Black Males, Social Imagery, and the Disruption of Pathological Identities: Implications for Research and Teaching

By Howard, Tyrone C.; Flennaugh, Terry K. et al. | Educational Foundations, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Black Males, Social Imagery, and the Disruption of Pathological Identities: Implications for Research and Teaching


Howard, Tyrone C., Flennaugh, Terry K., Terry, Clarence L., Sr., Educational Foundations


Mental pictures, stereotypes, and fake histories, reinforces mysteries ... and when mystery is reinforced it only means that knowledge has been lost.

-- KRS-One

Social imagery has been part of the United States landscape since the country's inception. Social imagery, or the manner in which perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs about certain groups shapes people's understanding of those groups, has served as a hallmark upon which social domination, economic exploitation, and political disenfranchisement have formed the experiences of diverse cultural groups in the U.S. (Horsman, 1981; Spring, 2006). Social imagery becomes an integral part of a population's thinking when it is institutionalized for a sustained period of time through different venues, and shapes generations of people's thinking about a particular reality or perceived reality. David Bloor (1991), who has written extensively on social imagery, contends that it consists of "those beliefs which people confidently hold to and live by. In particular ... the beliefs which are taken for granted or institutionalized, or invested with authority by groups of people" (p. 5). Social imagery frequently becomes reified through the use of tools, language, forms of media, constructed knowledge, and the purported experiences that are displayed and widely distributed about a particular group. In some instances, the group's circumstances or position within a given society can reinforce the widely held societal views of the group. Throughout the history of the U.S., racialized groups have often had their experiences profoundly shaped by social imagery in ways that have created tremendous hardships in the quest for self-actualization and a healthy sense of self.

The purpose of this article is to shed light on the manner in which Black males have been one of the primary victims of negative social imagery and how the remnants of these constructions continue to have contemporary influences, particularly when it comes to their schooling experiences in the U.S. The goal of this work is to make an argument for the generation of new ideas, different conceptual frameworks, and innovative methods of inquiry that can be useful in dismantling negative imagery of Black males. It is the hope that these new approaches to studying Black males may play an important role in creating useful research, theory, and practices that will help to improve the schooling experiences and educational outcomes for Black males, who consistently find themselves at the bottom of most academic indices (Howard, 2008; Howard & Flennaugh, 2010).

We operate from the position that large numbers of Black males experience education in a manner unlike most groups in the U.S. and that these experiences are rooted in a historical construction of what it means to be Black and male. These experiences, we assert, are often guided by a less than flattering account of the academic potential, intellectual disposition, and social and cultural capital possessed by Black males (Hutchison, 1994). Moreover, our contention is that not only do these notions of Black males shape their schooling experiences, but may severely influence their life chances at a time where educational access is vital to competing in an increasingly global society. This consequence is most disturbing given the manner in which disproportionate numbers of Black men continue to find themselves socially, economically, and politically excluded from the American mainstream.

We engage in this analysis of Black males in schools and society with a full recognition that despite the multitude of obstacles and challenges that have confronted Black males in the United States historically and contemporarily, there are instances of exceptional Black men who have overcome these obstacles to enjoy social, economic, and political upward mobility. The election of President Obama serves as a highly visible example--as does the election of Black men who have gone on to become prominent mayors in some of America's largest cities (e. …

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