Race Gender and the Media: Final thoughts

This class has been one of the most eye-opening and mind-bending classes I’ve ever had. Who knew how powerful the media was in shaping not only the issues people are concerned about, but more importantly, how the media frames issues. Sexism, incognizant racism and even overt racism all play a large role in how the media portrays different groups, and these portrayals often lead viewers to believe that certain stereotypes about people are real, when in fact the media has planted these false portrayals in people’s minds.

Incognizant racism: this happens when people have been trained to think a certain way about certain races even when they aren’t consciously racist. For example, suppose you’re at a stoplight and black person in a nice car pulls up next to you, loud music blaring and hat pulled low. If your first thought is “drug dealer,” even if you have no animosity against other races or ethnicities, this is incognizant racism if you don’t think the same thing about a white person in a car with loud music and low hat. But I would bet that most people don’t think “drug dealer” when they see a white person in a car.

Incognizant racism affect media professionals as much as anyone else. And this is dangerous. Blacks are over-represented in the media as either victims, celebrities or criminals. This leads people to believe that more blacks and minorities are criminal or victims than they are. Which can influence hiring decisions, bank loans, and other racist decisions that negatively affect minorities.

Sexism is another issue where the media gets an “F.” In the news media, women are often identified as wives or mothers, even though the same isn’t done for men. This is a reflection of the gendered hierarchy that exists within the United States, where women are assumed to be housekeepers and men breadwinners. For example, you would never hear a man get asked how he will balance his work time and time with his newborn son. That’s the mother’s role. In popular media like commercials and TV shows, women are hyper-sexualized. They are judged based on their appearance rather than brains. And many believe that women can’t be both smart and beautiful (i.e. “the dumb blonde), so intelligent women are looked down upon. In a patriarchal society, women are judged on how they look and how sexy they are. This sends a dangerous message to young girls who may internalize these messages and waste their untapped potential.

The media plays a vital role in society – to give a voice to the voiceless, to be a watchdog – but ultimately, journalism’s first obligation is to the truth. Portraying only the most beautiful and surgically altered bodies is not fulfilling that obligation. Neither is racist portrayal of anyone who isn’t white. We need to get our act together.


What makes a terrorist?

What makes a terrorist?

Whenever there’s a massive shooting or “terror” attack, commentators online, on the radio, on TV or in the newspaper always apply labels. White males are often “lone wolf” or “mentally unstable” shooters. Blacks are thugs or gang members. And Allah forbid you have a middle-eastern last name or brown skin. You’re a terrorist, perhaps the worst label of all. But what if terrorism has political connotations? What if “thug” means you’re a member of a gang? What if “thugs” who commit crimes are also mentally unstable? We have an easy time explaining why minorities commit murder (that’s the way he was raised, he’s a gang-banger, he hates cops) or Muslims (He’s a Muslim so he’s a terrorist and hates everything that goes against his/her religion). But when white males go on rampages, people don’t know why it happened. It’s just random. Why?

When viewing mass shooting through the lens of the media, these labels are perpetuated and become reality. So when Robert Lewis Dear (A white male) shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic and mentioned “no more baby parts,” he established a clear political motive. But Fox News isn’t screaming about this guy as a terrorist. Donald Trump isn’t threatening to bomb his family and neighbors.

But what if terrorism has nothing to do with political gain and is just intended to strike fear into people’s hearts? William Hudson murdered six people in cold blood in an East Texas campsite. And no one called him a terrorist. If I saw someone kill six people, I’d be scared. I’d be sure as hell struck with terror. But this guy hasn’t been labeled a terrorist. No one has attacked his race or religion (or lack of religion) because of his actions.

So what makes a terrorist? Terrorism can’t be labeled by a single race or religion. Is it categorized by politics? By number of people killed? I don’t know. By either measure, a lot of whites would be included. Even Dylann Rooff, who killed nine black people in a historically black church, is facing federal hate crime charges. But his actions, although motivated by race, were also motivated by the fear that blacks were “taking over” the country. This implies a fear of political power, and racial issues have always been highly politicized. But even Roof isn’t a terrorist, only a racists who went too far.

If the media wants people to stop assuming all terrorists are Muslims and vice versa, maybe we should start using objective qualifiers for what counts as terrorism, instead of only using the term against Muslims..

