The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


Understanding Our Character: Why dismantling misconceptions of African Americans is crucial for Black individuals

Samari Sanders & Esta Kamau
Oftentimes, African American students face misjudgment from their peers based on age-old stereotypes surrounding their race. Because of this recurring issue, many Black students have shared a common experience of stereotypes, such as assumptions of their character based on their skin color. “I’m Black [and] I live in the county. [People] automatically assume, ‘Oh, she doesn’t live in the city; she’s whitewashed with some color.’ I [also] have hearing aids, and [people] assume because I’m a part of the Hard of Hearing group, [I’m] not aggressive or hostile. [Instead, I’m] approachable, the token character,” sophomore Mya Jenkins said.

Misunderstanding someone’s character allows people to misclassify them, whether with a positive or negative outlook. In African American history, the Black community has often been unaccepted in American society because of a past full of discrimination and hate. In present times, it is much easier to criticize and reject all minorities for their character because of the lack of acknowledgment of where they come from and their experiences. 

For decades, Black people have been criticized and judged for their misconduct by the white population. Yet, they have been consistently taken advantage of by non-African Americans who use aspects of their culture, such as their fashion, music or hairstyles. Although non-Black individuals hyper-fixate on Black individuals’ behavior, Black individuals also possess the exact same behavioral claims against each other. For instance, over the years, African American actor and creator of the “Madea” films, Tyler Perry, has portrayed poverty, classism, stereotypes and abuse in a direct, discriminatory manner. Any action Black individuals make is known as “unacceptable” behavior. But what makes it unacceptable? 

Deep-rooted misconceptions have objectified and dehumanized Black individuals on a societal level. Stereotypes give non-Black audiences a negative perception of Black people and have directly contributed to their ill-reputed portrayal, making Black individuals seen as less valued and intolerable within American society. Furthermore, more stereotypes will be formed by normalizing these stereotypes within American society based on the experiences and ideas presented. The power of the media and its influence on the audience generates visibility around ethical, social and political views, which shapes how non-Black individuals see Black people and their environment. However, being aware of how to avoid the misconceptions perpetuated by the media is vital to understanding the lives of the Black community so that all Black individuals can have the opportunity to grow and be freed from the negative views the American society puts on them. 


Overcoming the stereotypes 

Black Americans are often perceived as monolithic, and being associated with racial stereotypes isn’t atypical. These stereotypes — including criminality and the labeled perception of how Black individuals speak — influence how they are treated, especially in the legal system. 

Growing up as a Black girl, many face hypersexualization. In our society, Black girls are viewed as less innocent than white girls and may allow boys and older men to exploit them to make full use of them. The physiques of these young Black girls are hypersexualized by men and further damage their body confidence, causing them to doubt if they’re loved for being themselves or for their bodies. Oftentimes, Black girls are not believed when addressing sexual assault and are blamed. Even during slavery in the United States, enslaved women and girls often became pregnant as proof that Black women had an insatiable sexual force. Instead of these pregnancies being signs of their sexual assault, people used this as proof that African-Americans have sexual inclinations, while white women and girls were “modest” and “pure.” Confronting these stereotypes would allow future generations of Black girls to be viewed differently in a positive way.  

“People will date any type of white girl, but [for] Black girls, they look for [specific features setting a] certain standard for them to fit into, [which] makes them not only insecure but scared to go out alone because of the fear of being raped or harassed,” sophomore Brianna James said. “[Hypersexualization] will never change because people don’t care enough. It’s not as much of a big deal to everybody as it is to this one group.” 

Black women all over the globe have been belittled as sexual beings through sexualization and objectification. In the media, Black women are often criticized and seen as sexually willing humans just from their clothes. For instance, Barbadian singer Rihanna, a Black woman, had been hypersexualized for her dress in her music video “Work.” However, Bella Hadid had worn the same exact outfit in public but was not judged for sexualizing her body. Hypersexualization has created more abuse against Black girls and women creating a struggle to never be comfortable in their bodies because of the pressures society designated. (Elizabeth Franklin )

As these girls grow older, they face another stereotype. One of the most common judgments is the Angry Black Woman, which originated from Amos ‘n’ Andy, an American radio sitcom about Black characters, and depicted Black women as insolent and domineering. Today, much of society still categorize Black women as hostile, overly aggressive and ill-tempered. For example, some news headlines on Louisiana State University (LSU) basketball player Angel Reese called out for “aggressively” taunting Iowa basketball player Caitlin Clark after LSU won their first-ever national championship. Reese received names such as “classless” and “ghetto” for taunting Clark. However, Clark had done the same thing in previous games without receiving harsh criticism from media outlets which show that Black women will be judged more harshly than white women. But, when non-Black individuals react similarly to the same situations, they’re not judged as harshly for their behavior, when in reality, all reactions and mistakes are human, but in this case, only Black people are criticized for it. 

