In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for Race Relations in America
Community Studies 111
December 19, 2001
Television media still portray stereotypes of different races in today’s society, leaving viewers with a pre-conceived notion of where each race falls within society. This gives viewers a negative outlook on races different from their own. Within this paper we will discuss the stereotypes portrayed within the television medium, the news, children’s shows and sitcoms. We will also discuss ways to perhaps help the problem and offer a few solutions.
Racism is indeed alive in the media. When researching about how media portrays different stereotypes we found many different articles. One that we came across stated, “Last week Saturday, a young pretty well-known black woman was shot five times in central Sunnyside Pretoria by her boyfriend, in daylight. The story never made it to the papers, not even the Pretoria News. What it was a white woman?” (Racism in the media) This makes you think of how our society views other races besides the European Americans. The article, Racism in the Media is real and alive, also states that,” It is an open secret that editors push issues that concern their white readers more than the promotion of culture in their neighboring townships. They do not care what happens in the black people’s lives.” “Give them a little bit of soccer on the back page, we have to sell the paper,” is the attitude.
First we will look at the news media as a whole. When it comes to news media, the racial profiles projected are indirectly related to punitive public policies, thus giving the mainstream news media the “out” of deniability. When the news media over represents black people in the category that is at issue, the issue becomes “black,” stigmatized, linked to some form of always-justified politically punishing behavior, and, in turn, further racialized. By looking at the ways in which the mainstream news media has covered (or failed to cover) several recent studies/stories involving the news media and race, we can begin to get a better understanding of this practice of racial profiling as it relates to the news media. The role of the news media in promoting racial stereotypes was the missing link between the two studies. Even when Nightline (3/18/98) began its coverage of the story with the acknowledgement that, when it came to the issue of drug addiction and drug policy in the U.S., “most Americans get their information from the news media.” “Crime is violent and criminals are nonwhite.” The real revelation, however, was that television viewers were so accustomed to seeing African-American crime suspects on the local news that even when the race of a suspect was not specified, viewers tended to remember seeing a black suspect. Moreover, when researchers used digital technology to change the race of certain suspects as they appeared on the screen, a little over half of those who saw the “white” perpetrator recalled his race, but two-thirds did when the criminal was depicted as black. “Ninety percent of false recognitions involved African-Americans and Hispanics.” Due to the recent events of September 11th the media has impacted people’s aspects of what and Arab-American looks like and has stereotyped them as terrorists. When seeing an Arab-American in daily life people automatically label them as terrorists; and don’t see anything beyond that, such as what type of person this particular Arab-American is.
In my research I found that children’s programs have the highest percent of racially diverse characters. One in particular show is Sesame Street. Sesame Street has been called the multicultural utopia. Any interracial family would be right at home among a rainbow colored sea of monster fur and human flesh. We’d all learn how to rejoice in the respective colors of our skin (or fur). Loretta Long, an actress on Sesame Street called it the “first cross-cultural enlightenment.” Sesame Street has one of the longest-running African-American characters in television history. Modern society could stand to learn a lesson from what the narrow-minded would consider ‘under-evolved’ creatures: Just because we don’t look the same doesn’t mean we can’t sing together. “A few years ago we revisited how we look at racial issues and an expert came in and told us we were doing everything right,” said veteran Sesame Street scribe Nancy Sans, “So, if we’re doing everything right, then why hasn’t the situation changed in the country? Well, what you realize is ‘Sesame Street’ is just a television show. It’s an hour long and it isn’t seen by everyone.” Sesame Street’s commitment to diversity continues to be a breath of fresh air; and it’s a commitment they take seriously.
It’s no secret that today’s television is by no means representative of today’s society. It wouldn’t take all of our fingers to count the number of shows on the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX), which have successfully carried a cast of minority actors for more than one season. The pickings are equally slim for finding minorities with lead roles in shows with predominantly white casts on these networks. Asians, Latinos and Native Americans are significantly more underrepresented on network television than African-Americans. Start-up networks like, UPN and The WB have managed to do their part; The WB currently runs seven sitcoms with predominantly African-American casts, while UPN carries two. One surprising fact is that only Monday Night Football is common to the top tens shows lists compiled for black and white television viewers.
