Stop Posting Pictures of "Successful" Black Men: Why It Does Not Help Our Image

by Tyree Williams

In doing a brief sweep of my social media accounts, I saw a post not uncommon from one that regularly circulates the web. It had hundreds of likes and dozens of comments, all singing similar tunes. The post was a picture of several black men, dressed in what we would consider professional attire. Everyone was wearing suits and ties or button-ups and blazers. I will admit – they were dressed nicely. But it was the caption and the supplementary comments that struck a chord with me. 

The caption read: “Not all of us are sagging our pants. Black men are successful. Black men are here.”  

Beneath it was one comment that embodied the rest of them: “Great example of Black men”. 

Here I was, thinking that Black men had been here for a year or two; but it seems that the Black man that we want the world to know about gets his slacks tailored.

Here’s the problem with this: we cannot proliferate photos of the black man that make him appear successful under a prevailing social construct and expect to uplift his image. Why not? Because all we are doing is implicitly profiling him as harshly as those not concerned with his social ascension. We are telling the young black teenager in a hoodie and jeans that he isn’t Black-manning correctly. We are telling him that his basketball shorts and his t-shirt, his jeans and his tank-top do not fit within the exclusionary confines of our accepted image.

When we appeal to whomever saying that “not all of us are sagging our pants,” the young black scholar overhears us saying that if he does we will not accept him. We will not defend him. 

If we propagate the idea that a photo of men in suits can be a “Great example of Black men”, then we are concurrently expressing that there is validity in profiling. We are telling the world that there is a good and bad example of black men simply based off of their attire. We are telling Florida that it was right to make sagging illegal and it was right to let George Zimmerman walk free. That Trayvon probably was a thug.  

Understand that the success of the black man is no more linked to a suit than his delinquency is linked to a hoodie. 

Black success as a whole does not wear a blazer. It is not a nice tie or a leather bag and it certainly isn’t quantified by any single image. Our success stands as tall as what we have built from the rubble of every oppressive wall knocked down by the preceding generations. Our success towers above accessories associated with an image that was never meant for us to portray. 

In this age of rampant profiling, remember that our appearance refuses to represent us. It shares a malleable story influenced by the prejudices of the listener. It cannot be trusted to set an example for the youth or send a message to our peers. We must speak through what we have achieved and what we have innovated. Behind us we must leave the ruins of every obstacle we destroy. Not a nice photo of us doing it. 

Posted on November 5, 2015 .