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African Americans and the Mass Media

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African Americans and the Mass Media

The general population relies on the media as a main source of information and the basis on which many of their opinions and biases are formed. (lapham, pg. 37). The dangers of mass media is that it is a regurgitation of societal stereotypes that are being fed to the masses. Not only does the mass media have the power to influence opinions and encourage racism, but the media has the power to impact voting decisions as well. (lapham, pg. 37). Often times the media is where stereotypes and biases are derived.

People who have had little interaction with persons of a specific race or culture often formulate their opinions about that group from representations seen in the media. (Hartman, pg 97). In some cases, the media can serve as their only form of cultural education. (Hartman, pg. 98). One of the most controversial issues is the debate on how African Americans have been represented in the media. Many believe that African Americans have been perpetually represented with negative images through the media. The African American population is small in comparison to the general populous. Thus, there are very few representations of African Americans which is why the black community is sensitive to the images that are being portrayed through the media. There are constant efforts to create television shows and movies that convey the black family in a more positive light. However, many of the shows that are supposed to counteract the stereotypes only assist in further perpetuating them.

The first representations of African Americans as inferior in pop culture were the Jim Crow characters of the 1850's. The irony was that the Jim Crow characters were not actually black actors, instead they were white actors that were covered in black paint that portrayed African Americans as "coons". The Jim Crow characters perpetuated stereotypes of African Americans being ignorant, lazy, and uneducated. The Jim Crow character became a standard act in the minstrel shows. Another historical representation of African Americans would be the Quaker Oats Company trademark in 1937 -- Aunt Jemima.

Aunt Jemima falls into the "mammy archetype" in which she represents the personage of a black maid (Manning, pg. 6). The title "Aunt" was supposed to make her more personable. She was the typical house maid, with a dark complexion, round figure, and homely clothing. Aunt Jemima was one of the only representations of black women during that time and she hindered the progression of black women by keeping them confined in the category of a house maid. Aunt Jemima's image made it harder for black women to be taken seriously outside of the "mammy" role. (Manning, pg. 15). It is said that Oprah is the new representation of black women but many would disagree in saying that Oprah is viewed more as an exception. Of course, Oprah is one of the richest women in the world, but this is an unrealistic representation of African American women. There were also shows in the 1970's that depicted African Americans as lazy and unintelligent such as Good Ttimes, and What's Happening(Jackson, pg. 265).

There are many shows on television that depict African Americans in a negative light. For instance, the reality dating shows such as "Flavor of Love", "For the love of Ray J", and "I love New York", in which the first two are shows that convey black men as promiscuous, ignorant, and misogynistic males. The women competing for the love of these men are portrayed as violent, aggressive, promiscuous, "gold-diggers" who are willing to compromise their self respect to gain the attention of a man with purchasing power. On the show, "I love New York", the star of the show, a black woman, is very loud and confrontational. The fact that these shows are highly rated reflects the public interest in seeing African Americans play stereotypical roles. The constant image of the overly aggressive "angry black woman" continues to be reiterated with the renewal of contracts for these reality shows.

The counterargument that there are shows that are progressive and depict the black family in a more appropriate view seem to fall short. Some of the "progressive" shows mentioned would include the sitcoms, "Girlfriends", "My wife and kids", and "Sister, Sister", and "Fresh Prince". However, it is important to mention that all of these shows have been canceled, and each of these shows maintain at least one negative stereotype of African Americans. The show "My wife and kids" is a seemingly wholesome show about an African American family that live in white suburbia. The wife isn't abnormally aggressive and the husband is a reflection of the average middle class father. Both parents, Michael and Janet, work to support their three children, two of which seem like the normal teenagers. However, their son Michael Jr. is a "gansta-rap worshipping" teenage father with no intellectual smarts. Jr. is often seen wearing baggy clothes and walking around bobbing his head to the latest "gangsta rap." The way that Jr. is portrayed on the show parallels to the "jim crow" character in a sense. He is constantly humiliated for his lack of reason and he often says ignorant things for a comedic effect. He is constantly portrayed to have below average intellect and fell into the downward spiral of teenage parenthood. This is one of the most prominent negative stereotypes of black men. The question one must ask themselves is if this is even a realistic depiction of a black son raised in white suburbia? The family seems fairly wholesome and the children have access to great schools. It isn't realistic that the parents wouldn't be able to find the resources to bring Jr. back up to speed with his peers academically or instill within him great moral values.

The show "Girlfriends" depicts four African American women, two of which have stable careers,

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