An outpouring of concern by many Americans related to the spread of misinformation is spreading across the land. Way too many believe social media: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others are responsible especially for spreading information that sows hate.
Misinformation is false or inaccurate statements deliberately intended to deceive. Misinformation is as American as apple pie, but it appears there is more concern as the nation rages amidst a culture war.
For almost 400 years, misinformation in the form of stereotypes and malicious myths about African Americans have been the norm. Misinformation and distorted images are the basis of establishing black inferiority in the collective white American mind. This misinformation has been readily accepted, evolving over decades to fit the social, political, and economic needs of the times.
Three categories of black inferiority were created: cultural, intellectual, and moral. This misinformation created feelings of security, repulsion, and fear related to blacks. This racial misinformation has been revised and embellished to influence social and political attitudes toward African Americans.
Misinformation related to the happy and contented slave was used to defend and rationalize the enslavement of Africans and African Americans. After Emancipation and during Reconstruction, a new image of the shiftless, lazy, irresponsible black was created. The most damaging misinformation related to the black male was characterizing him as a savage, violent, rapist. This misinformation, intended to create fear in particular was responsible for the lynching and murder of black men for decades. These stereotypes of the lazy, wanting-something-for-nothing, criminal as well as the brutal black man persist today.
Misinformation about blacks has been perpetuated through six major sources in American society: religion, history, social science, popular culture, the media, and most critically, the educational system. From the narrative in A Time for Change: How White Supremacy Ideology Harms All Americans (2021), the sources of racial misinformation are described as follows.
- The story of Ham, one of the three sons of Noah, was used as a theological means of justifying the enslavement of Africans. Africans were said to be the descendants of Ham and therefore the object of the curse placed on him by Noah.
- African American history was viewed and written about as beginning with enslavement in the New World, purposely ignoring any historical significance of Africa to world civilization.
- The inferior physical, intellectual and emotional qualities of blacks were studied and reported in the literature.
- The popular culture, including everything from literature to post cards to baking goods to toys and salt and pepper shakers created inferior images of African Americans. It was this clever way of “advertising” that had the greatest impact in terms of making the Southern image of black servility into a national image. This misinformation curtailed the employment opportunities for African Americans in the society.
- In each historical era in America, from colonial to modern times, the media in all its forms, from anti-black pamphlets to racist diatribes in newspapers to the nightly news, have been most critical in reinforcing and perpetuating misinformation about African Americans.
- Misinformation about black inferiority has influenced the educational system, from the glaring omissions and distortions that are written as history in textbooks still, to policies and practices.
- In addition, the role of historic and political figures cannot be overlooked in inculcating racial misinformation in the collective American mind. From Thomas Jefferson’s Notes, to coded messages about “the welfare queen” and the need for” law and order” misinformation about African Americans has been persistent and pervasive.
Questions must be asked and addressed about the concern about “misinformation” at this time.
Why has there not been an outcry about the misinformation regarding African Americans?
Has racial misinformation about blacks served to satisfy the psychic well-being of many whites?
Is there an awareness of how racial information has produced fear, separated the races, and sowed hatred in the collective white mind?
Are Americans now willing to evaluate and critically analyze all information presented to them, including racial misinformation, particularly that related to black men?