can one “subdue” a teen whom is walking at night with a bag of Skittles and an Arizona iced tea in his hand simply because he is wearing a hoodie.
Many factors contribute to the unique experiences of black and brown bodies. One particularly forceful one lies in diction—the way in which we have been and still are characterized as bestial because of the color of our skin. It is bad enough that negative conceptions about black people are so deeply embedded in society. However, when black people portray these conceptions and stereotypes in television shows and movies, we reinforce current modes of thought and further compound the problem. A fitting example is Tyler Perry’s Madea movies. Although I did not think much about the repercussions of his movies and others like it, in retrospect, there are undeniably problematic elements. In dressing up and behaving as a black woman, Perry erases physically and emotionally. He denies black women the chance for exposure in an industry in which they are both disregarded and underrepresented. Perry further heightens the problem of dressing up as a black woman by behaving in stereotypically black ways. In doing so, he erases black women’s lived experiences and perpetuates the very stereotypes that mark black women as other and insufficient—the stereotypes that attempt to hinder black women from succeeding and being seen as equal.
Although Perry may have also internalized stereotypes about black women, the nature of his films suggests that his characterization of black women is not simply the product of internalization but a deliberate action. In the capitalist society of the United States, people want to maximize profits while minimizing loss. Perry is no exception. Although he produces successful movies and captures the interest of both black and white audiences, he does so at the expense of black women’s image. Changing established stereotypes about black women and black people in general, then, is a difficult feat when some black people seek to erase stereotypes, while other black people deliberately reinforce them, sometimes, for personal gain. In order to truly change fixed conceptions about black women and men, we must not only seek to fix the walls that are broken without, —the walls created outside of the black community—but also seek to fix the walls that are broken within—the walls that we create for ourselves.