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January 24, 2014

Richard Sherman and Enduring Racial Stereotypes

We recently had a reminder of the endur­ing power of stereo­types in Amer­i­can when an inter­view by Seat­tle Sea­hawks cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man prompted a slew of racist remarks on Twit­ter and a main­stream media com­men­ta­tor referred to him as a “thug” and an “ape.”

Richard Sherman

Richard Sherman

While per­haps unin­ten­tional on the part of media com­men­ta­tors, the lan­guage sur­round­ing Sherman’s inter­view evoked painful stereo­types of African Americans.  Racist imagery that por­trays African Amer­i­cans as beasts, espe­cially mon­keys, emerged dur­ing the Jim Crow era as a means to legit­imize unequal treat­ment of African Amer­i­cans.  Unfor­tu­nately, these stereo­types endure today.  And to many African Americans — indeed all peo­ple of good will — these stereo­types remain as inap­pro­pri­ate and offen­sive now as they were in the 20th century.

Stereo­types of African Americans harken back to a time when bla­tant racism was com­mon­place in our nation.

The his­tor­i­cal mean­ing of this imagery is often not on most people’s radar, but it should be. It is likely that many Amer­i­cans do not even real­ize they are actu­ally per­pet­u­at­ing age-old racism when they refer to African Amer­i­cans in these terms.

Part of the work of untan­gling the legacy of racism involves edu­cat­ing our­selves and our youth not to engage in it. Words carry our his­tory with them. We can­not pre­tend that refer­ring to a black man as an “ape” is not rooted in racism, and that it is not hurt­ful.  The same goes for stereo­typ­i­cal remarks about other minor­ity groups such as Jews.  Whether such hurt­ful lan­guage is man­i­fested in pro­fes­sional sports, in polit­i­cal dis­course or in school hall­ways, we must counter racist imagery and ter­mi­nol­ogy with con­dem­na­tion and expec­ta­tions that we can be better.

On the pos­i­tive side, the lan­guage we use has the power to change the future and to advance much-needed inter­cul­tural group dynam­ics in our country.

Teach­ers who work with mid­dle and high school youth can uti­lize cur­rent events and social dis­course to start con­ver­sa­tions about how our his­tory of racism con­tin­ues to impact us today.

Moments like these hurt and are rep­re­hen­si­ble, but they can also be oppor­tu­ni­ties to edu­cate and inspire a gen­er­a­tion to end racism.

  • Ted Roberts

    Sorry to say that I disagree with your sympathetic view. Sherman IS a thug. Also…please remember that most blacks hate Jews and are pro-muslim.

    • Michael

      You say Sherman is a thug…why? And why do you use the word thug? Is it because he has broken several laws and spent time in jail (which he hasn’t) or is it because he is black? You also say most blacks hate jews…data or proof; or is this another of your sweeping racist remarks?

      • Ted Roberts

        Hmm. Let’s see. Jesse Jackson? Louis Farrakhan? How many caucasian muslims do you hear about in America? YOU cannot provide “data or proof” to contradict me! Sherman is a thug because he is engages in unsportsmanlike conduct…to an extreme. Your hyper-liberalism only dilutes the values of sane, patriotic Americans.
        By the way…WHO ASKED YOUI?

      • Sivana Sharon

        Michael, who said anything about ” . . .most blacks hat[ing] Jews”? Did I miss something here?

    • Mario Augusto Puga Valera

      [citation needed]