19 May 2011
Black Masculinity in the Media
Representation of black masculinity in the modern mass media is one of the most topical themes of our times. At present time there are a lot of studies which analyze portrayals of Afro-American men in the media and also play one of the crucial roles in creation of these images. However, still there are certain gaps in research. That is why in terms of this paper we would like also to focus our attention on the black masculinity and analyze images, which are shown in a variety of the media sources.
In the course of our research we would like to analyze representation of Afro-American men in connection with the prison system, music, sport and news outlets. We will make an attempt to compare, contrast and find peculiarities of representation of black male celebrities. In addition, we will try to analyze black masculinity in relation to homosexuality, sexuality and the role of women in their life. Finally, we will try to discuss some decisions and steps, which can be helpful for solving the existing problem and normalizing media representation of black masculinity.
Hollywood movies were among the first entertaining mass media sources, which created a wide range of stereotypes. The same situation did not change with the flow of time. Today just like many years ago Afro-Americans are depicted in a negative light. The problem occurred with the appearance of the first movies, which depicted black men in a rather negative and undesirable manner. They play roles of drug dealers, procurers and criminals. Portrayals of Afro-American men, who are dangerous, lazy, violent, unreliable, and uncivilized, created certain stereotypes, which are rather hard to overcome. Unfortunately, such negative stereotypes form our perception of the whole Afro-American community.
It can be said that the situation with portrayal of black men is a kind of never ending problems. Once occurred images of black masculinity continue to exist and appear repeatedly in various sources of the mass media.
Quite often masculinity in the mass media is associated with violence. However, masculinity violence is described in various ways in regards to black and white men. While white men are viewed as heroes, when protecting their homes and families, the same cannot be said about black men. In accordance with the media sources such behavior is absolutely unaccepted for representatives of Afro-American community.
In the majority of modern movies actions of black men are depicted as demoralizing and destructive. Such tendency in portrayal of black masculinity is an obvious problem of the modern time and there is a necessity to improve the situation. Otherwise, the negative images of black masculinity will remain in minds of consumers forever. If today many people still understand such stereotypes as something fun and realize that they are not totally true, later the scale of the problem may be even bigger. Thus, images created by the mass media can become stronger and take roots in our understanding of reality.
Music is a good example of usage of various negative stereotypes about black masculinity. In the majority of cases Afro-Americans are associated with Rap music. It is not a coincidence that the majority of stereotypes and prejudices in the media occur on this ground. Thus, in the majority of cases rap music is shown as something negative. In accordance with such opinion, people who enjoy rap are narrowly minded.
As far as rap music is often associated with negative influence, it also gives an undesirable representation on black masculinity and the whole Afro-American community. For example, one of the trends in rap music is so-called Gangster Rap. Such music is related with popularization of such phenomena as violence, machismo, outrage behavior of black men and their gangster mentality.
A lot of prominent researchers suggest that broadcasting such music on TV or radio will not bring anything good to the image of the whole black community. Moreover, it will give ground to creation of even more prejudices and stereotypes. This is a rather big problem for contemporary America and the whole world around. Numerous interviews prove that quite often such music is the only source, which creates understanding of images of black masculinity
Although black culture is rather diverse and many sided, the mass media prefers to focus on its separate aspects, which are often undesirable for the black community. Today Gangster Rap is one of the most popularized trends in Rap music. At present time our youth may even be unaware about other Rap trends, because they are not shown in the mass media. However, real fans know that Rap music goes far beyond a promotion of violence and machismo. Such music can have deeper and more conscious messages. A good example is Rap music, which existed in the beginning of the 90th. However, such side of Rap music is often ignored by the mass media. That is why the media is often blamed for a narrow representation of Rap and Afro-American culture as well.
The prison system
Having discussed images of black men in contemporary movies and music, it is necessary to say a few words about the prison system. Today it is more than obvious that the mentioned above sources of the mass media contributed to existing stereotypes. Negative roles in movies, gangster rap, news outlets which often focus attention of the audience on complicity of Afro-Americans in crimes have an obvious negative impact. Such images create certain undesirable stereotypes.
At present time it can often be heard that contemporary criminality has a black face. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of truth in these words. The majority of news outlets show portraits of black men, who are associated with crime. Such images stick in memory of the viewers for a long period of time.
Homophobia and sexuality
An interesting question related to Afro-American culture in general and black masculinity specifically is attitude of black men to homosexuality. In accordance with the mass media representation, homosexuality is absolutely unaccepted by black men. Moreover, they are often associated with homophobia. However, some researchers suggest that such representation of Afro-American men and their attitude to homosexuality is to some extent exaggerated.
It is remarkable that black music is one of the media sources, which promotes homophobia. Interestingly enough, no homo is one of the most widespread terms used by male representatives of black community to underline their rejection of homosexuality. Analysis of numerous interviews allows saying that homosexuality is one of the most vulnerable questions for black men and they intentionally underline their remoteness from homosexuality. Homosexuality is shown as something that has nothing in common with Afro-American community and black masculinity.
