Elijah Mitchell’s Black At USD Project

On  March 14th, 2023 I and a friend of mine attended a speech in the BSRC (Black Student Resource Commons) called Black and Born Out of the US. The purpose of this speech was for students who had been born in Africa who had moved to the US later on in life to share their experience with other students, most of which (not all) had been born and raised in the US. Although the speakers were Black and the majority of us in the audience were black ourselves, we realized how we came from completely different cultures and have had completely different life experiences. And even within the group of speakers they had completely different life experiences as well depending on which specific country they came from and the age that they were when they had first come to the US. But what’s even more interesting is the similarities between all of us that we had when it came to things such as food, family, parenting, and values. The speakers we asked questions such as “What were some challenges when first arriving to the US and currently?”, “Do you feel represented in the media?”, “How has time in the US shaped your identity”, “Do you feel homesick?”, and lastly “What do you want the audience to know?”.However, one main point that the speakers continued to bring up one way or another during each and every question was the negative stereotypes that have been perpetuated against Black people all over the world and how that affects them on a daily basis. The Black and Born Out of the US speech showed how these harmful stereotypes about Black and African people are still believed to this day. And this conscious and unconscious bias against Black and African people specifically in the US is shown in the way Americans (including Black Americans) treat and view Africans, the way Black people are treated in the criminal justice system, and by how Traditional African Religions are viewed by Americans.

Throughout the speech the speakers had spoken about their struggles being in the US and one of their biggest issues was the stereotypes about Africa that many Americans believed. One of the speakers told us about how kids in school would ask her if people lived in mud huts and another speaker told us about how kids in their school asked if she had a pet tiger. By talking to these American kids they could tell that these kids assumed that they came from extreme poverty when in reality they actually came from wealthy families with large homes with lots of land and even bodyguards back in their home country. However many Americans view everyone in Africa as poverty stricken, and do not realize that there are so many different countries, cultures, and societies within Africa that are completely different from one another. While there are certain parts of Africa that do suffer from extreme poverty and underdeveloped societies, that does not mean the entire continent of Africa is like this and it’s extremely ignorant to view all Africa as the same. The speakers also spoke about the divide between being Black(Black People Born in the US) and being African(Black People Born in Africa). Upon arriving in the US the speaker assumed any type of discrimination or prejudice would be from white people and not from other black people who grew up in America. However through their life experiences in America it proved to them that even other black people in America believed these wild stereotypes about African people which therefore created a divide. The African kids felt like these Black American kids did not understand them or relate to them and the Black kids probably felt the same. This makes it very hard for Africans who move to the US, especially who move by themselves and without any of their family members. They are in a brand new world/society and they do not know anyone or how anything works and they feel isolated from others because of the disconnect between cultures and upbringings. This gravely affects their mental health and their ability to succeed academically and financially.

