Racial Stereotypes in the Media

What does the average White American think when he or she sees an African- American? If it’s someone who watches a lot of television, they may assume that s/he is dumb, dishonest, lazy, and ignorant (Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, fall 2002 v44 i4 p704). Obviously these are just stereotypes, but these are just some of the stereotypes that the media consistently uses to portray African-Americans. These stereo- types are not accurate, according to countless studies. African-Americans are unfairly and unrealistically portrayed on television and other forms of media.

According to the Entman-Rojecki Index of Race and Media, 89% of Black female movie characters are shown using vulgar language, while only 17% of White woman are. Black women are shown as being violent in movies 56% of the time compared to the 11% of white women. These types of proportions are consistent throughout this and other studies. Where do they get them? Are blacks really a more violent race? The statistics say no, they are not (www.raceandmedia.com).

The Entman-Rojecki Index of Race and Media also shows that the most serious crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, and assault) are only committed by a small percentage of African-Americans in inner cities (around 8% by estimates). Despite this small percentage, Stephan Balkaran of the Yale Political Quarterly claims that, “the tendency to characterize all African-American males continues in our society.” After
seeing some of these statistics, you can see that African-American people truly are shown unrealistically.

In the 1970s, the “black sitcoms” became somewhat popular. Some of these shows include In Living Color and Living Single and Good Times. These shows gave African-Americans more television coverage and showed many different roles for blacks.

The “white shows” such as Friends were still considerably more profitable, however. Most Americans do not live in an all- White or Black world. Why must there have to be “black shows” and “white shows”? Haven’t we moved past the segregation of the past? (www.familyeducation.com).

A good example of the stereotyping of these shows is in the show Good Times. This show features the Evans family. James Evans, the father, can hardly read or write, so he is forced to take low-paying jobs. The family lived in “the projects” and were small space, with five people in a two bedroom apartment. The projects that they lived in had “roach, winos, junkies and muggers around” (www.valdefirro.com/times02.html). The family lives in a typical “ghetto” in Chicago. Good Times did show Civil Rights Protests, and other non-stereotypical issues, but on the whole, it is a great example of how the media portrayed African-American families to be (www.valdefirro.com/times02.html).

Good Times is just one of many shows that placed African-Americans in this pigeonhole. As in Good Times, there have been few roles that African-American actors traditionally (between 1940-1970) played. Most of these traditional roles all showed blacks as lazy, uneducated, or just plain dumb (Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, fall 2002 v44 i4 p704). There have been no statistics to back this stereotype up.

There is no study that shows that African-American people aren’t as smart or hard working as Whites. In fact, 15% of black families have incomes of at least $50, 000 a year in 1990 (Yale Political Quarterly v21, i1). The dropout rate of African-American students has dropped from 24% (1972) to only 13% in 1991 (Yale Political Quarterly v21, i1).

Recently, though, there have been some developments with shows such as The Cosby Show and Fresh Prince of Bel Air. These shows showed that not all black families are poor and uneducated (anti Essays: Social Essays: African Americans Portrayal on Television). Although television seems to be more realistic than the shows of the past, we still have a long way to go.

African-Americans are also shown unfairly on the news. An example of this is the media coverage of the Los Angeles riot in 1992. The news shows led Americans to believe that it was mainly blacks that were responsible, but reports show this is not accurate. Reports show that only 36% of those arrested were black. 60% of the rioters were whites and Hispanics (The Yale Political Quarterly v21 i1).If you watched the television news reports, you would most likely never know this fact.

The bias and racism of the coverage of the 1992 riots was not an isolated incident. The Entman-Rojecki Index of Race and Media states that an African-American person’s mug shot is four times more likely to be shown on a TV news report than a white defendant’s is. A black person is twice as likely to be shown physically restrained on the TV news than a white person is. (Entman-Rojecki Index of Race and Media). A black defendant is two times less likely to have their name shown on the news than a white defendant is (Entman-Rojecki Index of Race and Media, www.raceandmedia.com).

Why must the media hang on to what have been proven to be untrue and outdated stereotypes? By showing television and movie viewers these images, it seems as if the media is trying to keep America segregated and racist. Perhaps the creators of these sitcoms and news shows are unaware of the realities and statistics, and it is an honest mistake. Whatever the reason, though, there is no doubt that the media shows African- Americans in an unrealistic way. When watching television shows and the news, viewers must keep in mind that these are just stereotypes, and that African-American people are really not much different from anyone else.

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