Last night (March 5th), Amanda Gorman, the critically acclaimed poet who read at President Biden’s inauguration, detailed her experience of being tailed by security. As she was returning home to her apartment, a security guard approached her, asking her for proof of address. The reason why? She ‘looked suspicious.’ After producing her keys, the security guard left her alone, without an apology.
You may believe Gorman labelling this event as racial profiling is just an example of black people ‘making everything about race’ and that the security guard was ‘just doing his job.’ However, history shows a pattern of black people being unfairly stereotyped as a threat, as dangerous. Take a look at the way right-wing politicians and commentators have attempted to justify the deaths of black people by attacking their character. Take the case of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old (unarmed) African American boy who was shot and killed. Following his death, several attempts were made to demonise his character, by bringing up his marijuana use and suspension from school for truancy and graffiti. As though this means he deserved to die. Despite this case taking place in 2012, a similar smear campaign took place against George Floyd following his death last summer in Minneapolis. Many alleged that Floyd’s death was justified, given that he had served time in prison and had previously used drugs. Black men are often painted as dangerous and threatening, while black women are portrayed as aggressive.
Such stereotypes remain despite the thousands of successful black people in the media. Gorman’s story highlights that no matter how intelligent, famous or ‘good’ a black person is, they will continue to be plagued by racial stereotypes. Look at how the Obamas were subject to racial abuse, with several racist cartoons depicting them as terrorists and chimps. Not forgetting the birtherism row sparked by the previous President, alleging that Obama wasn’t born in the USA. How the editor-in-chief of British Vogue Edward Enninful was instructed to use the loading bay one day as he arrived at work. Elijah McClain spent his lunch breaks playing the violin to abandoned animals in shelters, yet his good character wasn’t enough to prevent his brutal death at the hands of Aurora police. I could go on.
Despite allegations from many that racism no longer exists in our multicultural, progressive world, such stories tell a different tale. A racial utopia would be an impossible feat to accomplish, given that white supremacists will continue to remain in society as long as there are minorities. It is important to remember that the task of combating racism doesn’t lie solely with politicians, but with us. Although we may not be able to introduce laws aimed at promoting equality, we can all challenge racism and tired stereotypes as and when we see them.