Here are some shocking facts of some recent surveys and polls. A survey of young people found that they not only recognized racial stereotyping was rampant on television, but that television news was a worse perpetrator of racial stereotyping than television entertainment programming. The poll, sponsored by the child advocacy group Children Now, interviewed 1,200 boys and girls aged 10-17, with 300 children coming from each of the four largest racial groups. White and African-American children said they see people of their own race on television, while Latino and Asian children were much less likely to see their race represented. Across all races, children are more likely to associate positive characteristics with white characters and negative characteristics with minority characters. “Children of all races agree that the news media tend to portray African-American and Latino people more negatively than white and Asian people, particularly when the news is about young people.” In addition, “large majorities of African-Americans (71%), Latino (63%) and Asian (51%) children feel there should be more people of their races as newscasters, while most white children feel there are enough white newscasters (76%).” Also a study done about young people found that, “young people overwhelmingly think that it is important for children to see people of their own race on television. Children of color are most likely to think so.” In a study done in 1999, shows on NBC and Fox where looked at based on the number of minorities who had roles on these popular shows.
o Beverly Hills 90210 on Fox No minorities in lead roles. One Asian woman in a supporting role.
o ER on NBCT No main black characters; one male doctor, one female physician’s assistant. Minorities in supporting roles include one Pacific Islander nurse, two black nurses and one black desk clerk. A black woman played a recurring role as a nurse practitioner.
o Friends on NBC No minorities in lead roles. One Asian woman who had a recurring role as a girlfriend.
o Party of Five on Fox No minorities in lead roles. One former character included a black woman in a recurring role as a girlfriend.
o Will & Grace on NBC No minorities in lead roles. One Latino woman in a recurring role as a maid.
At the recent gathering of the Television Critics Association, the focus of the convention shifted from the networks showing off their fall primetime TV line-ups to the networks executives fielding criticism of the lack of minorities in therein. In response to the fact that not a single one of the 26 shows slated to premiere this fall has a minority in a leading role; the NAACP has launched a study into how well television is doing in accurately representing minorities. They intend to “monitor diversity throughout the television and film industry” and are threatening legal action against the networks based on the Communications Act of 1934 that gave the airwaves to the public. The NAACP President Kweisi Mfume says, “Frontier of television must reflect the multi-ethnic landscape of today’s modern American society.”
Racism in television currently promotes a negative and discriminatory form of beliefs and opinions upon viewers. This method of information often inaccurately depicts those of minorities and thus creates the negative stereotype that viewers learn to accept as truth. Only through direct action to implement specific solutions can this means of racism be diminished. The desired goal of the achieved purposes would thus satisfy the need for a racially diverse and indiscriminate means of television broadcasting and its entities. This would successfully promote a positive, multicultural form of television. The reasonableness of these implications if found in the all ready established Federal Communications Commission, which is capable of successfully enacting and regulating the guidelines outlined.
Keep the guidelines the NAACP has asked the FCC to implement in regards to the hiring practice of minorities.
Rate programs &endash; similar to the rating system used to dictate violence, maturity, and the language content &endash; in regards to issues involving racism and discrimination. Those programs with ratings that do not comply with a preset standard will not air or must be altered to comply with the standards before airing.
Dictate that a set number of factual programs shall air that promote minorities and their cultures in a positive and informative viewpoint.
Dictate that a set percentage of programming shall include accurate representation of minority cultures’ beliefs and practices, such as (but not limited to): religion, food, dress or language. The solutions listed will become effective through the FCC, which can be notified and persuaded
Through letters, phone calls, and protests of both individuals and minority interest groups.
A few other solutions, not part of the FCC, that may be able to solve and improve racism in the media include:
o Not judging people by the color of their skin.
o Have an equal diversity among television programs.
o Inform students and adults of this early, before it goes unrecognized.
When viewing diverse programs, make sure that all parts are split up equally. These guidelines will create long-term solutions because they will continuously be enforced. After initiating them viewers will learn to accurately understand and soon be able to accept other races and cultures.
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