Hitting the Washington, D.C., singles scene when nearing middle age should be challenge enough for anyone. But divorced 43-year-old Janks Morton believes stereotypes about African-American men have created a list of 'qualifiers' that women keep in their back pockets when scrutinizing potential romantic interests. 'I have been asked, 'Have you ever been locked up?' and 'You aren't one of those 'down low' brothers, are you?' he says, referring to what men who have relationships with women but also regular sexual encounters with other men on the sly are called. 'It's almost like a civil war between black men and black women.'
Morton, who works in the health care field and is the former owner of an independent record label, has taken it upon himself to rehabilitate the image of the black man in America. He is currently filming a feature-length documentary called What Black Men Think, which will address cultural stereotypes about incarceration, drug use, and HIV.
'There were some disturbing trends that I've seen as a casual observer of the African-American community,' he says of his inspiration to create the film, 'and that came to light through discussions with my peers. And these perceptions'stereotypes'while they may have had some basis in truth, have been exploited exponentially [and generalized across] the majority of the group. So this movie is a push back on some of those perceptions to get them more in line with what the absolute truths are.'
The closing segment of the trailer for the film on MySpace (www.myspace.com/whatblackmenthink) tells women, 'You have been duped. You have been took, hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok, hustled, misinformed, misled, had the wool pulled over your eyes.' Morton adds, 'You cannot take the minority and portray it as the majority, and that's what's happening.'
Frustrated that sources including Oprah Winfrey and The New York Times have impressed upon African-Americans that the down low is a major source of HIV transmission, he hopes to hold verifiable statistics up to the light. While most experts currently agree that evidence to support the widespread existence of the down low is shaky at best, Morton points to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicate about half of all black women with HIV became infected through either injection-drug use or sex with an injection-drug user.
'If people are not talking about intravenous-drug use among minority women,' he says about the media's failure to stress the predominant risk factors for contracting the virus, 'then they are doing a disservice to the population.'
While the media sweep the drug epidemic under the rug, Morton says, black men's sexuality gets blamed for most of the HIV infections among black women. And the image of black men as murderers is heightened by incorrect beliefs among African-Americans that AIDS is the number 1 killer of all black women. (It is the current leading killer of black women between 25 and 34, according to the CDC.)
'There is a mystique about African-American male sexuality that is hyper-portrayed through the media,' Morton says. 'Couple that with the demonization of the African-American male through the media, and you have the convergence of the perfect storm when you talk about the DL issue.'
Morton plans to release What Black Men Think in the early spring, distributing DVDs online and through iTunes.