Trump Is Wrong On Immigration

One of America’s most divisive politicians has, since the start of his campaign, initiated a debate in this country over “illegal immigration.” A major problem, according to reality star Donald Trump, is “illegal immigration.” Here’s Trump’s campaign opening speech:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The problem was that the speech didn’t implicate just undocumented immigrants. His speech, contains many factual errors and assumptions which only serve to facilitate fear and hatred among uneducated white Americans.

First, Trump says that “Mexico is sending its people.” This is not true. Mexico is not actively “sending” us drugs, crime and rapists. At least, there’s never been proof of this.

Second, Trump characterizes the immigrants as drug dealers and rapists. While some who sneak across the border are undoubtedly drug dealers and rapist, Trump finds a way out by “assuming,” (not “knowing”) that “some” (not “many”) are good people. But this does little to reverse the damage done in the first seven sentences.

Perhaps the biggest problems is that he creates a picture that is not factually true. He paints Mexican immigrants as a bunch of criminals. While they may technically be criminals for breaking the law in order to come to the U.S., committing crimes isn’t high on their list of priorities once they’re here.

In fact, if Trump was educated about immigration (regardless of legal status) and was interested in deporting drug dealers and rapists, he should start with the native-born U.S. population. Immigrants have seen falling crime rates for years. Their crime rate is well below the crime rates of us “legal” folks.

Despite his rejection of reality, Trump is just a reality TV star. He’s a racist, bigot, and purveyor of islamophobia. Trump supports his narrative of fear to rile people up regardless of the facts. Unfortunately, it’s working.

Donald Trump, eres un pendejo y un puto de todos modos.

Now forget facts  and reality and everything I said, because we all know it’s those damn illegal Meskins makin’ all the problems in ‘Merica.

Crisis: syrian Refugees

Our political leaders have a way of taking any particular issue and creating a partisan atmosphere where one has to choose between two sides, while no one tries to find a middle ground. It’s a “with us or against us” atmosphere.

Lots of impassioned although unreasonable rhetoric has been propagated by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and United States Senator Ted Cruz (R. Tex). The issue is whether or not the U.S. should accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees fleeing civil war, Syrian dictator Assad, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Proponents of this point of view are afraid that ISIS might gain entry into the United States by way of the refugee program. Their thoughts seem to be as follows: Syrian = Muslim = ISIS. Sen. Cruz has only made the problem worse by stating that the U.S. would have no problem admitting Christian refugees because they don’t pose a terror risk. While terrorism in the name of Islam has been the most common form against western nations in recent years, the idea that Christians can’t be terrorists is pretty f*cking stupid. Aside from the obvious culprits of the KKK and (the debatable religious nature of) Joseph Kony’s “Lord’s Army,” northern India has also seen its share of Christian terrorism as well. And while we’re at it, the Crusades happened. There’s no denying it.

The other viewpoint is that the Syrian refugees are actually fleeing ISIS, so it makes no sense to worry and doing so promotes racism and islamophobia. The refugees are fleeing the most dangerous place in the world, and every day are at risk of being killed by ISIS, Bashar al-Assad, or rebel troops. They’re not looking to kill anybody. They’re just trying to stay alive. But ISIS isn’t stupid. One of the terrorist who attacked Paris on November 13th may have entered the country through Greece posing as a Syrian refugee. The refugees aren’t terrorists. But ISIS has and may continue to try and take advantage of the migration crisis that it helped create to attack western nation including the U.S. ISIS isn’t just another terror cell holed up in a cave. These people are some of the smartest terrorists the world has ever known. They’ve established a governing body. They run museums and hospitals. Their propaganda videos are choreographed to music from ISIS musicians and filmed in HD. If ISIS wanted to infiltrate the Syrian refugees, there’s a good chance they would succeed.

America has always been a bastion of Freedom. Or so we claim. Our politicians say we’re the greatest nation on earth. So why don’t we live up to those claims? And if we live in fear, doesn’t that mean the terrorist have won? We shouldn’t demonize voices who don’t agree with the refugee program. They have legitimate concerns, and the U.S. should definitely exercise caution in deciding who is granted asylum. But the Statue of Liberty is tattooed with a beckoning call to the world to send us the poor, the weary and the huddled masses yearning be free. In other words, a Syrian refugee.

The NFL and Violence Against Women

When Ray Rice knocked out his girlfriend in an elevator, it made a buzz in the media for short time. The NFL gave him a 2-day suspension. Then a video of the incident was released to the public. All of a sudden, there was widespread outrage, and Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely and cut from the Baltimore Ravens.