Black men are also seen as a threat to society. When coming across a Black man, especially being an authority figure, he’s a criminal, thief or a bum. Black men and young boys who grew up in some of the wealthiest families often do not remain affluent, falling into the distinctive pattern of poverty many Black people are disproportionately subjected to. The gaps between Black and white boys who grew up in families with similar education and earnings still disfavor Black boys, leading to false judgments about what is considered a “good” Black man. Even from a “posh” background, Black men are hyper-stereotyped as scary, intimidating and violent. This effect is even worse for Black men and boys who cannot find a job easily or are ‘mistaken’ to be a criminal. 

“There’s been times in my life where I have been profiled in different situations. At the time, I didn’t think about it [until] after the situation happened. I reflected [on it] and was upset due to the fact that the interaction was negative for no reason,” senior principal Jamaal Heavens said. “To be happy, you have to gently be yourself in all situations because if not, you’re not reflecting the true you, and that puts another burden on yourself outside of [the burdens] the world may put on you as well.”

As the stereotypes advance, movies and television often reflect and reinforce the beliefs and attitudes on races. In the entertainment industry, Black people are often the repeated target, especially in modern-day movies. In Tyler Perry’s movies,  “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” and “Diary Of A Mad Black Woman,” Black households and couples are distinguished as separated and broken. These Black films earn millions of dollars and profits but are spreading untrue stereotypes rooted in historical prejudice to non-Black individuals. 

Part of the reason stereotypes about Black people exist is that Black people aren’t getting the recognition they deserve. For example, in the phenomenal true story “Hidden Figures,” three African-American women at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements. This accomplishment only exemplifies how American society will value Black individuals once their works matter, showing beyond doubt that Black individuals aren’t being recognized and taken advantage of for the usage of society. 

“Parkway is a very challenging school [district], especially with it being a predominantly white area; people pick and choose [who they want to involve in activities]. If I went to a city school — or even Parkway North — and give the talents that I’ve tried to give to Parkway [West], I would be [on the] top,” junior Tristen Banks said. “I could have the same things that a white person may have, and other people [would] look past me because of my color.” 

Minorities are also overlooked by the predominant race of the population, which are white people. The importance of the Black community hasn’t been dignified by the white population; because of this, life and success are seen as racial competition. 

“There’s a stereotype that [white people are] more successful than a Black person or [any] minority. [But there should be] no such thing as ‘Oh, because they’re white, they’re better than you’ or ‘They’re going to do this or that.’ [People] will go more towards other races versus us even though we’re just as good,” senior Nykira Johnson said. “You can tell that whites are treated differently than Blacks depending on the situation.” 

The decisions Black people make as individuals are overridden by various racial stereotypes regardless of their attributes. Take a look at the discrimination Black people face from figures of authority. Oftentimes, police officers brutally beat Black individuals, sometimes for uncalled-for reasons, while other Black bystanders do what they can to make sure all Black individuals get the justice they deserve when it comes to police brutality. 

Non-black individuals often fail to see that the media shouldn’t dictate how Black individuals behave. Not all Black people are poor or rich, criminals or lawful, unsuccessful or successful. Black people need to be given the opportunity to show what they have to give rather than have their character be characterized unfairly by someone else because of what they see on social media or news channels. 


The effects of prejudice on mental health

Evaluating people based on their appearance or character can be harmful and is a gateway to serious mental health disorders and distress. A stigmatized topic, mental health is an important discussion for the Black community. It is very beneficial in providing the help individuals may need when they have feelings related to fears of unacceptance. Junior Nylah Thompson has had experiences of feeling left behind after returning from learning at home after Covid-19.

