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Don’t let stereotypes define you

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 11:00 a.m. CST

I’ve been told often, by people of all races, that I’m not a “typical Black man.”

Sometimes this is done in jest, and other times the person is serious. They base their conceptions on what a black man in America is supposed to be like based on what they’ve seen in popular media.

Well I don’t really consider myself a typical person, period, regardless of race, and I want to dispel this notion here and now: there is no typical black man.

People are like snowflakes, we are all unique. We come in different shapes and sizes and there is no clear cut definition of what we should all look like.   The same can be said of the way we act or carry ourselves.

A person is often defined by stereotypes, perceptions and sometimes statistics that don’t show a wholly accurate measure. Statistics can’t really account for every single moment of a person’s life and shouldn’t really be used to “identify” a person.

As I said, I’m used to having the whole “blackness” conversation, but what really got me thinking about this issue was something that happened to me on my drive back from Kansas City this weekend.

I made a quick pit stop at a Casey’s off of Interstate 35 in southern Iowa and when I walked out of the door, an older gentleman was getting ready to come in. He looked me up and down fairly quickly — I was wearing sweat pants, a hoodie and a winter hat — and he decided to turn around and go lock his car doors — twice.

I shook my head, got back in my car and burnt rubber to continue my drive further north and home to Newton.  However, this moment, and others I’ve experienced that were much worse over the years, flooded my mind.

I hate that because of my size and skin color I’m often mistaken for things that I’m not. I’m not a great basketball player or athlete, just a tall black guy. To put this into perspective, sports writer Dustin Turner is 5-foot-10, has a bad knee and runs circles around me on the basketball court.

If I’m wearing a wool hat, it’s because it’s cold outside, not because I want to rob you. If I’m wearing sweats and a hoodie, it’s because they are comfortable, not because I’m up to no good.

It also made me wonder, did if he thinks ill of me solely based on my appearance or was he just as apprehensive around all large black men because of what he sees on TV? If you watch the news in any city in America, you’ll see an overwhelming amount of stories on crime and a lot of time, the perpetrators are shown to be black men.

When you watch sports, you see a ton of great black athletes. If you watch music videos, you’ll see a lot of rappers— dressed similar to the way I was at Casey’s, just with more diamonds — and glamorizing their “alleged” past criminal activities and playing into the  negative stereotypes associated with black men.

When you think about it, that’s pretty much the gist of what you see when it comes to black men in the media today.

I recently read an excellent editorial from Alonzo Weston, of the St. Joseph News-Press, where he essentially suggested we as black people start to embrace some of the stereotypes — specifically eating watermelon and chicken — that are often associated with us as a way to take away the power.

It was very well-written and thought out, and I like where he came from, but I have to disagree.

I fight against being labeled typical in any fashion. One part to this ongoing battle is showing that I, as a black man, am more than what you see on TV and that I’m more in-depth and complex than some tasteless bar jokes will have you believe.

The thing is, this is not an aspect that is unique to me — it’s universal. There is no clear-cut definition of what it means to be white, Hispanic or even a woman.

So why should I have to be like what someone else thinks a black man should be like?

I suck at sports, I fully embrace being a nerd, I don’t dance, I don’t rap, I’ve never been arrested and  I hate watermelon. I also detest being called or labeled “African-American.”

First of all, Africa is a continent made up of more than 50 countries and the people there don’t have one standard “African” look to them. The same can be said of labeling people as “Asian-Americans.”

I mean come on, most of Russia is in Asia and I’m pretty sure we don’t call people originally from Russia, who now live in America, Asian-Americans.

Secondly, my family has been in America for hundreds of years and we are more associated with this country than any country on the African continent. I mean, at one point, aren’t you considered “just American?”

To me, the constant PC need to label everything and everyone is just another form of keeping “separate, but equal” alive. But I digress; my point is to encourage people to celebrate originality.

Don’t be something you’re not just because it’s how others think you should be. Be yourself and embrace it — flaws and all — and find and do things that make you happy, even if they seem out of the ordinary to others.

So yeah, I’m not the typical black guy, but I believe there is no such thing. I’m just me and while my name may begin with “T-Y,” I’m far from typical.

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