At present time a lot of images created by the mass media form a sort of an ideology circle. Nowadays it is rather hard to say whether rejection of homosexuality was always prevalent in black community or not. Although opinions differ, there is a suggestion that the problem of homosexuality is to some extent artificial and farfetched. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that today representatives of black culture do everything possible in order to deny their relation to homosexuality and promote homophobia within their community.
One of the inevitable elements of black masculinity is machismo. Probably, this is one of the reasons why representatives of black community always tend to show their negative attitude and absolute rejection of homosexuality.
To support their homophobia position, black men underline importance of patriarchal values in their communities. Each time they tend to show that women play secondary roles and should always subordinate. Such images are constantly shown in the mass media as well. Black masculinity is often shown as a dominating power.
An interesting research was conducted in order to understand attitude to black sportsmen during broadcasting of various sports events. The major focus was commentaries during international football matches and basketball games. In the course of the study it was found out that in the majority of cases sports event were unbiased and did not have any racial stereotypes. In addition, it was confirmed that the images of black athletes were not depicted in a negative light. Apart from that, it is necessary to say that positive tendencies were noticed. Thus, it was found out that attitude to black athletes has changed with the flow of time. The study did not find systematic representation of negative stereotypes. Such findings allow saying that the reputation of black athletes became more positive.
Derrick Jackson, a journalist who conducted this study, confirms that in the course of his study proofs of negative representation of black sportsmen were not found. Commentators used phrases in order to describe physical condition of all athletes. It is remarkable that the number of such phrases was extremely low if compared with other races and ethnicities (Sabo, Jansen, Tate, Duncan, and Leggett).
While speaking about race and sports, t is necessary to say that there is a difference between representation of black images in international and state athlete events. Unfortunately, quite often the mass media skillfully manipulates with such notions as sport and race. It becomes obvious that modern sport is one more sphere, where stereotypes can be created. It is rather hard to say whether they are positive or not. However, it is obvious that quite often the mass media creates too high and false standards. At present time various sources of the media depict black athletes as people, who possess unbelievable strength. Black sportsmen are often shown as stronger and more aggressive if compared with white athletes.
While speaking about sports and black masculinity, it is essential to mention such outstanding names as Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali. These personalities possess an incredible power and without any doubts they are considered to be embodiment of black masculinity, manhood and courage. However, it is necessary to say that the perception of these celebrities was rather different. Dave Zirin is convinced that “Never has an athlete been more reviled by the mainstream press, more persecuted by the U.S. government, or more defiantly beloved throughout the world than Muhammad Ali” (Zirin 53). At the same time in his opinion Jack Johnsons is remembered as a person who condemned “the Afro-American uprising” and “broke racist social taboos” (Zirin 55).
Ben Carrington, who is a professor in sociology, gives an interesting opinion about modern representation of black athletes. Thus, he says: “This idolization of the black athletic form produces a black athlete as post human. Strange creatures [who] possesses [the] alien-like and certainly subhuman abilities to jump higher, hang in the air longer, punch harder and run faster” (qtd. in Munir).
Probably, creation of such stereotypes does not have any negative intentions. However, creation of the image of a perfect man raises standards in sports and creates tension. Such representation of black masculinity has an obvious negative impact on the younger generation.
Black masculinity and celebrities
Without any doubts, there is a need to change something and overcome identity crisis. As it was already said there is a certain ideological circle, which was created by black celebrities. Today it is more than obvious that the situation will remain the same until Afro-American celebrities decide to undertake serious steps and change social attitude to their community.
A good example of such changes is Barack Obama. During his career as a president, as well as in the course of his pre-presidential campaign, Barack Obama makes attempts to change attitude of society to Afro-American community and black masculinity. Each of his steps is well-considered and is intended to destroy existing stereotypes. While taking up one of the most powerful positions, Barack Obama shows that Afro-American men can be reliable, respectable and trustworthy. One of the most interesting displays of an attempt to destroy traditional stereotypes and beliefs is Barack Obama’s attitude to his wife and her role in public life.
Without doubts, those processes, which take place in the modern mass media, lead to a crisis of representation of black masculinity. It is obvious that our society experiences a certain identity crisis. Images depicted by the mass media are narrow and based on numerous prejudices and stereotypes.
In our days, modern mass media sources tend to represent black masculinity in a negative light. The attention of the media is always focused on relation of Afro-Americans to violent actions, crime, usage of illegal drugs, etc. It is suggested that such portrayals are not a coincidence and they can be explained by a desire of black man to look cool and manly.
Finally, it should be said that the existing problem is not new and in order to understand its reasons it is necessary to turn to history. Unfortunately, stereotypes about black people exist for a long period of time. Farfetched images of black males live in our mind and each day the mass media shapes these images.
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Munir, H. “Media’s stereotyping of black athletes creates high standards, professor says.”
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Sabo, D., Jansen, S. C., Tate, D., Duncan, M. C. and Leggett, S. The Portrayal of Race,
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