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Racism In The Media

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Misrepresentation of different cultures by the media

The definition of race is often based on physical characteristics such as skin color, hair texture and eye shape. Race is both a set of genetically defined biological characteristics and culturally defined characteristics. One influence on culture is the media and the media have a huge influence on the way different races are viewed by society. The media consists of communication devices and some media forms include television, newspapers, magazines, film and radio. Misrepresent can be defined as to give a false or misleading representation with an intent to deceive or be unfair.

The United States is one of, if not the most, diverse nations in the world. It is often described as a melting pot because the country is made up of so many ethnicities and races. In spite of this diversity, the media still misrepresents different races in many ways. One common way is through the use of racial stereotypes. Another way is the amounts of news coverage different stories receive. These are just two ways misrepresentation in the media occurs and there are several others.

A brief history of misrepresentation by the media

Misrepresentation of different races in America by the media is not a new phenomenon. There was a time when almost all the actors appearing in American movies and television shows were white. In the 1950s and 1960s, the civil rights movement was taking place and civil rights leaders such as Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged segregation of blacks and whites. During this time on television shows, blacks and other minority groups were mostly used as comic relief and if it weren't for these roles, they would not have had acting roles.

An example of a minority being used as comic relief during this period is the character Buckwheat on "The Little Rascals." "The Little Rascals" was a television show which began airing in 1922 and continued until 1944 with reruns being broadcasted up until the 1960s. Buckwheat was an African-American boy who was part of the gang of children. Buckwheat spoke slowly and his character was more humorous than serious. While this television showed the integration of races, this was not situation which existed in society. Segregation was still occurring and because of the segregation laws, races were represented differently.

Racial stereotypes are often the result of social myths. Asian Americans and Hispanics represent a larger percentage of the United States population than television and movies would suggest and they are still somewhat under represented.

For many years, comedian and actor Bill Cosby was the most popular actor on television. Some of today's most popular actors in Hollywood are black. Today's top actors include Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Omar Epps, Samuel L. Jackson and Taye Diggs just to name a few. There are many more successful minority actors. Minority actors represent 20 percent of all movie and television roles in the industry. This is a huge step in helping to eliminate misrepresentation of races in the media, but it will be a long time before all races are properly represented in the media.

Misrepresentation on television

These reforms and gains are the first step in eliminating misrepresentation of races in the media. Television programs are still somewhat segregated in that certain shows are trying to capture certain audiences. Prime time shows such as "Friends" and "Seinfeld" are targeting the white middle class and prime time shows on the UPN channel such as Girlfriends and One on One target African-Americans.

On these prime time shows, there is very little interaction between racial and ethnic groups because the majority of the actors are one race on each show. For example, on "Friends" all of the actors are Caucasian and on "One on One" the actors are African-American.

This lack of interaction between different races is a problem for several reasons. The first problem is the television shows are not reflecting the diversity of the United States. These shows present a homogenous society composed of one racial group and this is not a proper representation of society. Another problem is these television shows may be the only interaction an audience may have with a particular race or ethnic group. This primarily affects children. Young children are extremely easy to influence and spend hours in front of the television. When children are exposed to only one race, they develop prejudices and bias towards other ethnicities. This misrepresentation of races of television shows may cause children to become close minded and prejudiced.

One of the longest running and most popular television shows, The Simpsons, is full of minority stereotypes. Several ethnic groups in this show are misrepresented, but Indians are stereotyped the most in "The Simpsons." Some of the Indian stereotypes include that the convenience store worker is Hindu and is named Apu and has a stereotypical Indian last name, Nahasapeemapetilan. Here, writers are saying that all people of Indian descent work in convenience stores and practice Hinduism as their religion.

Another television series which stereotypes a race is "The Sopranos." In the Sopranos, the main character Tony Soprano, an Italian American, is the head of an organized crime family. They are stereotyping that all Italian Americans are involved in organized crime. The television show "Growing Up Gotti" is also about an organized crime family and also stereotypes Italian Americans in this way.

During a recent NBC telethon, rapper Kanye West spoke out about the way African Americans are portrayed in the media. West said "I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they're looting. See a white family, it says they're looking for food." West was saying that identical behaviors by minorities and Caucasians are defined differently partly due to the fact that minorities are stereotyped as being criminals. While this is just one individual's personal opinion, African Americans are portrayed negatively in the media.

Recently, former Education Secretary William Bennett made some remarks about the crime rate and black abortions. He made the following comment on his show "Morning in America." Bennett said "I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, your crime rate would go down."

Bennett is very ignorant to think aborting black babies



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