The Portrait of the Black Man Vs. The White Man

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The association of black masculinity with criminality is not new in the United States, and the media has contributed significantly to the misconception about the image of black men combined with the prejudices that are created and represented in films. The portrait of the white man alongside the black man shows the society’s perception of men with the two different racial identities. Being black or white is an ascribed status given at birth, and it is a reality that we have no control over as it is determined by genetics. An ascribed status such as race can become a master status when the color of a person’s skin is used in describing then without considering one’s achievements. The portrait shows that in the eyes of the society the black man will always be associated with thug life while a white man is considered to be an upstanding citizen.

Analysis of the Portrait of the White Man Vs. The Black Man

The image of black males has always been associated with criminality in the 21st century, and the media has promoted this stereotype through the use of negative connotations such as “thug” in films when referring to black men. The portrait of a white man alongside a black male is a depiction of people’s perception of the two races. The black man in the picture has facial tattoos which are perceived to be associated with gangster life, and on the other hand, the white male does not have facial tattoos, and this makes him appear to be an upright citizen. The black male also has a nose ring unlike the white man who has no facial piercings or tattoos; this taints the image of the black man in the eyes of the society. The white male also has short hair in the portrait compared to the black male who has long dreadlocks that according to Smiley & Fakunle (2016, p. 350) are associated with thug life in black men stereotypes. The dressing code of the two men in the portrait is also completely different; the white man is dressed officially in a white shirt and a black blazer which is a decent form of dressing. On the other hand, the black male is portrayed in a casual dressing of a coat, and his neckline is quite visible as he is probably wearing a low cut t-shirt.

The Theory beneath the Practice

Black men in the society are burdened with the pressure to live up to the expectations set by other people. Black men still face stereotypes of violence, being well endowed and other forms of criminal behavior. African Americans face the dilemma of rising to the standards set by the society or staying true to the black community culture that allows for tattoos and dreadlocks. In recent years, the perceived connection between criminality and masculinity has led to the death of innocent young black men who are mistaken for criminals. The unlawful death of the innocent black victims is usually justified by, physical attributes, violent tendencies and past criminal records (Smiley & Fakunle, 2016, p. 350).

Smiley & Fakunle (2016, p. 352) state that over the past few decades, it has become a standard way to refer to black males who do not conform to the standards set by white people as “thugs.” Smiley & Fankunle (2016,p.353) give an example of an event whereby an NFL football player known as Richard Sherman was called a “thug” after his post-game interview which was after the National Football Conference (NFC) Championship game. The only reason why Sherman was branded as a “thug” was due to his loud voice and also his physical appearance characterized by his dark skin tone and his hair dreadlocks; Sherman did not express any form of violence or use of inappropriate language which is associated with criminal life.

The Boyz N the Hood Film

When people mention the hood, it is always associated with violence and criminal activity. The perception of the ghetto is that it is a kind of war zone cauterized by drive-by shootings, drug dealing, murders and as much as all these is usually true the portrayal of exaggerated crimes by black people on films only creates stereotypes about the hood that makes people believe that all black men as criminals. The Boyz N the Hood film was released in 1991, and it was directed by John Singleton; the movie was based on the lives of African American teenagers who were brought up in South Central Los Angeles in the 90s. Although the film portrayed the reality of the criminal activities that took place in the 1990’s it received both positive and negative feedback and it also promoted an increase in illegal activities after the release of the movie (Bartolomé Leal, 2013, p. 29).

The plot of the movie revolves around three young male friends, Tre Styles, Doughboy, and Ricky. Doughboy is sent to a juvenile center for stealing, and he is released after seven years when he reunites with Tre and Ricky. As the three friends hang out at Crenshaw at night, they bump into a gang member who intentionally picks up a fight with Ricky and the dispute comes to an end when Doughboy shows the gang member his gun. On another occasion when Ricky and Tre are heading home from a nearby shop, they are chased by the same gangsters, and Ricky is murdered in a drive-by. Tre gets furious and wants to revenge for Ricky’s death, he tries to steal his father’s gun, but the dad stops him. Doughboy and his friends pick up Tre, and they are out to get vengeance, but along the way, Tre backs out from the plan and walks back home while his Doughboy and his friends go through with the revenge killing ("Boyz n the Hood Full Movie," 2016).

Black Masculinity in Boyz n the Hood

According to Milton (2012, p. 17) growing up as a black man in the hood in 90’s period was quite challenging as the young men had to deal with the negative stereotypes of black male violence and also the pressure to stay true their roots in the hood. The Boyz N the Hood film was an accurate depiction of the street life of Los Angeles in the 1990’s, and although the movie received a lot of backlashes, it did shed some light on the criminal activities that took place at the time. The stereotype about young men is that they are usually hot-headed, drug dealers with a tendency to be violent. The character Tre in the Boyz N the Hood film was used to show and not all black men are thugs as he resisted the temptation of avenging his friend’s death by killing his murderer and he chose to walk away from the whole thing. The appearance of a black male should not be used to judge their character like the way the NFL play was called a “thug” only because he had dreadlocks (Bartolomé Leal, 2013, p. 37).

The relevance of the Theory to Practice

Having learned so much about the perceptions of white males and black men in films has changed my perspective on filmmaking and the entertainment industry in general. I have learned that the media has the potential to influence the way people see the world. Therefore filmmakers should be very careful not to portray negative stereotypes such as those of black criminality in films. Although the depiction of such stereotypes in movies increases movie ratings and revenues, it also taints people’s perceptions of a group of people such as young black men and this can have undesired adverse consequences in real life.


Bartolomé Leal, A. (2013). Boyz out the hood? Geographical, linguistic and social mobility in John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood. Journal of English Studies, 11, 27. doi:10.18172/jes.2615

Boyz n the Hood Full Movie. (2016, December 7). Retrieved from

Milton, T. B. (2012). Class Status and the Construction of Black Masculinity. Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World, 3(1), 17-31. doi:10.7227/erct.3.1.2

Smiley, C., & Fakunle, D. (2016). From “brute” to “thug:” The demonization and criminalization of unarmed Black male victims in America. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 26(3-4), 350-366. doi:10.1080/10911359.2015.1129256

September 25, 2023




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