“My teachers discriminate[d] the fact that I was African American and felt like I didn’t have the [same] determination as other students in my class, who were white, to get things done and to be successful in school,” Thompson said.

When Thompson asked for help, her teacher often took it as a joke. 

“My grades from my sophomore year started to reflect that. That affected my mental health because now, I’m figuring out how I can raise my GPA,” Thompson said.

Racist stereotypes have also played a big part in shaping negative attitudes toward African Americans. Worsening mental health among Black people is one of the biggest effects of discrimination and negative commentary the African American community experiences. Common mental health issues, such as anxiety, take a toll on Black people and stem from generational racial trauma, such as racism and exclusion. These issues feed into the fears of being accepted in society by making many Black kids and adults feel unwanted

The problems Black people have faced for decades have played a major part in how they are portrayed in recent times. Due to early slavery, segregation and continuing racism, the outlook on African Americans has always made Black individuals be viewed negatively. This has become one of the major reasons Black people tend to fear how others may perceive them, and added to the misconceptions other individuals may have about a Black person. 

Mental health deepens the meaning behind misconceptions African American individuals face. Stereotypes — as well as portraying African American characters in a negative way — can cause mental health disorders to affect Black people more seriously and become more anxious about issues that can easily be solved by viewing people from an equal perspective. When it comes to the stigma and the fears Black people face, it can be mitigated by understanding their background and empathizing with them.


Magnifying success and influence over the years

African Americans have been expanding in success for years. Seeing others succeed has given many minorities hope and confidence that they can follow in their footsteps. Oftentimes, the Black community is seen as having a small chance of becoming successful due to several circumstances: possibly missing a parental figure, difficult living conditions, a deficient background, households, a fraction of the wealth of white families, lower income and continuous reasons as to what could affect the success rate. Although this can be true in some instances, judging those you aren’t very familiar with can hurt them and add to the stereotypes. Sophomore Mya Jenkins has experienced misjudgment due to her skin color when in public at late hours. 

“[I get anxious] when I’m in the store grocery shopping with my grandma. [If] the clerk [sees that] I have on my hood, they [could] assume I’m stealing something. If we’re grocery shopping late at night, they could assume [that since] there is nobody else shopping, [us shoppers] could be doing something suspicious,” Jenkins said. 

Within every race, ethnicity and nationality, there will always be those who are successful and less fortunate. In some cases, unsuccess is caused by coming from a hard background. With a disproportionately lower employment rate, Black individuals struggle to find a secure job. The labor market has historically been harder for African Americans than whites, and it is found that Black people are found to take longer to find a new job.

In recent years, African Americans have received a higher unemployment rate than whites. More recently, due to the pandemic, statistics have shown that there has been an even bigger unemployment rate as many have lost their jobs. Because of the increasing unemployment rate, it is seen historically as though Black people are employed in fields less frequently than whites. This affects the image portrayed of minorities as outsiders view them in negative mindsets. These issues are harmful as background reasoning or discrimination can affect the employment process.

Despite the disproportionate unemployment in the working sectors, African American individuals have succeeded in the entertainment field. Black culture is a major influence on America’s culture. There are many people of color (POC) celebrities and influential individuals that minorities look up to. However, in the early 2000s, there was a lack of representation in shows and movies, such as having a lack of minority actors. If minorities were portrayed, most of the time, they would only be cast as side characters rather than main characters. Minorities who grew up consistently viewing mainstream media during this time experienced a lack of people to look up to that share similar features. 

“You will still see more white people than Black people being advertised no matter what it is unless it’s a Black-owned business or a little [biracial] kid, but 100% Black [advertisements] are very rare,” Johnson said. “A change needs to happen because [minorities] are highly affected. They might think [that] just because of what they see, they can’t do. For instance, my little cousin watches TV and says she wants to be a news reporter but only sees white people, [she gets the feeling that] because [she’s] Black, [she’s] not going to be able to [recognize] that’s a job for [her], but it is. It’s just how [lack of representation] is shown to the world.”

This lack of diversity has also led to many feeling they don’t belong or cannot be accepted. This causes a negative mindset as they do not have role models that could encourage younger people in the community to strive for success and achieve something. In most recent years, rates of leading minority actors have risen from 10.5% in 2011 and were recently charted in 2021 at just below 39 percent.

