Critiquing Racial Stereotypes from the Perspective of Television Content
Racial stereotyping is one of the most controversial aspects of cultural analysis as it applies to regular human interaction. These aspects of human cultural coexistence emerge from individual mental perceptions people hold as part of their respective racial groups about other races. The issue of racial stereotypes seems to have permeated into almost all aspects of human life and culture as demonstrated by racism-related issues coming up from all manner of human activity. As one of the most interactive forms of human creation, the media informs and entertains in almost equal measure. However, racial stereotypes seem to have already permeated into this valuable human resource as this critique will demonstrate. Therefore, racial stereotypes will form the main subject of this critique with a particular interest in their adverse effects, as aspects of the cultural analysis, on television content as part of the media.
Criticism for racial stereotypes as evidenced in television programming and its consequences
The relationship between racial stereotyping and television dates back to the very discovery of television. Racial stereotyping is a form of racial discrimination that entails attaching some usually negative attributes to a particular racial group other that which one belongs (Nelson, 2009). Based on the negativity of most of these attributes, the majority of the racial groups affected by these forms of racial discrimination are usually those that belong to the minority groups. Therefore, from the perspective of media, especially television, the Black and Hispanic racial groups suffer most of the consequences of racial stereotyping.
Recently, an American journalist Don Lemon of the CNN disclosed that the number of African Americans killed in shooting incidents involving police officers was twice that of Whites (‘CNN Tonight’, 2015). Surprisingly, Lemon stated that as at June 2015, 135 Africa American deaths involved unarmed individuals as opposed to armed individuals who would compel the law enforcement officers to use lethal force. As a good example of racial profiling, which is related to racial prejudices and stereotyping, the issue incited uproar among African American media personnel. These individuals used their media positions to instigate the start of a racial stereotyping frenzy between them and their white counterparts. African American reporters and newscasters used every opportunity to fuel the fires that raged by demanding for equality in all law enforcement scenarios.
Concurrently, their white counterparts, feeling compelled to downplay any impending media disasters, downplayed all the attempts. The results were an increased proliferation of special coverage by media houses involving a protracted effort by African American journalists to bring to the attentions of the world the injustices faced by their racial group. On the other hand, Whites and journalists from other racial groups downplayed the issue demonstrating the extent of the racial stereotyping present on the media platforms.
Racial stereotypes do not only touch on crime. Other human endeavors such as education, entertainment, and sports also suffer from this harmful practice. There are many forms of racial stereotypes affecting racial minority groups, which get airtime on television either intentionally or otherwise. A common racial stereotype that targets the African American group suggests that most of them make a living from sports and games (Luther, Lepre & Clark, 2012). Such stereotypes seem to borrow from the negative connotation that this racial group is only suitable for activities that involve and require high physical fitness and athleticism. The American Basketball League is one good example of situations that support this negative mindset due to the vast number of African American players. One interesting point that most of the people that subscribe to such inferior mindsets choose to ignore is the success of the American media sector in marketing and promoting its content. Therefore, due to the broad reach of the NBA screening rights and famous African American basketball players like Michael Jordan, the majority subscribe to the racial stereotype that this racial group makes a living primarily from sports. The same mindsets have infiltrated the athletics and track events scene with harmful consequences for the victim countries in international ratings (Fullwood, 2013).
What only a few realize is that only a few thousand African American individuals make a living from all games in the United States out of the millions. However, these considerations quickly lose their potency once concern extends into the entertainment scene. A vast number of successful entertainers in music belong to the African American race making a stereotypical racial assumption easy. Unfortunately, the distance between violence and the music industry is closest at the African American connection based on gang violence. Such considerations fuel an already negative stereotype that all African Americans or Blacks are members of gangs and, therefore, prone to violence. These conclusions are tantamount to prejudice and could not be further from the truth based on the number of people from these racial groups who succeed in industries considered a preserve for the majority. According to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, “there are 12 times more Black lawyers in the US than Black athletes” (Fullwood, 2013).
The situation is similar in other facets of entertainment as demonstrated by numerous studies. In one particular study aimed at American television programming, most television programs saw African Americans usually get roles equal to their White and Hispanic counterparts. However, the situation changed when themes such as crime come up where the Black minority get inferior and dark roles in most cases. Such scenarios arose again in similar fashion for other minority groups as demonstrated by the plight of the Hispanic group in North America. Most typical television programs depicted this racial group in a usual manner, but when themes such as immigrant labor and Latin dance came up, racial stereotyping emerged. These mindsets are proven to affect development programs and coexistence in the areas they exist (Bratt & Rohe, 2005). Such types of racial discrimination cannot continue to permeate society, especially mixed race society such as North America and Europe as it fans darker agenda hidden in neo-racism.
The ideology behind racial stereotyping extended into tokenism and cultural hegemony
In the course of the development of cultural diversity within the modern era, the vices of neo-racism and racial discrimination have taken on new faces. As outlined in the previous sections, racial stereotypes seem to have permeated into every aspect of modern human existence that present circumstances denoted by cultural and racial diversity. Part of this aspect of cultural analysis borrows from past eras where social vices such as slavery and racially motivated extermination existed. However, the fact that these inferior forms of discrimination continue to hide in ordinary human activity such as entertainment and other forms of media is unfortunate. Television has continued to suffer from a sustained form of racial stereotyping as evidenced earlier in the sport and entertainment industries. Weir (2007) states that “the fact that one racial group is perceived to inherently possess superior traits that almost guarantee success and good performance in these sectors is unfortunate” (pg. 152). Such mindsets point to a continued failure by the human race to let go of backward and outdated practices.
