My topic will address how minorities and women are misrepresented in the media and how they are stereotyped. I plan to show how minorities and women are depicted or stereotyped unfairly in the news, on television, and in general.
In an article from USA Today magazine, it illustrated that if you have watched, listened to, and read media all your life, you probably have filed these images into your thinking process: African-Americans are mostly rap stars, professional athletes, drug addicts, welfare mothers, criminals and/or murderers; Latinos are illegal aliens, ignorant immigrants who take, but give little back to the country and can’t even speak the language, or drug-crazed thugs who have no respect for law or order; Asian-Americans are either weak, model citizens or inscrutable, manipulative, or uncaring invaders of business, especially in the United States; Native Americans are illiterate, drunken Indians who hate all Caucasians and sleep away their lives. (Saltzman, 1994) If you are like most middle-class Americans, most of what you know about members of other races or religions comes from what you read in the paper, hear on radio, or see on television. It is easy to see that racial and ethnic stereotypes still dominate much of reporting today. In today’s media, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and Native Americans either are treated as invisible or the source of a particular problem: crime, immigration, or the economy. In reference to Native-Americans: when you watch a sport such as the Atlanta Braves baseball team or the Washington Redskins football team, you see the tomahawk chop and chants at these baseball or football games. Anything wrong with this?
As for Hispanics, “You find a few Hispanics sprinkled through the networks but in supporting roles” says Hollywood publicist, Luis Reyes. “They are put there for color.” (Heller 1994) In 1993, Hispanics who numbered 25 million in the United States, played in only eleven of the 800 prime-time network TV parts, according to a March 1993 Newsweek study. Another study conducted by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, found that of more than 7,000 TV characters on 620 prime-time shows between 1955 and 1987, there were 2 percent Hispanics and 6 percent Blacks. Last year, Common Law lasted only four episodes on ABC. Today, there are no shows that I can think of that are all Hispanic — you have to go to cable TV to find a show.
Now turning to Asians on TV, if you remember the show “All American Girl” which depicted a Korean family, it is no longer on the air. Where do we see them now? No where.
Now let’s focus on African-Americans. Television’s most prominent black men are athletes and entertainers. On the court, on the field, on the rap stage, they are heroes to both Whites and Blacks, particularly to the young. What does this do? They may give an impressionable viewer the notion that speed, strength, and bad language will do for them what it has done for its heroes. Elsewhere on the small screen can be found black news anchors, reporters and commentators as well as actors, social workers, teachers, and public officials who represents different roads to achievement. But not even Colin Powell can compete in the dreams of most youngsters with that of a Shaquille O’Neal or Michael Jordan.
Dr. Camille Cosby, who received her doctorate in education (her husband is Bill Cosby) has written a book: “Television’s Imageable Influences: The Self Perception of Young African-Americans,” which charts the damaging impact of derogatory images of African-Americans produced by our media. She observed that self-esteem is considered a pre-requisite for success. She states, “What impact would it have on your psyche to see your people constantly portrayed as the devoted servant, the chicken and watermelon eater, the sexual superman, or the social delinquent, among many other derogatory images?”
It is for these and other reasons that Dr. Cosby wrote her book to emphasize the real human cost of media misinformation and indifference. Dr. Cosby also states, “As a mother, I am very aware of what children watch and how they are influenced by TV, movies, newspapers and art. The way the media distorts our differences is a covert divide and conquer strategy which I regard as a violation of human rights.” (Johnson, 1995)
When Blacks are invited into homes via television, it evidently is easier for viewers to laugh at African-Americans than to see them effectively addressing their problems.
Former TV comedies such as the highly rated Roseanne and Grace Under Fire, addressed serious issues such as wife abuse, forced unemployment, and divorce within the white working class, but similar issues come up short on black shows. This suggests that Blacks must be fun-loving and happy-go-lucky no matter how dire the circumstance. This “Don’t worry, be happy” mentality was illustrated in “A Different World,” a comedy about black college life as a spin-off from the ground breaking Cosby Show. But it focused on more partying; more relationship matters than on serious academics.
