MAXWELL:  Accentuating the negative

9/1/1996 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper



By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Reviewed by BILL MAXWELL

In The Assassination of the Black Male Image, commentator and political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson wages a war against ethnic stereotypes. Using caustic, cumulative prose that takes no prisoners, Hutchinson outlines his case, attacking almost everyone and everything.

Make no mistake, Hutchinson, who earned a doctorate in social studies from Pacific Western University, believes that every part of American society has, from the very beginning, conspired against the black male’s very existence.

To develop his thesis, which relies more on recrimination and invective than on fact and deduction, Hutchinson chronicles the history of black male bashing, focusing mostly on the last 100 years. He explores how the media and the entertainment industry have made demonizing the black male into a gold mine.

“The image of the malevolent black male is based on a durable and time-resistant bedrock of myths, half-truths and lies,” Hutchinson writes. “The image was created during the European conquest of Africa, nurtured during slavery, artfully refined during the nadir of segregation, and revived during the Ronald Reagan-George Bush-Newt Gingrich years.”

Although hatred of blacks motivated these persecutors, Hutchinson argues, money was the real root of the evil. Whether or not the reader agrees, Hutchinson contends that whites, along with many blacks, have profited from perpetuating the contemptible image of the black male. Plantation owners, scientists, sociologists, politicians and contemporary talk radio hosts, to name a few, all have built careers and amassed fortunes on the backs of black men, Hutchinson writes. The subtle, often blatant, bias in news and sports articles in the major media attracts huge markets, Hutchinson says.

African-Americans themselves, especially the rich and famous who land huge film, television and book contracts, represent some of the worst perpetrators of black male bashing. He is particularly critical of works such as Terry McMillan’s best-selling novel and hit movie Waiting to Exhale, which depict black men as “dogs.” He also broadsides other black women writers such as Ntozake Shange (For Colored Girls), Gloria Naylor (The Women of Brewster Place) and Alice Walker (The Color Purple) for portraying all black men as amoral and sex-crazed.

And, of course, he despairs over the media’s constant and automatic recitation of statistics such as these: One out of four young black males is locked up, on parole or on probation; one out of three young black men quits school; and one out of two young black males comes from a single-parent household. Hutchinson does not dispute the truth of the numbers as much as he rejects the over-reliance on them to define all African-American males in the United States.

Such figures, Hutchinson says, entrap black males, rendering them one-dimensional caricatures and scapegoats. Many of Hutchinson’s arguments are anecdotal and curiously personal. But his thesis is a sincere, legitimate call for freeing individual black men from career-blocking, relationship-ending, life-threatening stereotypes.

Let each black male be a black male. This is Hutchinson’s simple plea.

In Chapter 17, he offers several ways that everyone, including whites and black women, can help counter the stereotypes. This chapter alone is worth reading for its common sense and practical advice.

“The black unity that many blacks talked and dreamed about during the 1960s has become a fractured nightmare,” Hutchinson comments in the postscript. “I can’t say that evil men plotted or scripted all this in a back room. Things never work that way. . . . The assassination of the black male image has transformed black men into the universal bogeyman. The trick is to transform them back into universal human beings.”

Bill Maxwell is a Times columnist and editorial writer.