In our society today there is one key element that informs the world in many different ways. This element is the media. It comes in many forms such as television, newspapers, magazines etc. Since we are subjected to the media everyday, it can influence how we feel about people. Some influences can be positive and some can be negative. One negative influence that it has is its coverage of African Americans. The media’s coverage of African Americans encourages the majority of white society to have a negative perception of them. Many times in the media whites are not portrayed in such a manner.
One of the reasons this occurs is because of the structure in which the news is presented. This reason is shown through the use of language to describe the events involving African Americas that have taken place. The language is often more “brutal” when an African American story is being told. Another is the consistency in which African Americans appear in the media. A third reason is because whites and blacks do not interact as much in society. A final reason a negative image of African Americans is perceived by white society is because the media is always present.
It is almost everywhere you go. Author Farai Chideya says, “The use of vivid and strong language forms a subconscious mental portrayal of the person or persons being described. The mind accepts the language and formulates a perception of that party” (42). A perfect account that supports this quote is when “fancy” language was used to describe African Americans in the evening news and newspapers. Channel 9, WCPO in Cincinnati, Ohio, reported a story involving an African American in a murder case on February, 4, 2000. Such words as “violent”, “brutal”, and “merciless” were used.
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These strong words stick in people’s minds when they hear them. Since they were linked to a black man, a negative stereotype can be formed. Later in the broadcast an incident involving a white male was broadcast. In that story, the reporter just gave the facts. Dejecting adjectives were not used to describe this man. This story is significant because the receiver of this information will not have the same prejudices towards the white man as they now have towards the black man. Since stronger words were used to describe the acts of the black man, a negative stereotype was formed about him.
In The Cincinnati Post on Friday, February 4, 2000, a story involving an African American was on the front page. In big, bold letters the heading read, “Man Accused of Vicious Murder”. The story was of an African American male who robbed an innocent, elderly, white woman in Over the Rhine, a neighborhood in Cincinnati, and then murdered her. Because the words “innocent”, “elderly”, and “white” were used in the article a negative stereotype was attributed to the man. Charles Campbell writes, “In the relaying of controversial news, language plays an important role.
If one figure in the story is perceived by readers as being unable to protect themselves, or innocent, then the other figure is extremely looked down upon by the reader” (76). This quote is very significant because it explains how the reader has a more negative feeling towards the black man because of the words that were used to describe the elderly woman. The viewer sees the woman as being “innocent” and unable to do anything about her situation and the black man did not care whatsoever. “African Americans appear on the news as criminals twice as often as other groups”, according to Cole.
Stories that are best told with pictures, fires, crime scenes, and handcuffed criminals dominate our newscasts (Cole 4) These images, especially of African American men, lead to stereotypes of black men as “dangerous, unrestrained, sexually active individuals” (Cole 4). This quote is significant because it shows how stunning images of repetitive negativity involving African Americans imbeds itself into the viewer’s mind. Because these incidents occur over and over again, what else besides negativity towards blacks will the viewer come to know?
Another quote that supports this is when Campbell states, “ Repetitive viewing of negative media portrayals of outgroup members is one way of comparing ingroup (white majority) with outgroup (black majority)” (101). Often times in the media whites are portrayed in the news as high stature figures. Some of these figures are politicians, police officers, very wealthy people, or standouts in society. More situations of these stories about whites are in the media then stories of whites that commit violent acts. Because of the better portrayal of whites in society, they are not as often negatively stereotyped.
On the other hand, since blacks are not portrayed like whites in the media they are assessed more negative attributes from the receiver (person who is affected by the media). For three days, February 15 through February 17, 2000, I watched the news channel Fox 56’s broadcasts. On February 15, there were four stories where African Americans were involved. Two involved robbery, one involved rape, and the last one murder. There were only two incidents where whites were attributed with negative acts. On February, 16, there were three happenings that African Americans were a part of.
Again, they were stories of robbery and rape and this time a new one, unemployment. There were two stories involving whites and they were petty crimes such as not paying child support and petty theft. On the final day of my research there were five stories involving African Americans and two involving whites. From my research it was proven to me that African Americans appeared consistently twice as much in the media as whites. The same types of crimes were repetitive also. Those crimes being murder, robbery, and rape.
This time, however, a new factor was relayed, unemployment. Now a new stereotyped was assessed to African Americans, laziness. The significance of this research was to show that repetition of negative actions by African Americans does occur in the media. Because these situations occurred over and over again, the receiver can form stereotypes of African Americans. In the United States of America Africans make up 12% of the population (Marger 227). Even though this equates to over thirty million people, black and white America still live very separate lives.
Because of our separateness, what we know about each other is often what we see on television shows, news broadcasts, and read in newspapers. But not because the television industry aims to entertain and news focuses on the extremes, people who have done very bad things or very good things, the white majority perceives African Americans as talented as Michael Jordan or the only ones committing crime and rape in our neighborhoods (Marger 165). The typical, hardworking, African American family is overlooked because it is not “news”.
Since negative images and stories stick out and are soaked up more by the receiver, the good images of African Americans in the media are easily overlooked. There are many instances where there are good news stories about blacks such as helping in the community, saving people’s lives, and doing other good deeds. The problem is the bad outweighs the good. This statement was proved through my research when I viewed the evening news. Chideya describes it perfectly when he says, “Black America and white America still live separately.
What we know of one another is often secondhand, passed through a filter – the filter of the media” (77). The final reason why stereotypes of African Americans are perceived by white society is because the media is always present. It’s not like you can just completely isolate yourself from all types of media. Virtually no matter where you go, you hear or receive the media in some way. Whether it is through television, newspapers, books, magazines, or music, it is always there. Even if someone walks up and tells you what they heard or read from the media, you are affected by it.
Especially if the media involves negative stories or images involving African Americans. If the media is everywhere you go, there is no way escaping the constant bombardment of negative occurrences where African Americans are present. Finally, the reasons described above are very important. “Fancy” language used to describe African American stories, the number of times blacks are in the media, the non-interaction of whites and blacks in society, or the media being present everywhere you go, all contribute to the white majority developing negative stereotypes of blacks.
All of theses reasons cause you to remember the bad things African Americans have done and allow yourself to think harshly of them. I have one question for you. If you don’t believe what I have presented in this essay, then where do you get your information from? If you don’t say some type of media, whether it is a book, television, a newspaper or a magazine, then you are a liar. Think about it.
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