More recently, diversity has become more valued in the media in the U.S. This representation has paved an extensive path for Black individuals to pursue jobs that show systematic obstacles. Having more portrayal in the media is beneficial in allowing people to see the similarities and differences between different races portrayed. 

Increasing representation over the years has allowed people to become aware of the multitude of diversity that can be portrayed in the media and has opened up the gateway to allow all people to have a better understanding of African American culture, which allows viewers to appreciate the success of Black individuals as individuals, and not as the collective. 


Acknowledging our Character

Many African American students are faced with rejection from peers due to the color of their skin. This ongoing problem can be resolved by learning to view everyone equally, regardless of race.

According to Harvard Business Review, avoiding the reliance on negative preconceptions when judging people results in forming meaningful and diverse relationships with people, which can help people appreciate their differences. This leads to diversifying one’s knowledge and understanding of people of different backgrounds.

When recognizing African Americans’ circumstances, we must attempt to understand people from different perspectives. With the prevalence of negative profiling, discrimination and stigma against people of color, it’s essential that we be informed by putting ourselves into someone else’s shoes and being educated on Black people’s experiences. By expanding our knowledge of our cultural differences, we can better comprehend where others are coming from. Understanding Black people from their point of view can be beneficial, as they are often misunderstood. 

As students, we must strive to become more informed and avoid believing negative cliches as it negatively impacts how Black individuals are perceived. Although African Americans continue to face the cruel negativity and discrimination for their identity — which in most cases lead to Black individuals experiencing mental health problems — understanding that Black people are not what the stereotypes portray them to be can help improve falsified stereotypes regarding our race and help us to take a step forward in society. 


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Samari Sanders
Samari Sanders, Staff Writer
Pronouns: she/her Grade: 11 Years on staff: 2 What was your favorite childhood TV show? My favorite childhood TV shows were "Doc Mcstuffins" and "Sofia the First" What is your favorite book? Divergent by Veronica Roth What motivates you? To be honest, I don't have a specific person who motivates me, I think the feeling of me just wanting to be successful is my only motivation. I want to be able to not worry financially and to be able to live life to the fullest.
Esta Kamau
Esta Kamau, Humans of West Editor
Pronouns: she/her/they/them Grade: 11 Years on staff: 3 What is your favorite piece of literature? Lately it's been "The Summer I Turned Pretty." Who is your hero? Probably my brother. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Any type of rice because it's versatile.
Elizabeth Franklin
Elizabeth Franklin, Editor-in-Chief
Pronouns: she/her Grade: 12 Years on staff: 4 What is your favorite piece of literature?"Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" is such a classic piece of literature that can still resonate with many people in the U.S. today. Cassie, the book’s protagonist was and is still refreshing to me: she’s a child, so the way that racism and discrimination impact her made it easy for me, also a child at the time, to understand some of the bigotry and prejudice that many of my ancestors faced, especially living in the South. Cassie’s a little spitfire, sure, but she’s also just a child, and at the end of the day, she embodies what America’s intrinsic racism can do to childish innocence like hers. Who is your hero? My hero is Ida B. Wells. She was an excellent journalist and was always dedicated to finding the truth, no matter the obstacles — and as a Black woman reporting in the South, she had a lot of obstacles. Although my journalistic career isn’t as nearly as dangerous as hers was, her work has paved the way for numerous other Black writers and journalists in the field, and it reminds me to always keep digging, even when the subjects are obscure or controversial in today’s overall political climate. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? I'm not going to lie, I could probably shovel down buckets of those Welch's fruit snacks.
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  • D

    Debra KlevensSep 21, 2023 at 6:58 pm

    Well done! I am so excited to see this post.

  • W

    Will GonsiorAug 28, 2023 at 10:07 am

    What Serena said! This was so well done and even as someone who hates rooting for LSU I can’t see how anyone could fail to appreciate what a gem Angel Reese is

  • A

    Alisha YAug 25, 2023 at 3:41 pm

    W articleee

  • S

    Serena LiuAug 25, 2023 at 11:47 am

    Such an important story and so well-written!

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Understanding Our Character: Why dismantling misconceptions of African Americans is crucial for Black individuals