Diary of A (Mad) Black Woman Without VC Funding, Part 3: Why Perception is Everything

Bayeté Ross Smith’s “Our Kind of People” uses photography to tackle implicit bias.

Moments before 40-year-old Terence Crutcher was gunned down with his hands up in the air by a white police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, another law enforcement officer looking below from a helicopter said that Crutcher — a father of four who was in route home after taking a class at a community college before his car broke down — “looked like a bad dude.”

So what exactly does a “bad dude” look like anyway? By all accounts, Crutcher was far from being “bad.” He was a family man; a father who loved singing in his church choir so much that he had enrolled into Tulsa Community College in hopes of earning a degree in music appreciation.

The day Crutcher was murdered; he was not committing a crime. He was not armed. He was not breaking any traffic violations. His car just stalled and he had his hands up in the air when approached by police.

So what could make that officer believe Crutcher was a “bad dude”? Is it because Crutcher was a tall, stocky black man driving a nice SUV?

The thought that a black man can be executed by police officers due to his car breaking down is beyond disturbing. Instead of jump starting his car, assisting with a tow truck or helping to push his truck out of the highway, he was tased and shot.

This isn’t the first time that a black man needing roadside assistance was met by bullets from the cops. Last year Corey Jones, a church drummer, was shot and killed by a plainclothes police officer in Florida while waiting for AAA to arrive after his car broke down. In 2013, former FAMU football player Jonathan Ferrell was shot and killed as he ran toward police for help after getting into a severe car accident.

While some people try to justify why unarmed black men doing nothing wrong should be murdered, we know that real criminals who are not black have managed to get handcuffed without as much as a scratch. For example, Ahmad Khan Rahami, the NYC/NJ bombing suspect who shot at police, was arrested and given medical attention after his standoff with law enforcement. Hell, this year a white man, who was eating the face of another man, was taken into custody alive even after four cops struggled to subdue him.

So, I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with being a “mad” black women entrepreneur without venture capital funding? Well, everything!

I launched kweliTV because I wanted to change the way people of African descent are portrayed in mainstream media because perception is everything. Kweli means “truth” in Swahili. So since day one, my team and I have been on a mission to curate and eventually create content that shows a true reflection of the black experience.

Nearly 80 percent of newsroom jobs are occupied by whites. When you have people who don’t look like me overwhelmingly occupy newsrooms and film studios, you end up with:

A former detective continuously booked on a major cable news network justifying the murders of unarmed black men in every situation, even when video proves him wrong.
Ryan Lochte being able to fool journalists into believing that he was robbed by locals in Brazil due to the media focusing mostly on the country’s crime.
A Trump “surrogate,” paid by CNN, saying that black people are a “race-baiters” if they point out when Trump says something racist while in the same breath defending his candidate for blaming race as a factor in the investigation against Trump University.
A segment on a major news network allowing a former cop to say that black people are naturally “prone to criminality” while going unchecked by the journalist.
A presidential candidate giving a speech on national television saying that all black people are “living in poverty” and “have no jobs.”

In 2014, the Sentencing Project released a report that revealed implicit bias from producers and journalist in newsrooms shaped how black people are portrayed in the media. According to the report:

“…Black crime suspects were presented in more threatening contexts than whites: Black suspects were disproportionately shown in mug shots and in cases where the victim was a stranger. Black and Latino suspects were also more often presented in a non-individualized way than whites — by being left unnamed — and were more likely to be shown as threatening — by being depicted in physical custody of police. Blacks and Hispanics were also more likely to be treated aggressively by police officers on reality-based TV shows, including America’s Most Wanted and Cops. Mass media are therefore a major contributor to Americans’ misconceptions about crime, with journalists and producers apparently acting based on their own or expectations of their audiences’ stereotypes about crime.”

And it’s not just the news. Studies show that blacks in criminal roles tend to outnumber blacks in socially positive roles in the media and that negative imagery of black women appears twice as often as positive depictions in the media. Only 7 percent of all films and only 2 percent of all digital streaming content have casts that reflect the country’s race and ethnic diversity. When black people are cast in film or television, black men are least likely to be shown in a committed relationship and almost a third of black women are shown in a sexualized light.

Despite the fact that negative stereotypes portrayed in news, television and film are unfounded, the media has created a perfect storm for implicit bias. According to Project Implicit, 88 percent of white Americans have implicit racial bias against black people. Some 48 percent of black Americans also have implicit racial bias against black people, according to the Harvard Implicit-Association Test. Negative mass media portrayals are also strongly linked to lower life expectations among black men a 2011 study by The Opportunity Agenda found.

PBS: This excerpt from the Independent Lens documentary American Denial looks at the “Implicit Bias Test,” which was created to test people’s unconscious bias toward words and concepts, and toward races. It is not about conscious attitudes and beliefs, as one researcher tells us in the film, but about something you yourself may not know you have.

So if media consumption creates a distorted view of blacks, one can see how cops blatantly murder unarmed black people holding their hands up, grabbing a wallet, running towards them for help or reading a book.

The media is charged with telling stories through journalism, television, film, music videos, video games and even adverting. When black people are not the decision-makers at media organizations, people who may not fully understand the complex issues facing our community are left to tell our stories. It results in many networks missing the opportunity to produce content that accurately portrays the black culture.

The most frustrating thing about being a black woman without VC funding is that my grandiose ideas on how to change the game in black media are stifled. But I’m not going down without a fight.

While I know kweliTV cannot stop all unarmed black people from getting murdered by police officers or prevent the next brother with his hands up from being seen as a “bad dude,” what I know for sure is that kweliTV can create social change and innovation through media. But I’m concerned about where kweliTV will be in 30 days due to our dwindling funds. And it keeps me up at night because our purpose to change how black people are perceived in the media is far too great for us to fail.