As for women, a report which analyzed media coverage of women, found that the “white male, as reported by the media, is the subtle norm by which all else is gauged.”
For example, when the subject is a white male, reference to his race and gender is rarely noted, whereas descriptive phrases, such as “black leader” or “female candidate” are often employed in addition to that person’s name and title. Images and beliefs concerning women are far more prominent in our society than those of men. Women are always the ones cooking, cleaning, doing household tasks or taking care of children. They are portrayed as being emotionally and physically inferior and submissive to men. Women are visualized as weak creatures. They tend to be confined to a life dictated by family and personal relationships. Men almost always dominate television programs. Figures show that in television drama women are outnumbered by men 3:1 or 4:1; in cartoons women are outnumbered 10:1; and in soap operas women are outnumbered 7:3. (Ingham 1997) In daily shows such as soap operas, women are usually hysterical, crying and emotionally out of control. This personifies women as being the inferior sex, which leads to many false stereotypes. Women as sex objects are the most common stereotype of women on television.
Now turning to the television network, Fox executives first embarked on their quest for the young-urban market dollar, by offering performers such as Keenan Ivory Wayans and Charles Dutton titles that promised an unusually high degree of creative control for African-Americans. Of course, the deals weren’t exactly what they were cracked up to be. When the TV show, In Living Color hit big, the upstart network got greedy and attempted to make syndication dollars on Thursdays while continuing with first-run episodes
Sundays. Naturally the Wayans family walked. And when the TV show Roc failed to earn big ratings, Fox began using its veto power over the shows content. The shows Roc and South Central depicted reality-based black families. Even though Roc was canceled, it went out with a fight. In a last ditch effort to salvage the working-class dramedy (comedy/drama), 29 black members of congress signed a letter of protest to Rupert Murdock (President of Fox network) while Congressman Ed Towns even issued a statement that members of the congressional black caucus will not stand for the “paternalistic” cancellation of positive black shows.
The star of Roc, Charles Dutton in commenting on his show in the magazine “Village Voice” says, “It is my opinion that if I was doing what Martin Lawrence was doing, if I was doing what some of the baffoon male characters on Living Single were doing, if our show was made of fluff-lightweight material such as Family Matters and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, I would have been on the air for five more seasons.” (Zook, 1994)
Now some solutions for the news. More than 5,000 minority journalists at a unity ’94 conference in Atlanta, said the solution is to increase racial and ethnic minorities in news management ranks so that those who report, edit and decide what goes on via the media are proportionately representative of the public at large. The number of minorities in the media have increased in recent years, but that rate isn’t fast enough. It is unjustifiable that the men and few women who manage the media continue to do so without the benefit of enough input from racial and ethnic minorities to make a difference. (Sunoo, 1994)
Perhaps in the television arena, we could ask viewers what they think about the shows on the air; we need to encourage open dialogue. We need to show that diversity is a long-term commitment to change. Don’t just focus on diversity when it’s black history month or Cinco De Mayo; focus on diversity all the time.
In summary, I hope I have enlightened us all to know that there is minority misrepresentation in the media, whether it be Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans or Women. There are a number of solutions possible, but until mainstream America sees it as a problem, I don’t think it will change too fast.
As for stereotyping, the familiar saying, “Don’t be too fast to judge a book by its cover” is easy to say, but unfortunately most look at the cover before opening the book.
Heller, Michele A. (1994, August). “Off the air” Hispanic, 7, (7), 30-34.
Ingham, Helen. (1997, April 6). “The portrayal of Women on television.”
Johnson, Robert E. (1995, February 27). “Camille Cosby’s book explores negative images of Blacks in media.” Jet, 87, (16), 60-62.
Saltzman, Joe. (1994, November). “In whose image – media stereotypes of minorities.” USA Today (magazine), 123, (2594), 71.
Sunoo, Brenda Paik. (1994, November). “Tapping diversity in America’s newsrooms.” Personnel Journal, 73 (11), 104.
Zook, Kristal Brent. (1994, June 28). Blackout. Village Voice, 39 (26), 51-54.