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Perception is Power

Updated on May 3, 2014

by Amber Maccione


Black America is viewed negatively in the media by White America. Perception is everything. Once you are perceived to be one way, it is hard to change your perception. Once you are told over and over that this is who you are, you begin to believe it and show that the perception is true. Perception holds the power. Black America is viewed negatively more times than White America. Two concepts: the looking-glass self and the stereotype threat prove that perception molds not only how others think about that person or community, but also how that person or community eventually views themselves. If you are told over and over that you are this, eventually you really become what you have been told you are. In order for the negative perception to be broken, perception needs to be changed. Those that can change it are those who are the objects of that perception. Controlling your own perception of yourself is the most important thing a person or community can do.

Keywords: Perception, Looking-Glass Self, Stereotype Threat

Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned Black America to be one that was equal to that of White America. The Civil Rights Movement that he helped create brought more freedom and more equality to Black America, yet the image that is portrayed is far from what Martin Luther King, Jr. had envisioned. Some have tried to explain that the black communities live in poverty and violence because of absentee fathers, young ladies getting pregnant out of wedlock, and the lack of resources in these community schools. The lack of these things are illustrated in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid. Maslow states that if an individual is lacking in a lower level, he cannot move up. Although some of this might have some barring on why a great percentage of Black America lives in poverty, it does not explain why being black in America has negative connotations. As seen in the pictures above, Black America has the image of the word “Nigger”, which historically has come to be a White racial slur to refer to blacks as “lazy, stupid, dirty worthless nobodies” (Middleton & Pilgrim). The power of perception is that is can turn people into what they are perceived to be instead of who they really are. Dean Larry Davis of the University of Pittsburgh states, “People’s perception of themselves are shaped by other’s perception of them” (Barlow, 2011). If White America portrays blacks as lazy, dumb, and violent through the media, eventually Black America will believe that is who they are (Barlow, 2011).


The Effect of Perception

“One of the most important things any group of people can do is to control the image of themselves” (Barlow, 2011). Dean Larry Davis states this in his message about how negative images in the media cause psychological damage to those who view it, no matter their race (Barlow, 2011). According to research done on the media, T.V. news channels are four times as likely to show a black man’s mug shot, two times as likely to show a black man’s name, and two times as likely to show a black man being physically restrained (Barlow, 2011). Four out of five times, blacks are being portrayed negatively in the media and movies, which causes them to receive a negative perception among those who see it (Barlow, 2011).

Looking-Glass Self

How someone is viewed affects how others view them as well and also how that person views themselves. Therefore, when blacks are viewed in a negative light, Black America believes this is how White America views them, this is how Black America thinks White America views them, and this is how Black America begins to view themselves. The concept of the looking-glass self by Charles Pooley explains this further. He states that people imagine how they appear to others, imagine other’s judgment of that appearance, and they develop themselves through the judgment of others (Barlow, 2011). Pooley drew his understanding of this from the 1940s doll studies done by Kenneth and Mamie Clark who showed that black girls favored white dolls over black dolls saying that the white dolls were good and the black dolls were bad (Barlow, 2011). The negative perspective of Black America had already rubbed off on young children within the black community.

Stereotype Threat

Another idea about perception comes from Claude Steele who developed the idea of the stereotype threat (Barlow, 2001). This is defined by the person realizing the negative stereotype placed upon them explains their “current behavior or attributes” (Barlow, 2011). An example that is given is the perception of the black student compared to the white student. The black student is viewed as intellectually inferior to the white student, therefore, the black student fails or performs poorly on academic assignments or tests (Barlow, 2011). When teaching, more times than not, teachers would always complain about the black students. Even the black students could feel that the teachers did not believe in them and even believed that they didn’t even care. This is because of the stereotype that Black America is not equal to White America.

Is Perception Everything?

Can a culture change their image when others think one way about them?

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As seen in the collage above, Black America is portrayed like thugs or as White Racism says, “Niggers”. They are poor because they are lazy. They are poor because they are dumb. They are poor because they are violent. Their plight is because of their own doing instead of possibly the doing of inequality that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to fight so hard against. America is still white. The media is still white. Hence, the perspective of Black America is still portrayed by White America. Until that perspective changes, Black America will continue to be as the white man sees them. Perspective is everything. Its power allows those who are seen negatively to remain in their negative state because they are led to believe that is all they are worth.


Barlow, K. (10 November 2011). “How media portray African-American males.”

University Times, 44:6. University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved from

Middleton, P. & Pilgram, D. (n.d.). “Nigger (The Word), A Brief History.” African

American Registry. Retrieved from


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    • MasculistFeminist profile image


      5 years ago from Australia

      Excellent article. Controlling how society perceives things is a key means through which society itself is controlled. We have two wars now to prove it. Hence the power of the media. Our best defence is critical thought. It is the youth that are most defenceless against stereotype threat, framing tactics and the pygmalion effect that goes along with it. Not to say adults are unaffected, but at least they have some wisdom and critical thought to fall back on.

      "Controlling your own perception of yourself is the most important thing a person or community can do."

      Truer words have never been spoken. We are what we think not just what we eat.


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