17 Feb 2019 | Cephas Williams | Metro
Whenever I see people that look like me in the news it’s generally surrounding the idea of knife crime and violence.
But that is not the majority. I can point to so many black men I know not doing that and instead doing positive things. However these men are never seen.
To challenge the mainstream notion of who we are and what we do I have set up 56 Black Men to put the spotlight on black men doing great things.
Championing the idea that ‘I am not my stereotype’, the campaign looks to challenge the general preconceptions of ‘the black man’ and the negative connotations and stigmas attached to us.
The artistic direction behind the photo series aimed to make a visually bold statement by showing black men wearing hoodies – an image typically portrayed as threatening – while it also features positive descriptions of their line of work and achievements.
This gives black men and boys in the community an image they can identify with finally displayed in a positive light. The campaign features people from various lines of work – from plumbing to politics, founders, directors, trustees, motivational speakers and many more.
These are all men doing great things, normal things, ground breaking things – and all men with a real story and a voice that is rarely heard but lost in the midst of the negative representation we see in the media. This campaign wants to serve as a platform to give black men a voice and put us at the forefront of our own conversation, as time goes on we will be exploring the stories and lived experiences of these men.
David Lammy MP, one of the men, recently wrote a great article in the Guardian communicating his perspective.
The idea of a positive and educated black man is generally the opposite of what society has been conditioned to expect of us, and in some cases even influences how many black men view themselves.
We also see this reflected through representation and behaviour within the workplace. David Lammy MP is part of the campaign.
While many organisations will claim that they focus on diversity when hiring, it’s one thing to say ‘20% of our workforce are from the black community’, but what are the job roles attached to that figure? What are the retention rates? Who are these people and how do they honestly feel?
It’s not enough to punch a number into a system to tick a diversity quota, we must actually include these people in the conversation and ensure that things are progressively changing every day, every week, every month and every year. Progression is not just through representation but is also about inclusion and empowerment.
Including us in conversation in the work place is one thing, including us in conversation in the media is another.
As a black man myself, I understand this experience. With a constant focus on knife crime and how black men are mainly spotlighted when they are either the victims or perpetrators of violence or crime, I tasked myself with the mission to help change this overly saturated narrative.
While these stories may be true, they do not represent the majority of black men’s experiences. As a result, my mission was to find and spotlight the stories of other black men, in a bid to create a platform that would hopefully bring a real change to the narrative told about us.
If black boys continually see themselves in the media in a negative way, this will not help change the trajectory of their lives. And so, this campaign serves as a reminder that for every black man you see represented doing something negative, there are 56 of us that aren’t; in fact there’s a whole world of us.