Another way that stereotypes and bias affect the lives of black people in America is through the criminal justice system. Ever since the creation of this country there has been discrimination and especially against black people. Throughout the years the methods of oppression would change as social opinions and ideologies began to change. At one point slavery was accepted (by the white majority population) as something perfectly normal, but eventually that was abolished and when that happened we were introduced to the Jim Crow Era. This is a period of time in which black people had their freedom but at the same time they didn’t. They were no longer slaves however the system was rigged for them to fail and many laws and systems were put in place to prevent the social mobilization of African Americans. The concept of separate but equal became the norm as well, and this was justified by saying that blacks and whites can be separated as long as they both had the same equal options. For example you can separate black kids from going to school with white kids as long as there’s a school for black kids. The issue is that the schools, bathrooms, water fountains, seats, etc that were given to black people were always much lower quality, less funded, and less maintained by the government than the ones made for white people. Therefore even though it was supposed to be separate but equal, it had absolutely nothing to do with equality and everything to do with oppression. Through the power and influence of the civil rights movement, the Jim Crow laws were eventually abolished in 1964. After this point as we begin to enter the 1970s, a new form of oppression begins to be used against African Americans such as Mass Incarceration and the War on Drugs. Since drug use and abuse began to rise amongst all different types of Americans regardless of their racial background or personal identity it was used as the perfect scapegoat to target minorities such as African Americans. And although I am focusing on the way this had affected the African American community, the latino/hispanic community were also targeted and had been greatly affected by Mass Incarceration and the War on Drugs as well. Around this time the US prison population began to skyrocket and the vast majority of these inmates were/are black or hispanic/latino. To this day there are hundreds of thousands of African and Hispanic/Latino Americans incarcerated in the US over drug offenses. Now some people may make the argument that the only reason that there are so many more Black and Hispanic/Latino people incarcerated over drugs in the US is because they commit more drug offenses than white people, however this is completely untrue. According to a study that was mentioned in the text Freedom on My Mind, “Although the majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide were white, three-fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses were black or Hispanic. Young black offenders were more likely to be transferred to adult courts and to receive longer sentences. Whereas white juveniles were more likely to be sentenced to serve time in jails, small local lockups that could be easily visited by family and friends, blacks were more likely to be sent to prisons, large facilities far from home.”(1739) This study shows how law enforcement and judges view black and hispanic/latino people within this country. A law enforcement officer is more likely to search black and hispanic/latino people because they already believe  these stereotypes that minorities are more likely to be drug dealers or users when in reality that’s not the truth. And in the courtroom judges are more likely to give out harsher sentences black and hispanic/people because they believe these stereotypes that we’re animals that cannot be rehabilitated or fixed. Whereas with a white person the judge is more likely to view them as a good person who just made a bad decision. So even though in the United States a white person is just as likely if not more likely to sell/use drugs, black and  hispanic/latino people make up the vast majority of the people incarcerated for drug offenses.

Another way harmful stereotypes affect Black people and Africans is through the way Americans view Traditional African religions such as Voodoo/Vodun. Many people in America (including Black Americans) think that “voodoo refers to the black magic historically associated with Negroes in the West Indies or in the Deep South region of this country.”(Touchstone, 1972) However if Vodun is black magic how come other religions such as Christianity are not viewed as black magic? This concept actually originates from slavery on the island of Haiti (and the Dominican Republic) when the French had brought Africans from Dahomey (modern day Benin) to the island after killing off all of the indigenous arawak people that had originally lived on this island. In Africa around this time (and even to this day) each country had its own religion that was only followed by people from that specific region. Although many people in the west act as if all of Africa is the same, a lot of times one African country would have multiple religions, cultures, and even languages all within that one country. These people that were brought to Haiti by the French continued to practice their traditional Dahomean religion through captivity and when the French noticed they began to pass the Code Noir laws which made it illegal for the enslaved people to meet and practice their religion. Since the French wanted them to practice Christianity, the enslaved people would have to practice their Dahomean religion using the symbolism of Christianity so it looked like they were practicing Christianity when in reality they weren’t. This religion that combined the two later became known as Haitian Vodun which people in the west refer to as Voodoo. Because of slavery many Black people began to become Christians and the religion was based on throughout the generations. This is why to this day, so many people within the African American community cherish Christianity so much and look down upon those that practice things such as Vodun/Voodoo and view it as evil or black magic. This shows how although slavery has been abolished in the US for almost 200 years, the stereotypes created in these times continue to be believed by many Americans (Black or not) to this day.

Moving on in the future I hope that people, especially in the west, will be able to shake off these stereotypical misconceptions about Black and African people, because they are harmful to our society and inhibits the ability for us to understand one another without judging each other for our differences. The harmful effects of these stereotypes are shown in the way Americans treat and view Africans, the way Black people are treated in the criminal justice system, and by how Traditional African Religions are viewed by Americans. Therefore I believe that our generation needs to work together to eliminate these stereotypes so that we can make the future more inclusive, understanding, and safer for our descendants who will come after us.


Touchstone, B. (1972). Voodoo in New Orleans. Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, 13(4), 371–386. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4231284?seq=3

Deborah Gray White, Bay, M., & Martin, W. E. (2017). Freedom on my mind : a history of African Americans, with documents. Volume 2 Since 1865 (2nd ed.). Boston New York Bedford/St. Martins.

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