Race and Media
African Americans have for quite a while been seen as non-citizens in USA by Native Americans since they are the majority in this country. African Americans have been regarded as the immigrants who settled in USA for rich people’s convenience. As a result, African Americans in USA have been fighting for a rightful social place in America. Due to this confrontation that has lasted for a long time, some public institutions in America seem to conform to the non-bias practices when it comes to handling public issues. Among the institutions that seem biased in this issue is the media. This is the case despite the vital role that is played by the media in shaping the society in America.
According to Balkaran (1999), there are significant roles that the media has played in perpetuating historical oppression’s effects against African Americans. He observes that the current condition of African Americans that places them as the second-class citizens can be attributed to the media’s role in the society in USA. In acknowledging how African Americans are portrayed by the media as negative and inferior characters, Mintel Group argues that how African Americans are portrayed by the media in news as well as other areas should be changed. The group relates this with the reality that the minority groups’ children including the Indians and blacks will form the highest category by 2050 (Mintel Group Limited, n.d). The focus of this research paper is on evaluating how African Americans are portrayed as negative and inferior characters within the society in America by the media.
First, the argument of some people is that African Americans are portrayed as dealers in drugs by the media. Such people argue that an African American individual must be involved in a drug dealing scandal that is highlighted by the media. This happens not to just one media channel but it is a widespread phenomenon that is depicted even in films where African Americans are portrayed as the main drug dealers. Particularly, African American individuals are assigned programs and films roles that entail drug issues. Usually, they are the individuals who use and traffic drugs more in television programs and films (Punyanunt-Carter, 2008).
This is a practice that the media has engaged in throughout. As such, African Americans’ depiction as the drug dealers in the society is perpetrated by the television programs and films that are watched by most people as well as the print media that they read and radios that they listen to. This has made other people believe in what is propagated by the media. Isaac et al. (n.d) note that this relates to a cultivation theory which postulates that people are prompted to believe that they live in a world that is depicted by the media.
Mainstream media depict the African Americans more so the youths as predators, criminals and crimes’ victims (Sanders, 2012). The practice is now an aspect of USA’s popular culture in terms of the words that are used by the journalists and the images that the media project. Other media channels such as video games, movies and the internet also engage in this practice. The practices of these media are based on color variation between white Americans and African Americans. While doing this, they depict African American individuals as inferior. Additionally, there are certain roles that African Americans are assigned in these media that are rarely played by white Americans. Usually, they are the noisy, uneducated, untrained, immoral, rebellious and disrespectful individuals in films, movies and television series and programs (Punyanunt-Carter, 2008). Although to some individuals this may seem inconsequential, its effects are far-reaching on the media consumers such as television viewers. The perceptions that they have for African Americans is affected. This portrayal also affects the African Americans’ position in the society in America.
An example of the way African Americans are portrayed as negative characters by the media is related to the murder of a 17 years old black American teenage boy in February 2012. Zimmerman was the security guard that killed Martin, the teenage boy by shooting him in a setup that was controversial. Despite this killing, the arrest of the guard was delayed by the police because the boy’s ethnicity was an issue of concern for the police investigation. Nevertheless, the public anticipation of the case direction was right. The media opted to heighten marijuana traces in the boy’s blood. For the media, this area raised major concern than other things such that the press centered news on the issue of marijuana instead of anything else (Sanders, 2012). Print media on the other hand published the photographs of cuts and scratches on the guard’s face to portray the violent acts of the boy towards the guard. Thus, the case portrays African Americans as violent and drug abusers.
African American individuals are also related to the blue-collar jobs by the media. In most cases, this happens in films and television series in which African American individuals are depicted as postal workers, cooks, athletes and servants among other types of blue-collar jobs. Seggar and Wheeler (1973) while tackling this issue reviewed several television series in which they established that most television series depicted African Americans as house cleaners, postal workers, cooks and musicians. Warren conducted another research in which he reviewed the position given to the blacks by the media. The results were similar because it identified cooking, entertainment, athletic and cooking as the jobs that are performed by most blacks in television series as well as programs (Punyanunt-Carter, 2008). This study also found out that such stereotypes were intensified by the media in America and other parts of the world.
There were other instances where African American individuals were associated with the low-income jobs and other non-professional jobs. African Americans are not portrayed as big institutions’ leaders particularly by films. The actors are not allowed to play these roles in most films (Punyanunt-Carter, 2008). As such, the current change in the American society does not appear to be appreciated by the media. Today, job qualifications are important than skin color. This practice however appears to discourage youths of African American origin from advancing educational dreams since securing white-color jobs seems like it will never happen for them.
