History has shown that the media and entertainment industry have repeatedly depicted blacks in a manner which embraces negative stereotypes. The same is true today, despite the presence of certain positive black media images. In their article Measuring the Meaning of Black Media Stereotypes and Their Relationship to the Racial Identity, Black History Knowledge, and Racial Socialization of African American Youth (whew, such a long title), Adams-Bass, Stevenson, and Kotzin (2014) further purport that shows of today “cloak traditional stereotypes in contemporary characters by using modern colloquial language, clothing, gadgets, and in some cases surrounding black characters with multicultural casts” (Adams-Bass, Stevenson, & Kotzin, 2014, p. 372).
As is the case with news reporting regarding blacks and crime, poor representation of blacks may have something to do with those in control of media outlets and their racial biases. Take, for example, the white-owned major media conglomerate Viacom! This entity controls television networks such as CMT, MTV and MTV2, VH-1, and BET. In a study published by Jacob S. Turner, it was found that black music videos on the aforementioned networks were more sexualized than white music videos (the U.S. typically divides popular music genres along racial, specifically black and white, lines) “both in terms of provocative clothing and frequency of depictions of sexual behaviors” (Turner, 2011, p. 186). Looking further into this discovery, one can claim that the white-owned Viacom may hold certain biases regarding blacks and their sexual behaviors, thus leading to the promotion of such music videos.
So now that we’ve gotten all of that clutter out of the way, we must ask ourselves what can be done to rectify this issue of misrepresentation in the media regarding black people? Well, one suggestion could be to have more blacks or people of color in leadership positions. Noted producer, screenwriter, and playwright Tyler Perry, for example, has received quite a following for his countless Hollywood films and reoccurring television shows on Oprah Winfrey’s television network, OWN. Nevertheless, Perry has been met with much criticism due to his seemingly negative stereotypical portrayal of black individuals (how ironic?). Could a push for more black people in powerful positions lead to these same outcomes as Perry, or could his example be considered a fluke?
Another strategy, coming from the Adams-Bass et al. (2014) article mentioned earlier, could involve specifically targeting black youth. Adams-Bass et al. (2014) in their article suggest that racial socialization and black history knowledge could “influence television-viewing preferences, hours of viewing and magazine reading and identification of racial stereotypes” (Adams-Bass et al., 2014, p. 384). In other words, black youth who have a better understanding of areas such as black history may be more likely to reject negative stereotypes propagated by media outlets. Adams-Bass et al. (2014) assert that black youth exhibit a preference for black characters and television shows. If they are properly educated about their own history, black youth may begin to deny or even boycott media depicting blacks in a negative manner.
And now the bad news…
Where do we begin educating black youth about black history? What about at home? Encouraging parents, guardians, or communities to teach kids seems to be a great place to start!…Unfortunately, these same groups of people may not know much about black history themselves. So, how about we instead turn to someone (or in this case something) who does? That would be our academic institutions. To be quite frank, school can often give individuals access to information that they would not have at home. There you have it; a solution to helping black youth become more knowledgeable about black history. Let’s begin by advocating for a more comprehensive history lesson in academia, from the lowest grade level taught on up!
Nevertheless, we still have a problem here. First, there is the issue of what to teach. Robert L. Harris Jr., a former Africana professor of Cornell University, once stated “The dilemma for teaching African American history is how to select an appropriate medium; in other words, which lens to use at what times, for understanding the African American past.” What content is substantial content for black youth to learn regarding their own history? Would including a more in depth black history lesson in school curriculums disrupt current practices? Even if it does, people such as educator Anthony Marshall hold strong beliefs that “If history were taught the way it should be taught, you would not need a separate class called black history.”
And then there are those who seem to oppose any overemphasizing of black history. Need we remind you of the controversy surrounding Howard University Middle School from earlier this year?
All in all, Adams-Bass et al. (2014) seem to have caught on to something when mentioning the role knowledge of black history may have in the rejection of negative black stereotypes portrayed by the media.
This finding could, in fact, lead to the breaking down of barriers regarding other marginalized groups. For example, what if those scantily clad females featured in Turner’s music video study knew more about the Women’s Suffrage Movement?
**Please give us some more suggestions for innovative ideas that could help reshape negative portrayals of certain groups in the media. We’d love to read your thoughts and opinions!
Adams-Bass, V. N., Stevenson, H. C., & Kotzin, D. S. (2014). Measuring the meaning of Black media stereotypes and their relationship to the racial identity, Black history knowledge, and racial socialization of African American youth. Journal of Black Studies, 45(5), 367-395.
Turner, J. S. (2011). Sex and the spectacle of music videos: An examination of the portrayal of race and sexuality in music videos. Sex Roles, 64(3-4), 173-191.