African Americans And The Media
Today the media portrays African American males as hoodlums and thugs. The racism present in today’s media needs to be addressed and dealt with. African Americans suffer from institutional racism, are misrepresented in the news, and their portrayals on television are based on negative stereotypes that do not accurately portray reality. If there is not a major change in the media’s policy toward African Americans then this negative stereotype will continue to dominate popular opinion and eventually become an uncontested fact. “Television, or specifically media, is not merely a reflection of reality, it is a mechanism for the creation of reality.” (1)
History has proven that the ruling classes in any society are always the dominant thinkers who use their power and resources to promote their own ideology. This very same principle applies to the mass media industry. Caucasians have always dominated the media industry and thus have been able to promote their own ideology uncontested. With that said, the portrayal of African Americans has always been in the hands of white image makers. Very few African Americans hold decision making jobs for television companies and as a result have no control over how they are portrayed in the media. As long as this remains the same, “institutional racism will be perpetuated—by showing insensitive caricatures, being denied prime-time television slots and green lights for movie projects, having shows canceled before being able to tap into the huge syndication monies that white mainstream has enjoyed, and being represented inauthetically in film and television.” (1) If African American’s want to restore their image they are going to have to force the issue and do it themselves. Their youth needs to understand this problem and begin working towards a career in journalism, film, or television production. If they can become apart of the media industry then they can restore their image and portray themselves in a more positive way which will benefit them as well as others for viewers and readers will get a better understanding of what it is to be African American. The media industry would benefit from “recognizing the social and economic value of yielding authority over image creation to the most diverse population possible, honoring minority representations that may not serve the old mainstream but are reflective of the new.”(1)
Network news plays a major role in depicting African American males as menaces to society. This is because conservative Caucasians control the news and attempt to satisfy a white audience. With that said, they would much rather show blacks committing crimes than whites and that’s exactly what they do. “Network news over represents African Americans as criminals while under representing them in more sympathetic roles such as victims and officers.”(2) This has been proven through many different studies and is the main reason why African Americans are perceived in such a negative way. It also doesn’t help that when African Americans appear on the news it is for all the wrong reasons. Viewers begin to associate African American’s with violence and crime because the news reinforces the point everyday. How ever what the viewer fails to take into account is the fact that upper class Caucasians are committing serious crimes everyday but these are crimes are less favorable to cover because they break from the norm and don’t have high entertainment value.
African American’s also have a very limited influence on the news. How often do you see an African American news reporter or anchor. Chances are not too often. “In 2000, for example, black reporters and news anchors garnered just five percent of network news time.”(9) This stat demonstrates just how insignificant the African American influence is in world of news. You also have to take into consideration that the chances of their being a positive story about an African American is so small because there are very few black reporters. Even if they do produce a great story about an African American, chances are it will be over shadowed by all the horrible stories other reporters are working on.
The news also seems to have a field day with high profile African Americans. When ever they misbehave the media is all over it seeming anxious to throw dirt on their name. Great examples include Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, R. Kelly, Star Jones, and Oprah Winfrey. “Entman (1992) study found that African American’s were more likely than whites to have mug shots displayed on local television news and were more likely than whites to be handcuffed on local news.”(2) The news is attempting to further connect African Americans to crime and by showing them getting handcuffed on news they are trying to justify the belief that African Americans are more prone to criminal behavior.
The African American stereotype present in today’s media is both inaccurate and outdated. African Americans became a part of our media way back in the colonial days when they were forced into slave labor. At this point in time in history, the media industry was limited to books and newspapers. “Brown identified recurring caricatures, particularly the contented slave, the wretched freedman, the tragic mulatto, and the comic negro as the most persistent African American stereotypes to emerge from the nineteenth century.”(1) Its unfortunate these stereotypes are the foundation upon which white image makers chose to portray African Americans in the modern era.
A major component of the African American stereotype is poverty. When you’re looking through a magazine or watching TV, the lower struggling class is almost always made up of African Americans. How ever statistics show that this is a very distorted version of reality. “According to a recent study by a Yale University political scientist, while 29% of America’s poor are black, far more than half of the poor people portrayed in newsmagazines and on television shows are black.” (8) Similar to how network news over represents African Americans as criminals, magazines and cable television over represent them as being poor.
Another major component of the African American stereotype is illegal drugs. African Americans are often portrayed as flashy drug lords or homeless fiends. Once again this is an exaggerated miss representation that doesn’t stand up to the truth. “In fact, blacks are no more likely than are whites to use drugs; and more whites than blacks are arrested on drug charges.”(9) With that said the media over represents African Americans in regards to crime, illegal drug activity, and poverty. These three aspects are the foundation upon which the faulty African American stereotype stands.
The media’s portrayal of African American’s is both inaccurate and highly degrading. The racism present in today’s media needs to be addressed and dealt with. African Americans suffer from institutional racism, are misrepresented in the news, and their portrayals on television are based on negative stereotypes that do not accurately portray reality. If this issue is never resolved then our main stream media will continue to be tainted by racism and the African American stereotype will go on to contaminate the minds of the next generation.