Apart from blue-collar jobs, trafficking and dealing in drugs, African American individuals are consistently associated with the low achievements by the media. In most cases, they are portrayed as the low achievers with rare portrayal of them as the high-achievers in the society. As such, color difference is emphasized between the African Americans and other American citizens, more so the whites. Greenberg and Brand (1994) observed that in most television programs African Americans are portrayed as taking lower-status roles and possessing low educational qualifications than white Americans. Reid did another research which established that black women are portrayed by the media as the low achievers in the society when compared to white women who are portrayed as high achievers (Punyanunt-Carter, 2008).
Apart from the portrayal of African American individuals as the low achievers in the society, they are also depicted in negative perspectives. For instance, they are portrayed as foolish, lazy, coward, violent, sub-human and animal-like as well as irresponsible among others. This is an aspect that is repeatedly depicted in the 19th century films in America. African Americans were not included in the production of such films. The whites altered their appearances and then posed as African Americans. Thus, white Americans who played the African Americans’ roles in such movies not only did they demean African American people but also depicted them badly. White Americans acted as the bosses and African Americans as the servants prior the 19th century. Although this occurred in the 19th century, the practices of the media have not been distanced because the films are always revisited by the people and the media (Horton, Price, & Brown, 1999). African Americans are portrayed as negative and inferior characters for purposes of documentary or otherwise.
Although the claim of several researches is that African Americans are portrayed as negative and inferior characters while criticizing the media because of this injustice, there are researches that have a contrary view. Such researches appraise the media for its portrayal of African Americans. The claim of these researches is that there is an attempt by the media to end racial injustices that were experienced in the past in U.S.A. These researches claim that the media is only portraying the past African American roles without portrayal of the African American individuals as inferiors.
Donagher et al. (1975) in response evaluated 139 television series’ content and realized that black males were portrayed as helpers, cooperative and givers in these series. This contradicted the claim of other researches that purport that African Americans are portrayed as uneducated, low achievers and aggressors by the media. Thus, African Americans are not in any way portrayed as negative or inferior characters by the media the way some individuals say it does. Instead, what the media does is to appreciate the role that African Americans play within the society.
Gunter conducted another research that evaluated the way the blacks are depicted by the British and American television programs. According to this research, both British and American television programs depict white individuals as being more aggressive than black people. This research also established that the vulnerability to attacks for whites was more than that of the blacks. This contradicts research findings that claim that African Americans are portrayed as being more vulnerable and more aggressive people within the society.
Atkin (1992) did a research that contradicts the other researches’ findings that attributes blue-collar jobs to African Americans. According to this research African Americans have prominent regulation jobs. This research in particular found out that African Americans serve as great officers in the law enforcement agencies. It also established that there are positive characteristics of African Americans (Punyanunt-Carter, 2008). The study differs from researches that argue that African Americans are portrayed as fit for the blue-collar jobs and as negative characters by the media. The study argues that African Americans are portrayed as individuals who have positive characteristics as well as fit for white-collar jobs by the media.
On the basis of these researches’ findings, it is highly unlikely that African Americans are portrayed as negative and inferior characters by the media the way some studies claim. Additionally, it is unlikely that these people are criticized by the media.
In regards to this study’s findings, the American media fails to play its role of propagating correct message that it ought to propagate within the contemporary American society. This happens regardless of the previous injustices that African Americans experienced. The media persistently depict African American people as negative and inferior characters in terms of how it broadcasts news to its target public. This relates to the reality that the American media is always reviewing and revisiting the films and movies that portray African Americans badly. It also relates to the reality that the American media always take sides as it broadcast news and while capturing information. This study establishes that African Americans’ race is considered by the media while analyzing news. This fact was established when evaluating Martin, a 17 years old boy’s killing. This case study revealed that the concentration of the media was on the marijuana traces in boy’s blood and his race instead of capturing the actual issue for which the boy was killed.
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Mintel Group, LTD. (n.d.). Portrayal of Blacks in the Media. Retrieved from http://reachingblackconsumers.com/2011/09/portrayal-of-blacks-in-the-media/
Punyanunt-Carter, N. (2008). The perceived realism of African American portrayals on television. The Howard Journal of Communications, 19(3), 241-257.
Sanders, J. (2012, May 29). Media portrayal of black youth contributes to racial tension. Retrieved from http://thegrio.com/2012/05/29/media-portrayal-of-black-youth-contributes-to-racial-tension/
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