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Black Boy Joy

There comes a time in a little black boy’s life in which his parents have to give him “The Talk.” And I don’t mean that talk. I mean the talk that teaches them how to stay alive, how to remain calm while facing danger, whether that danger is the barrel of a gun or the knee of a power-tripping police officer.

When this time comes, that little black boy is forced to leave himself behind. He’s forced to replace his fascination with Spiderman with instead a sense of uneasiness, one that leads him to wonder: what exactly is wrong with his brown skin?

And of course, there is nothing wrong with him. There is everything wrong, however, with a world in which it’s necessary to teach children how to stay alive when they come to meet someone whose legal obligation is to protect and serve.

Don’t get me wrong, though. As awful as it is, that too long monologue about staying safe around police is something that little black boys need to hear. But they also need to hear that their existence is important. That they deserve to be children. That they deserve to play and dream and just be joyful.

Furthermore, they do not deserve to grow up and see people who look like them continuously being shot and killed on the news while somehow still being called “thugs.” That would be detrimental to anyone. According to, inaccurate portrayals of the black community - not just in the news, but in movies and television shows as well - “have a negative impact on black people’s perceptions of self and of their communities.”

When negative associations of black men are often exaggerated (an example would be the overrepresentation of black people as “perpetrators of violent crime”) while positive associations are often limited to famous rappers or athletes, we create this idea that black boys don’t have many options when looking forward. That simply is not true. We are disadvantaging our little black boys by fueling stereotypes and therefore leading them to develop limited ideas as to who they can be.

We, as a society, have an obligation to uplift others to the best of our ability.We have an obligation to sway black boys away from the idea that they are bound to grow up to be criminals, and if they manage to avoid doing so, then their only other option is to be an entertainer.

In addition, we need to be encouraging black boys to express their emotions in healthy ways, to avoid growing up and developing the toxic, hard exterior that our world often perceives as “masculine.”

Little black boys should be able to be themselves, to be joyful. And again, while they do need to learn how to stay alive, they also need to learn how to live. We need to encourage these kids to do what makes them happy, whether that’s dancing or programming or rapping. (Just because rapping isn’t the only option doesn’t mean it’s not an option.)

We also need to give them positive role models, not just famous people, but people who they can interact with and look up to on the daily.

Too many little black boys are forced to grow up too soon. They are led to believe that their existence is threatening, that their fate is limited. We need to start telling them the truth. We need to start telling them that they are extraordinary, that they are needed, and most importantly, we need to make sure that they are able see themselves as artists, as engineers, as surgeons, not as another crime statistic or life lost to injustice.

You can read “Media Portrayals and Black Male Outcomes” here:


Written by Kennedy Kelis

Images by Jon Henry for the National Geographic article titled, "For America's Black mothers, the fear of loss and trauma is constant"


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