Characteristics individuals exhibit depend on biological factors; their genetic makeup. This forms the basis for the exploration of race as a major issue in social existence. Racial grouping of individuals is dependent on physical factors such as; skin color and hair texture. It is also dependent on aspects such as ethnic, cultural, and geographical differences. The media is in charge of dissemination of information and acts as a source of entertainment to the masses. It can be defines as a means of communication which is broadcasted, written or spoken to reach the intended audience and serve the purpose.
Its ability to create a balance in racial representation of individuals is hindered by stereotypes. Some of these prejudices have been carried on for years and have their basis on perverted social myths (Balkaran, 1999). For instance, the movie industry is full of production of movies associating African Americans with; violence, crime, drug use and prostitution. This is unlike the portrayal of white Americans.
Over the years, media tools such as the; radio, television, films and music establish unnecessary differences between Caucasian, African American, Latino, and Asian people. They shape our social perceptions into a perverted view of life where some attain high statuses while others are destined for poor living standards. Individuals have been indoctrinated into believing some races are superior to others in all aspects of life.
At the moment, the situation has improved with an increase in the number of black actors, actresses and other media personalities. Before, the portrayal of African Americans in the media was limited and the few that existed played minor roles. These roles depicted the poor economic and social status associated with the minority. According to Balkaran (1999), the media served as a tool to spread white supremacy ideologies and domination over the other races.
A children’s book known as Little Black Sambo spurred controversy on the matter of racial representation in the media. It portrayed the protagonist; a young Indian boy who had to give up his clothes and umbrella and shoes to avoid being eaten by tigers. Critics saw the book as a stereotypic and rigid representation f the minority. In the movie Coon, the black character is a lazy, uneducated, and unreliable individual spending his time doing nothing and speaking poor English. This showed the black man as a useless and illiterate person. It is sad to note that there has been little improvement in the modern mass media. African Americans still take up the roles associated with violence, crimes, drug use and prostitution. They take up positions of sidekicks for their Caucasian counterparts.
Evidence of negative media representation
The main forms of mass media include; books, newspapers, radio, magazines, television programs and the internet. The coverage of information and occurrences has been biased towards the white majority viewed as superior or ideal.
Susan Smith of South Carolina appeared in the news claiming that a black man had kidnapped her and her children. The media were quick to support her claim, which later turned out wrong; she had killed her children. The association of the black man with social vices blinded the media which did not wait to consider factual information. The association of the black man with social ills was also evident in the case of Charles Stuart a man from Boston. He murdered his wife in cold blood and blamed it on a black man. This is evidence of the masses’ perception of the minority community (Balkaran, 1999).
Reasons for negative representation
This imbalance in representation has been attributed to a variety of reasons. First and foremost, working in the media plays a crucial role. The number of members of the minority races working in media production companies has been relatively low. Among the small percentage of employees, most hold low positions.
Today, the increase in minorities holding significant positions has led to the creation of policies that are racially accommodative. An increase in television programs, radio shows, films and music portraying the minority as productive and equal to white men have been noted. Some celebrities from the black community include; Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Oprah Winfrey. The Latin community has the likes of; Antonio Banderas, Jenifer Lopez and Penelope Cruz.
Subsequently, poor racial representation in the media is associated with Marxist theory ideologies adopted by individuals who believe in the segregation of the society into working class and the owners (Balkaran, 1999). White supremacy sought to exploit the working class by limiting their economic progress. This led to the development of Segmentation Theory by Michael Reich in 1980 which can be used to express the state of racial representation in the media. The theory views racism from an economic point of view where the dominant race; suppress an increase in wages of the lower class, segregate the lower class, encourage prejudicial ideas, and take advantage of the stereotypes they have created. This has been evident through the allocation of insignificant roles to the minority even when they have talent. In the few roles they get they are associated with criminal vices. This has a far-reaching impact on the society’s view of the minority thus limiting their employment and educational opportunities among other factors.
The excessive focus on the needs of the white majority is a factor in the inadequate representation of minority individuals in the society. The media carry out little coverage when it concerns the challenges and needs of minority groups. Serious news coverage of the minority is often done only when they are perceived as a problem or threat to the majority Caucasians. According to Balkaran (1999), the media focus on the minority during the occurrence of boycotts, demonstrations and activities perceived as a danger. This is wrong and should be stopped due to the impact it has on responsible, hardworking members of the groups. This will reduce the number of black men being harassed by police officers and lowered employment opportunities.
Notable changes in the mass media
With time, changes have facilitated better representation. This shows the rise of positive portrayal of other races in film, television and other forms of media. The creating of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ brought the view of the black man as a harmless and entertaining individual through Will Smith’s excellent role. It was largely accepted among the white population due to the quality of its comedy, and among the minority African Americans as a source of inspiration. This motivated many to consider media-related jobs. Shows such as The Cosby Show presented blacks as literate, intelligent and family-oriented (Balkaran, 1999). This perception was not common at the time, especially among the white majority.
Progress into the modern mass media has led to better representation through the likes of Denzel Washington, Queen Latifah and Sydney Pointier excelling in their careers despite being black. The ownership and management of various media corporations has also been characterized by an increase in the minority individuals. Television reality shows led by Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks, and a movie production company by Tyler Perry is evidence of talent and skills in ensuing successful productions with high ratings.
The development and widespread use of the internet has contributed immensely in ensuring racial representation in the media is not discriminatory. Several online websites, pages, and forums have explored the issue through the provision of information and their views on various media productions. It has enabled the audience to provide their own views which help the producers note aspects that may have exhibited racism. Through this, need for social unity spreads among the people and the producers also come up with ideas of embracing this spirit through internet use.
We all watch television programs and movies. We listen to radio stations and have to admit that the change that has occurred is significant but still not enough. The media still continues to exploit the stereotypes. This slows down the progress towards equality and racial representation. Children end up growing up to fit into the set societal stereotypes. They engage in the vices the media portrays them to do. Thus, they end up as drug addicts or in jail.
Racial representation in the media has not reached its expected level. There is still a gap that needs to be filled. There is a need to carry out a more accurate portrayal of all individuals regardless of their racial differences. Diversity should enable people appreciate their differences and not discriminate. The leaders have significant influence on the people. They should adopt accommodative ideologies, which should be passed on to the citizens, through various media according to Balkaran (1999). This will enable them realize the need for unity in diversity. Racially-based media activities only propel the society towards a dysfunctional state.
Balkaran, S. (1999). Mass Media and Racism. Yale Publications, Vol. 21(1), Retrieved April, 2, 2013 from http://www.yale.edu/ypq../oct99/oct99b.html