The media has been the leading source of education on race and racial issues, as many people’s first few contacts with race were on TV or in print media. The questions are whether it has been portraying the right picture of Black people and what effects these images have had on our lives.
It is no news that the media has a knack for portraying false images of Black men and women and the community at large, and it has been that way for as long as we can remember. And these black media stereotypes contribute to racial socialization and racial identity in the U.S and the world at large.
In this regard, I’ll be discussing how the media and creatives portray black people and the effects these images have on black people in today’s life.
A Brief History of the Black Media Stereotype
Black media racial stereotypes embedded in TV characters that continue to appear in movies have long influenced how people of color are perceived, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. With the proliferation of these characters, Plus and Williams (1995) documented a social psychology study on the racial stereotyping of black people.
White people believed that black people were intellectually inferior and built physically like apes with the support of influential white people like Abraham Lincoln. They even had scientific research to prove that black people had abnormally long arms, heavy brains, thick skulls, and other disproportionate organs.
These distorted narratives have pushed a false idea of people of color being brutish, metamorphosing into the existence of white supremacy and the need to “tame” black people with violence.
How Today’s Media and Creatives Contribute to these Racial Stereotypes
- Misrepresentation and underrepresentation of black people on TV
The misrepresentation and underrepresentation of black people in the media, using TV as a case study, is a real problem that fuels the negative stereotypes of black people. It is confusing how white TV writers create the stories that Hollywood tells us about black people without actually involving black people.
The Hollywood Diversity Report of 2022 presents a detailed account of the diversity existing in American TV and film, from cast to crew. Although the report may have improved slightly from the previous ones, the statistics are still startlingly alarming for a population that is made up of 44% of people and growing (nearly half of America!). Black people constituted 9.5% of the directing jobs and 10.4% of all writing jobs. To put this into perspective, only 3 out of 10 movie directors are people of color, while only 3.2 out of 10 screenwriters are people of color. With the fluctuating numbers, one thing remains constant; African Americans remain underrepresented in Hollywood.
Hollywood continues to slap our screens with false diversity while portraying black people in the most absurd ways. Nadra Kareem Nittle wrote about the stereotypes of black characters in movies, with the top five being “The Magic Negro,” “The Black Best Friend,” “The Thug,” “The Anger Black Woman,” and “The Domestic.” These films portrayed black characters as having no real life other than helping the main white character out of their predicament as if black people lacked the intelligence to stand on their own.
Movie after movie, we see white characters journey on to a profound discovery while people of color, especially black characters, provide comic relief or crying shoulders as challenges stumble on the pathway to success. Where perhaps we’re lucky enough to find an actual independent black character, their roles are exaggerated or poorly demonstrated as subservient, criminal, filthy, or violent.
- The demonization of black males
Another relevant discourse is how the media portrays black males as a metaphor for degrading, vile qualities. Take a quick mental check. Black males are rarely called upon to offer expert commentary on the news. They’re underrepresented as users or target audiences of luxury items or computer/technology users in commercials.
As if this is not enough, the media has deliberately painted a picture of the violence and criminality associated with black males. There are aggravating reports of black criminals, as opposed to white criminals, with stories about black people four times more likely to feature arrests. These all come together to illustrate people of color as violent, threatening, and perpetrators of evil.
It is not far off to say that the media influences how the police and white people feel threatened by unarmed black males and end up lynching them. We will never forget the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man crushed to death under the knee of a white police officer, Derek Chauvin. This is just one of the thousands of shootings and killings of innocent black people, and there is only one thing to blame; the black media stereotype.