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The Perpetuation Of Negative Images Of African Americans Through Mass Media

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The Perpetuation of Negative Images of African Americans through Mass Media

Why as white people have we been lulled into thinking its safe to be around other white people. Why have we been taught since birth that it's the people of that other color we need to fear? They're the ones that will slit your throat (Moore 57). The mass media has played and will continue to play a crucial role in the way white Americans perceive African-Americans. As a result of the overwhelming media focus on crime, drug use, gang violence, and other forms of anti-social behavior among African-Americans, the media is fostering a distorted public perception of African-Americans. Looking at past examples of African Americans treatment in the media, one can see that the media has become the main perpetrator through which oppression, discrimination and the treatment of African Americans as second class citizens is carried out.

As a result of this media bias, white America has suffered from a deep uncertainty as to who African-Americans really are. The media stereotype of bad guys wearing black or that anything that is black is evil has been fostered for decades. Looking at one of the oldest sources in the media (the dictionary) you clearly see racist overtones in the definitions of any words starting with black or white. Black is defined as opposite to white, African American, soiled or stained, and evil or wicked just to name a few of the definitions (Webster 68). I believe this not only fosters a subconscious negative view of African Americans, but also makes many white people think they are some how better than blacks. The defense put on by the four white Los Angeles police officers accused of beating Rodney King in 1991, and the recent case in Ohio, are very telling of this. They claimed that they were scared and felt they might have been attacked or even killed (88). This is a legitimate excuse in a white American society that perpetuates negative images of African Americans. Whites have come to believe that their life is in danger every time they're confronted with a black person and that some how their life is worth more than a black person's life. Their fear and their bias is a manifestation of a deep-rooted media bias that anything black is bad and anything white is pure and good. This media bias has also been illustrated in the Susan Smith case. Smith was the South Carolina woman who made headlines when she claimed that a black male kidnapped her two young children. It turned out that Smith herself had killed them. However, the finger pointing that her accusations set off show precisely the media's influence on white America and the media's push to blame African Americans (the bad guys) for social ills. This same reflex can also be seen in many other cases in American history.

"I turn on the news each night and what do I see again and again? African Americans alleged to be killing, raping, mugging, stabbing, gangbanging, looting, rioting, selling drugs, pimping, ho-ing, having to many babies, dropping babies from tenement windows, fatherless, penniless, and Godless" (Moore 59). The media has devoted too much time and space perpetuating these negative views of African Americans and far too little time describing the background problems of African-American communities. "What is not a crisis is not usually reported and what is not or cannot be made visual is often not televised" (Racist America 154). The news media respond quickly and with keen interest to the conflicts and controversies of racial stories. For the most part, "they disregard the problems that seep beneath the surface until they erupt in the hot steam that is the live news story, 'The suspect is a black male' we've all seen it" (Racist America 154). The media has not studied important events in the African-American community today. Issues such as urbanization, education, and poverty, just to name a few that have and will continue to have a significant bearing on positions of the black community just aren't being covered. A good example of this is the media portrayal of the Los Angeles riot in 1992. "What we witnessed in Los Angeles was the consequence of a lethal linkage of economic decline, cultural decay, and political disillusionment in American life. Race was the visible catalyst, not the underlying cause, as media portrayed it to be" (Racist America 59). The portrayal of this individual event encouraged the perception that the black community was solely responsible for the riots and disturbances. According to reports, of those arrested, only 36% were black; of those arrested, more than a third had full-time jobs and most had no political affiliation. Some 60% of the rioters and looters were made up of whites and Hispanics that's almost twice as much as African Americans (Racist America 63). Yet the media did not report this significant underlying fact. The media portrayal of this event along with other race riots has again inflicted negative charges amongst the black community and the awareness of others. Race riots in Miami in 1980 were similar to the later Los Angeles riots (Racist America 59). Here the media also refused to search for the underlying cause behind the protest choosing instead "only to depict African-American males engaged in violence and destruction" (Racist America 63). The underlying factors behind these problems were never researched or explained in prior stories.

The media have taken this a step further in Hollywood where, the portrayal of young African-American males involved in gangs and other deviant acts of violence has become a multi-million dollar industry. American society has now accepted these stereotypes that the film media and the music industry have ascribed to the black community. "Portrayals of black violence in films such as Boyz in the Hood and Menace II Society have become multi-million dollar success stories with criminal portrayals of young African Americans" (Blacks in Hollywood 37). "Within the music industry a similar thing has happened, but the sad part is when people in



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