African American identity in the media

The United States is one of the most racially diverse nations in the world. Consequently, the country is prone to a number of race related tensions and the media being one of the most influential societal tools, is crucial in reflecting and influencing racially related identities.

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The purpose of the paper is to explore African American identities through American media. The reason why this particular racial group was chosen is that there has been a lot controversy about their image on popular media. Additionally, this group’s depiction in American media is also instrumental in understanding how far racial relations have come because African Americans have one of the richest minority histories in the US. More emphasis will be given to participation, visibility and audience reception.

Depiction of African Americans in American media

Some people argue that African Americans are still invisible in most media outlets. One such author is Professor Rudolph Alexander of the University of Ohio. In his book “Racism, African Americans and Social Justice”, the latter author argues that in most movies, films and novels, African American are almost never depicted as heroes even when they played an important part in the story.

Alexander (2005) points to the fact that there are cases of racism in the media. For instance, in the news, white persons normally take centre stage with little attention going to the black race. For instance media coverage of the Iraq war brought this out very clearly. When a female US soldier (Jessica Lynch) had been captured in Iraq and then rescued, she was given the status of a heroine.

On the other hand, another US black female soldier had (Shoshana Johnson) been captured and rescued too, media outlets paid very little attention to her story yet both these women had acted valiantly on behalf of their nation. Consequently, one can assert that there are certain biases in these media outlets.

Alexander (2005) also discusses a number of entertainment media outlets that have furthered this principle. For instance, he criticizes the Movie “Boys do not cry” in which the white characters in the movie were made heroes while a black man who had been killed in the movie was completely cut out. The latter movie was a true story that had failed to really show what the African American had achieved in his life.

This black actor was just a side show in the movie yet in real life the story was about him. The latter author claims that in most films highlighting true stories. Hollywood producers tend to dissuade the audience’s attention to the white actors in the movie even when black people ought to be centre point of the movie. This author ends his book by asserting that informative and entertaining media outlets actually reflect what happens in reality. He believes that African Americans are victims of social justice and that inequality in courts, schools and the military all reflect this harsh reality in the media.

Entman and Rojecki (2000) in their book “the Black Imagein the White Mind” assert that the attitudes held by Whites about African Americans are shaped by the media. In their book, the authors assert that many whites may not get a chance to interact with blacks or get to know what their lifestyles are really like. Consequently, large numbers of them rely on the images depicted in the media. Entman and Rojecki (2000) bring out the idea that most media forms depict a racial hierarchy. In these patterns, whites take the highest position while blacks are placed below. Additionally, media forms create a sense of racial differences between various groups.

The latter writers also claim that American media tends to exaggerate the effects of poverty in the lives of African Americans. Additionally, they highlight the fact that most of the discussions made by experts in these forums are usually related to dialogues about certain themes in the outlets.

These researchers claim that the issue of participation is not a problem because televisions, newspapers, the internet and so many media outlets have tried to represent African Americans. However, their problem is with actual portrayal. They claim that through the media, most other races end up having a negative image of African Americans thus reinforcing racial differences. Some of the statistics quoted in the book include;

It should be noted that not all authors believe that the media today has contributed towards negative stereotypes of Black people. In fact, some assert that the media has promoted Black empowerment. An example of such an idea is revealed by Riley (2007) in a book published by Greenwood Press known as “African Americans in the media today”. According to this author, most African Americans have a come a long way since the days of slavery.

To prove his point, he talks about the lives of two hundred and fifty six African Americans in the media. Some of the common figures highlighted in the book include Bob Herbert, Richard Parson, Leonard Pritts and Stanley Crouch of the New York Times, Time Warner, Tribune media services, Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily news respectively. This author claims that such African Americans in newspaper outlets have helped to shape positive images of the black race.

Additionally, Riley (2007) also describes the lives of prominent television personalities such as Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington and Haille berry. He believes that these personalities are shining examples of what black Americans truly are. He talks about their challenges and triumphs. Through such a voice, it is possible to see that not all cases in the media are negative with regard to African Americans. In fact, a large number of African Americans have risen to the highest possible ranks of their respective careers and have shown American media has grown to become more open minded and accepting of the accomplishments of African Americans.

However, there is another school of thought that totally opposes the latter view. This one has been explained by an associate professor in Indiana University known as Dennis Rome in his book “Black Demons – Mass media’s Depiction of African American Male Criminal Stereotypes”, the latter author talks about how American society has been indoctrinated by the depictions seen on media outlets. The latter author brings out the fact that the media uses these avenues to create a negative stereotype of the black race;

·         Negative newscasts

·         Rap music

·         Reality crime shows

The latter author also points out to the fact that some statistics may ignore members of other races and deal with African Americans alone. For instance, it has been shown that the highest percentage of cocaine users are whites compared to blacks. However, most media stories largely focus on the negatives brought out by these groups. Additionally, the latter author; Rome (2007) asserts that there are three major pathways that the media uses to reinforce these negative stereotype. The first one among them is the utilization of the power of sight.

The media highlights negative images of blacks committing crimes that play an important role in reinforcing stereotypes. Additionally, the media is highly responsible for contributing to these negative associations by using the power of hearing. Many media reports still talk about crimes committed by the black race even without showing footage. The third criterion is through the use of the power of recall.