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American Media And Welfare

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The American Media and Welfare

The surroundings that one most likely encounters while walking through a large, metropolitan city can be emotionally disturbing. Blank, hopeless stares flood the streets as most pedestrians try to block the depressing image from their consciousness. While most people prefer to ignore the impoverished that wander the streets, no level of ignorance is going to solve the poverty issue at hand. Even though it is already visibly apparent that there is a poverty problem in America, the American mass media continually reiterates this point through its stories and images. According to Joseph Navickas, a Northwestern University graduate and a well-respected political science teacher “the amount of media attention regarding the poor has steadily increased over the past two decades. The American media regularly reports on the poor and the issue of poverty” (Navickas). With the media constantly reporting on this topic it should come as no surprise to the American people that 12.4 percent of the American population, roughly 37 million people, currently lives below the poverty line (US Census Bureau, 2003). Since poverty in America is so abundant, it would make logical sense that Americans would favor policies aimed at decreasing the amount of poverty and, consequently, resolving the problem. However, it has become an increasingly accepted viewpoint among Americans that welfare policies should be discontinued. Additionally, many Americans are not aware of the true racial composition of the American poor. Most Americans maintain that blacks represent over half of the poor when this simply is not correct. If there are so many poor Americans and the existence of poverty is threatening the United States, why are people arguing against welfare? And why do Americans over exaggerate the amount of poor blacks in this country? It is, in fact, the media’s reporting that drives Americans to believe in these opinions. Media distortions and fallacies shape public misconceptions about race and poverty which not only perpetuate negative stereotypes about African Americans but also increase Americans’ opposition to welfare.

Before a conclusion can be made as to why Americans oppose welfare, a separate, yet related, idea must be addressed. In America, it is commonly believed that race denotes economic status. According to Sara Chamberlain, a well-trusted scholarly journalist, “Racial identity and economic status are tightly intertwined in the United States” (Chamberlain 20). In fact, America’s historical environment provides evidence of Chamberlain’s assertion. For example, the term вЂ?white trash’, as Chamberlain notes was made popular in the 19th Century, was used as an offensive term to describe poor, white Americans. More importantly, this label was used to distinguish the poor from the rich, and it distinguished white people in poverty from other impoverished groups. In other words, it served a dual purpose in that it described a person’s economic class and that it also racially suppressed a group of people. In addition, this label has become synonymous with such offensive descriptions as poor, drunken, unkempt and lazy- all of which personify a weak work ethic (Chamberlain 21). This fact reiterates Chamberlain’s claim that, in America, racial identities are often associated with economic status since a person’s work ethic is often linked to one’s economic success. In the current time, the same now applies to African Americans as it did to people that were considered вЂ?white trash’. Just as the term вЂ?white trash’ was used to describe and blame a specific group of people for the country’s poverty problem, African Americans are similarly portrayed as deficient and have been labeled the reason behind why there is poverty in today’s American society. Chamberlain emphasizes this popular belief by insisting “As impoverished whites faded from the minds’ of middle-class Americans, a new scapegoat for poverty emerged. This new scapegoat was urban and black.” And, Chamberlain adds that “Poor and black are virtually identical in the American mind” (Chamberlain 21). In other words, as the United States entered the mid 1900s a clear transition reassigned the blame for poverty from lower-class whites to African Africans. Many Americans considered, and still do consider, the black culture to be economically deficient. And as scholarly journalists Beth Harry and Juliet Hart articulate, the reasoning for this belief stems from stereotypical judgments. “Public constructions of African Americans have historically been colored by an overwhelming assumption of deficit, making it difficult to disentangle the real effects of poverty from the continuation of negative stereotypes” (Harry and Hart, 102). In other words, Harry and Hart contend that it is difficult to discern the true effects of poverty from falsely believed ones because the American public, many of whom negatively stereotype African Americans, is unable to see beyond others’, and sometimes their own, cruel accusations. While Harry and Hart’s statement provides greater insight into the relationship between African Americans and poverty, it is more advantageous to understand why so many Americans tend to view blacks negatively when the issue of poverty is at hand.

In order to recognize the explanation to the above query, one must revisit the 1992 presidential election in which Bill Clinton and George H. Bush regularly debated welfare policies and, as a result of, popularized the poverty issue with Americans and the American media. As Indiana University professors Rosalee Clawson and Rakuya Trice explain, the media focused a considerable amount of attention on poverty and welfare during this period (Clawson and Trice 53). More importantly than simply noting that poverty and welfare were hot issues during the 1992 presidential election is analyzing the media’s portrayals of the poor during this time period. The media’s ability to easily report information to an entire population begets a powerful tool that is capable of mass manipulation. Therefore, when the media reports a slanted viewpoint it is highly likely that their representation will influence how people feel and behave toward a certain issue. For example, the increase in the number of reported eating disorders in this country has been attributed to media advertising that flaunt flawless bodies in hopes of using sex to sell. The relationship between the growing number of eating disorders and the increasing amount of sex oriented advertisements



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