Mass Media and Racism Term Paper

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Racism in Media

Television news casting has a long history of perpetuating negative stereotypes of the Black community through what the news broadcasts and how it creates images that are transformed into symbols that become associated with the African-American community. Through these images, certain signs and symbols are created that later become associated with the Black community. While attempts to make media more inclusive have marginally succeeded, failure lies in its inability to create any sort of social change but instead continues to perpetuate stereotypes.

In "Racism and the Media," Yasmin Jiwanai describes the role the media has on people's everyday lives. Jiwani writes that the media provides "us with definitions about who we are as a nation; they reinforce our values and norms; they give us concrete examples of what happens to those who transgress these norms; and most importantly, they perpetuate certain ways of seeing the world and peoples within that world" (Jiwani). Additionally, Jiwani credits Himani Bannerji who notes the media informs individuals how society sees them, while simultaneously informing them how they are expected to behave within any given society. The media "promote a notion of consensus - that there is a core group of which we are a part, a core that defines the social order, and that it is in our interest to maintain. Through coverage of those that deviate from the consensus, we are constantly presented with the threat of a lawless society where chaos could reign" (Jiwani). However, while Jiwani argues the media "do not stand in isolation from the society on which they report" and "the media see themselves as the 'fourth estate' -- reporting on issues of concern to the citizens of the nation," defending their position "on the grounds of neutrality, objectivity, and balance" there are large amounts of evidence that support the argument that the media is biased in what is reported and when is reported, especially when it comes to reporting on society and local communities.

In The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America, Entman and Rojecki argue that limited interpersonal contact between Blacks and Whites is a factor in the creation of the cultural framework for the interpretation of habits and customs and that it has a negative socio-psychological impact on individuals (Entman & Rojecki 7). Moreover, Entman and Rojecki argue that race's saliency influences the how and where individuals are placed within a social hierarchy; unfortunately, because of racism, Blacks are commonly found at the bottom of the social hierarchy (6). Entman and Rojecki contend, "The mass media convey impressions that Blacks and Whites occupy different moral universes, that Blacks are somehow fundamentally different from Whites" (6). But how are these perceptions formed? Entman and Rojecki contend White perceptions arise out of shared cultural, social, economic, and political power in the U.S. that is held by White individuals (4). On the other hand, if society were to recognize that Blacks and Whites are equal and there are no differences between them would raise other issues. "For racial realists, color-blindness means, among other things, recognizing black failure" as different standards and expectations have been created for different races (Brown 6). Racial equality would require social and political changes that would have to go beyond "superficially equal access or treatment" (4).

The issue of racial inequality in the media can be traced back to 1967 when the Kerner Report "attacked the mass media for their inadequate handling of day-to-day coverage of racial events. The report charged the media with failing to properly communicate about race to the majority of their audience" (Balkaran). While reporting on Blacks has increased in the mass media, mass media still perpetuates negative stereotypes because Afro-centric reporting focuses on two major types of stories: sports or crime (Entman & Rojecki 8). In "Mass Media and Racism," Stephen Balkaran argues, "The media have focused on the negative aspects of the black community (e.g. engaging in drug use, criminal activity, welfare abuse) while maintaining the cycle of poverty that the elite wants," or in other words, the elite push for the propagation of these negative aspects so that they can continue to feel superior to the Black community, which has become a symbol of poverty and crime (Balkaran). Moreover, these negative media stereotypes are so skewed that they incorrectly make others assume crime rates in the Black community are much higher than they actually are. Negative media stereotypes have made it appear as though crimes are committed by a larger segment of the Black population when studies indicate that the number of crimes committed by Black youths is only about eight percent (Balkaran). Entman and Rojecki concur with Balkaran's assessment of the disparity in this portrayal as victimizers are usually depicted as being Black whereas victims are portrayed as being White (8).

Moreover, the media perpetuates stereotypes of poverty and the symptoms thereof, but does nothing to identify the root cause of it. Television news reporting often equates Blacks with poverty and thus has inadvertently created, through these images, a symbol of poverty. Television news illustrates welfare and poverty by "portraying urban Blacks rather than the (actual more numerous) rural Whites, furnishing symbolic resources many Whites use to justify resentments" (Entman & Rojecki). Thus, it can be argued that the subjugation of Blacks by the media serves to placate the White majority's ego. While the media continues to perpetuate the stereotype that Blacks, as a majority, reside in poverty, they have failed to recognize the massive socio-economic strides they have made in the past 50 years. Balkaran writes, "between 1967 an 1990, the percentage of black families with incomes of a least $50,000 more than doubled from 7 to 15%. The median income of African-American families in which both husband and wife worked rose from $28,700 in 1967 to $40,038 in 1990, an increase of more than 40%. By comparison, the median of white family incomes with two wage earners increased 17% during this period, from $40,040 to $47,247" (Balkaran). While studies indicate there is a direct correlation between poverty and an individual's education level, the media has focused on the shortcomings of the Black community and overlooked the shortcomings of the White community (Ladd & Fiske). For example, while the dropout rates for both Blacks and Whites has decreased nationally since the 1970s -- with Black dropout rates decreasing from 24% to 13% between 1972 and 1991 -- studies have also demonstrated that African-American youths "are no more likely than whites to drop out of school" (Balkaran). Furthermore, for many African-American youths, staying in school has not improved their prospects for full- or part-time employment. In fact, unemployment among this group remains at more than twice the rate for white youths," which emphasizes the contention that Blacks are considered to be inferior -- socially, culturally, or educationally -- despite the overwhelming similarities they have with their White counterparts and how Blacks surpass Whites in certain areas (Balkaran). Balkaran continues, "the consequence of racially biased coverage is to maintain racist stereotypes in popular culture and to lead us towards an increasingly dysfunctional society" (Balkaran).

Racism is not only limited to what is shown in news media programs, but is also prominent in the time slots found between news stories, national advertising campaigns commonly called commercials. For example, a series of commercials from Chicago-Lake liquors not only perpetuates black stereotypes by depicting a black man -- wearing a do-rag and speaking in a brusk manner often associated with the black community, nonetheless -- saying he bought Hennessy and bubbly from the liquor distributors, but also depicts a white man acting like a black man through an imitation of mannerism -- speaking in slang and fist-bumping -- but even goes as far as to show the man smiling while wearing a blinged-out…[continue]

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