Prior to my arrival in Cape Town, South Africa, I spent some time thinking about what experiences I would encounter abroad as an African-American man. I spent time thinking about this because I am extremely passionate about the representation of African-Americans both domestically and internationally. This has influenced my decision to use my love for storytelling to impact the African-American community positively in a global context. For example, one of my goals in the future is to write a book about a young black boy who wins a spelling bee. Additionally, I expect this book to become a feature film or Netflix movie. I know it is necessary for black children to see positive representations of themselves in media and entertainment. When used incorrectly, platforms within media and entertainment may become detrimental to the well-being of a society. For example, a young black child could possibly suffer from feelings of inferiority if he or she is consistently exposed to content that creates a false narrative that African-Americans cannot succeed in corporate America or the STEM field. Such examples of negative propaganda not only affects the black community, but how individuals and groups from different ethnic backgrounds view black people as well, which creates additional problems in society and the social experience for many people. Now, I will list a few of my encounters with people who perpetuated negative stereotypes associated with black Americans.
One day, I was walking with Nia and Lacy, two students in my current study abroad program, and we were shopping for clothing and other items. Nia is originally from Chicago and attends the illustrious Howard University. On this day, Nia wore Chicago apparel. The merchant asked if she was from Chicago and Nia responded with a yes. After learning this information and assuming I was from Chicago as well, he asked us if we were gang members. I was utterly disappointed, and this was my first international experience associated with someone having negative perceptions of me due to the color of my skin and the media content he or she consumes. Of course, we replied no, but this very instance shows how powerful the entertainment industry is, and how the media is a powerful resource that can either influence the world positively and negatively and for different groups of people. In this case, we suffered from negative perceptions others placed on us due to false and exaggerated narratives associated with black Americans. Such experiences sadden me because the black experience in America is extremely diverse and even more diverse in an international context. Why do these stereotypes exist? Where do they come from? And why are people so gullible to believe anything they see on the internet? I pray people stop applying negative stereotypes of black Americans in the media to every encounter they have with a black American. It is disgusting and quite frankly, disappointing.
Additionally, I have had two other disappointing experiences that were extremely similar. Both experiences involved a student asking me if I was a “blood” or a “crip”. Again, why is it that such perceptions are immediately applied to me? Why can’t I be asked, “Are you a scholar?”. Again, I responded no to these questions because such accusations do not apply to me in any way, shape, or form. It is important to observe this issue and to understand its origins are in the inner workings of Hollywood, which is why there has been a huge outcry for diversity in Hollywood and showcasing authentic and diverse stories in recent years.
My passion for the representation of African-Americans domestically and internationally is one of many reasons why I am choosing to pursue a graduate degree in international education, and my aspirations to create platforms for myself to address such social issues as hosting a radio show, writing books, and producing heart-rending films. Through education, I will liberate the lives of others, and I think media and entertainment has the power to educate the masses on extremely important topics, but this is not always the case, which is why I will commit to being a change agent not only in America but in a global context.
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I am Ameer Dunston, a junior finance major & television & film minor from Buffalo, NY at Howard University. Additionally I am a 2016 Gates Millennium Scholar and I love to uplift others through any source possible.