Let’s start off this post with a scenario, shall we?
The setting is a brisk autumn afternoon, about four o’clock, in Upper Manhattan near Columbia University. Andre, an 18 year old black male dressed in athletic attire, is walking home from a day of playing touch football with his friends. Upon his travels, Andre crosses paths with a blonde haired white female wearing casual school attire, Heather, who is carrying a high quality purse. When Heather first sees Andre, she clutches her purse closely towards her body in order to protect the possessions inside. Andre, noticing this, stares at Heather and quickly walks past her wondering what he did to cause such a reaction…
Incidents such as this occur every day, constantly reminding black individuals (or more broadly, people of color) that racial stereotyping is alive and well. In the case of Andre, Heather believed that he was a potential threat to valuable possessions contained in her high quality purse. There are some who will read the aforementioned scenario and believe Heather had every right to act cautiously, given the fact that Upper Manhattan has its share of problems with crime. However, one must ask whether or not Heather would react in this same fashion if she were to cross paths with a white male. Do you believe she would?
For some time, there has been a general consensus in the United States that people of color (most specifically black individuals) exhibit high rates of criminal activity. These assumptions regarding perpetrators of crimes are most often seen in white individuals. According to Ghandnoosh and Lewis (2014) in their report Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies, results of a national survey conducted in 2010 showed that white respondents overestimated the participation of African Americans in burglaries, illegal drug sales, and juvenile crimes by approximately 20 to 30 percent. Furthermore, the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, conducted in 2000, found that non-Hispanic white respondents were more likely to rate whites as less violent while rating Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks as more prone to violent tendencies.
Ghandnoosh and Lewis (2014) assert that while African Americans are more likely to commit certain violent property crimes, due to increased exposure to concentrated urban poverty, “they buy and sell drugs at similar rates as whites” (Ghandnoosh & Lewis, 2014), p. 20). Moreover, whites as a whole commit the majority of violent and property crimes due to them being the majority in the United States. Based on these facts, public perception of crime should not focus so heavily on people of color being the main perpetrators. But then again, are the aforementioned facts well known? The answer to that is “no”. So then, where should we turn to spread this information and correct all of the negative racial stereotypes regarding crime? How about media coverage? That could be an influential platform.
This just in! It seems that media coverage has a tendency “to exaggerate rates of black offending and white victimization and to depict black suspects in a less favorable light than whites” (Ghandnoosh & Lewis, 2014, p. 22). This presents a problem since, as was stated earlier, the media can be an influential platform. Oddly enough, television and print are more likely to depict people of color in a negative light when it comes to criminal behavior, though there is a wide range of media coverage about crime. Media crime coverage ultimately shapes the public’s sense of who commits crime and can thus shape biased opinions. Even when blacks and other people of color are guilty of committing crimes, they are often more likely than whites to be presented in a non-individualized and threatening way. While media outlets are not overtly trying to portray people of color as villains (that’s up for debate in certain circumstances), it is important to note that racial biases do exist and white Americans constitute the majority of those involved in the media. While media coverage of crime inherently hurts people of color, it is also a threat to public safety. According to Ghandnoosh and Lewis (2014), “the most acute and severe consequences of these perceptions is the killing of innocent people because of racially motivated fear” (Ghandnoosh & Lewis, 2014, p. 34). This is of extreme importance when highlighting police officers specifically. As was made known throughout the United States, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland, all black individuals, were murdered between the years of 2014 and 2015 when confronted by police officers, though they were unarmed and not committing violent acts. This scene has played out the same way for countless other blacks in the United States.
Recommendations for the Media
As media outlets continue to portray crime, it is imperative that media coverage provide an in-depth analysis on social problems that have led to certain offenses committed by people of color (we all just need to chill-out with this speediness of the news and take a deep breath). Moreover, regional crime trends should be discussed, in an effort to equally represent all groups of people. Lastly, more attention should be paid to how crime reporting differs by race. Those involved in the media should ask if there are biases present when describing specific ethnic groups. Ghandnoosh and Lewis (2014) report that the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity consider education efforts aimed at raising awareness about implicit bias helpful in eliminating bias in individuals. Ultimately, dispelling the illusion that we live in a colorblind society is the first step to lessening the effect of implicit racial bias.
**So what did you think about this post? Share your thoughts and let us know how you feel about the issue? Did we leave anything out? Thanks!