Unfortunately, the ideology of racial stereotypes and related forms of racial discrimination such as racial profiling seems to lie in scientific history. In the 19th century, scientific racism emerged as a kind of classification for the human race based on their skin color. Almost immediately, pioneers of this backward scientific reasoning such as Johann Blumenbach whose research in 1775 advanced theories based on this ideology of racist classification referred to as ‘polygenism’ (Bolaffi, 2003). After dividing the human species into five distinct groups based on skin color, White, Blacks, Mongols, and the like, these early ideologies paved the way for racial stereotypes. These stereotypes revolved on assumptions such as black skin being inferior and white skin being beautiful. A few years later after Blumenbach’s inferior ideological presentations, Christoph Meiners cemented the foundation of what would be the start of racism. He suggested the existence of two distinct racial groups; black and white.
Many hundreds of years later, the same backward form of thinking still exists albeit with more subtle attributes. While the Black race and other minorities have suffered sustained inhumane mistreatment over the course of the last four centuries, the modern form of racial discrimination takes on a softer approach. Television programming presents an excellent example of one of the modern forms of racial discrimination that is racial stereotyping. The Black race plays roles attributed to their circumstances under poverty, illiteracy, athleticism, slavery, and servitude (Brooks & Althouse, 2007). The Hispanic group also faces distinct racial stereotyping on television in the form of roles that depict the perceived ignorance and romanticism of Latin culture. Besides, this racial group is linked with immigration issues into North America, gang violence, drug trafficking and animal cruelty. As unfortunate as the circumstance are, the modern media houses and entertainment stakeholders seem unwilling to let go of the negative connotations that continue to fuel neo-racism.
Modern attempts to cover up racial stereotyping in the media have evolved into almost ingenious tactics. Tokenism is the first extension of racial stereotyping that tries to heal these racial stereotypes. Tokenism is the provision of certain privileges or conditions that seek to conceal the recipients’ social, cultural, or financial inferiority. Tokenism is rife in all aspects of human interaction within the context of racial stereotypes and in light of television-related media. A look into the media houses that relate to aspects of racial stereotypes reveals that the media personalities assigned the duty of investigating and reporting these vices are mostly from the affected communities. CNN is perhaps the most affected by this form of racial stereotyping as Hispanic media personalities cover issues of Latin origin such as immigrant welfare. Interestingly, the same applies to other aspects of television as demonstrated by ESPN where African American figures are assigned the majority of basketball commentary positions while Whites and Hispanics cover baseball. These extensions continue to impart an adverse effect on these aspects of human life as racial stereotypes ingrain themselves deeper into human thinking. The results exhibit even in young children who believe that certain racial groups are inherently gifted in various forms of sport and related activity based on what they watch on television.
Cultural hegemony is the second kind of extension to racial stereotyping as it relates to television programming. Cultural hegemony means the dominating effect that a ruling class has in culturally diverse societies demonstrated by the overwhelming effect of their morals, beliefs, values, perceptions (Faber, 2002). Based on the racial stereotyping and other circumstances such as colonization and scientific discovery witnessed over the previous centuries, the White racial group has established itself as the ruling class. Other racial groups have had to contend with this fact, which has in turn been imparted on them through force and other more subtle methods. In the modern setting, cultural hegemony still exhibits itself as an extension of racial stereotyping and other forms of racial discrimination. A cultural analysis of the effects of this vice on the media, especially television programming, reveals that the vice is present in many forms.
Because the ruling class owns most of the major and international media houses, all minority groups have to align their productions with the values and morals of the owners for their content to be televised. Perhaps the reason that many minority groups have started their media houses is the fact that cultural hegemony continues to remind them of the existence of racial stereotyping (Richardson & Kelly, 2012). Some good examples of this phenomenon are the American entertainment groups BET and OWN. BET (Black Entertainment Television) counters cultural hegemony and its effect on the Black entertainment be it music, film, or literature. On the other hand, OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) seeks to provide the African American minority with an equal playing field in terms of film and music on television. These are part of efforts aimed at countering cultural hegemony in American television circles.
Unfortunately, the vice of racial discrimination continues to plague human life at various levels of social and cultural interaction. One aspect of cultural analysis that seems to be indomitable is racial stereotyping. The reach of racial stereotypes is perhaps the widest, as it appears to have permeated into almost all aspects of human life. The media, especially television programming, demonstrate best how racial stereotypes continue to be propagated and sustained within the global community. The news-casting sector of television has this year suffered severally from instances of racial stereotypes where news personalities gravitate towards their racial groups after unjust occurrences. Similarly, each respective racial group seems to continue suffering the same vice in the entertainment and sports industries.
Interestingly, the beneficiaries of racial stereotyping in whatever sector of television entertainment it affects appear to be willing to sustain it. Through tokenism and cultural hegemony, both sides of the racial stereotyping issue are struggling to maintain the upper hand meaning this social and cultural evil shall remain in existence. However, the fact that all the stakeholders in this unfortunate circumstances seem to overlook is that racial discrimination needs to be eliminated. Whatever forms this vice take, all humanity should unite as a single species and eliminate petty considerations such as skin color and geographical origin. Otherwise, the difficulties that lie in fostering conditions that improve the globe’s economic, social, and cultural status will remain.
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