Which begs the question: where was this outrage when Rice was arrested? He admitted his guilt publicly. Everyone knew what happened. Where was the outrage? The fact is that for the most part, there wasn’t much public outcry against Rice before the video. He didn’t become a pariah until the video was released.

This double standard is disturbing. Are people only offended when they’re forced witness violence against women for themselves? When it’s hidden out of sight in back rooms, when we can’t talk about it, are people still offended?

The NFL (and more specifically, the Dallas Cowboys) is currently in the midst of a similar situation with Cowboys Defensive End Greg Hardy. Hardy was found guilty of assault on his girlfriend and making death threats. The NFL suspended him for 10 games. He appealed and the suspension was lowered to four games. (Because death threats and domestic assault aren’t near as bad as smoking a joint or breaking probation by having a drink)

But Deadspin just released photos of his girlfriend’s injuries from the fight. This comes after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garret publically supported Hardy.

Now we have to wait and see. Will the NFL give him an indefinite suspension as they did for Ray Rice? Will the media once again become outraged over Greg Hardy’s behavior? I’m betting they do. And they would be a bunch of hypocrites for it. Like Rice, Hardy was found guilty in a court of law. We all knew what happened. But no one cared enough to make a big deal out of it. Now that the pictures have been released, will Hardy get an indefinite suspension?

If so, it sends the wrong message to fans and players. The message is that as long as players can hide their bad behavior from the public, the NFL (and media) really won’t give two shits. After all, violence against women is ‘normal.’

Seventeen Magazine: Mixed Messages

This week I’ve been hyper-vigilant and paying attention to the way that women are portrayed in advertising. I’ve always been aware of the problems certain people might have with their own body-image (I certainly did) or the struggle to obtain a particular body shape. I’ve always understood these struggles. I’ve been there and done that, but I’m now pretty much at peace with myself.

But what I was never aware of was the sheer amount of often-contradictory messages about body shape and sexuality that women are subjected to. After discovering a particularly relevant essay in one of my history books, I knew I had to write about this.

Many people talk about how they would hate to be a teenage girl in modern times. There is a perception that all these messages about what to wear, how to dress or how skinny you should be are product of our generation. But in fact, target market with contradictory messages didn’t start with the millennials, the “Me” generation, or our parents. It started long before the Korean War.

According to Kelly Schrum*, Seventeen magazine started bombarding girls with contradictory messages in 1944: near the end of WWII.

According to Schrum in “Making the American Girl,”

“Starting in April 1945, the magazine devoted an annual issue to the theme ‘Boy meets Girl,’ in addition to articles on how to converse with and attract boys and the ubiquitous teenage romance fiction. Seventeen encouraged teenage girls to concentrate their energy on boys and to attract male attention, but strongly discouraged necking, petting, going steady, or early marriage.”

The magazine discouraged kissing and marriage, but still ran ads featuring wedding supplies. And although it ran articles supporting women’s education, it ran advertisements which disparaged educated women, implying that they would never be able to get a date.

These contradictory messages that young women and girls end up consuming, whether voluntarily or subconsciously, are becoming more and more perverse and the ideal body image is becoming more unattainable. The pervasiveness of these messages is new. But the messages themselves are as old as our grandparents.

* “Making the American Girl” can be found on page 109 of the third edition of “Major Problems in American History Since 1945,” edited by Robert Griffith and Paula Baker. I couldn’t find a copy of it online.

It Could Have Been A Bomb

No. No one actually thought this was a bomb. The above headline was the reason given for the arrest and detainment of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed. His crime? Being a Muslim.

Here’s the story: an elementary school student built a clock. Pretty innocent right? He brought it to school to show his engineering teacher. His teacher was impressed. But then he showed to another teacher, who thought it was suspicious. Up to this point, nobody’s done anything wrong. There wasn’t even anything wrong with the teacher being suspicious. The problem is this: if the teacher was suspicious that the clock was a bomb, then why wasn’t the school evacuated? After all, if I thought I had a bomb, I would call the police and get the hell out of dodge.

But that didn’t happen. Ahmed was arrested several hours later. By this point in the story, the teacher and administrators are either racist, or had some sort of perverted suicide/child genocide-by-bomb scheme. I find it hard to believe that multiple administrators and police all had a suicide pact to kill themselves via a “bomb” that they had just discovered. Given that the student was “brown” and a Muslim, racism is the only explanation that’s left for his arrest and detainment.

I know everybody else will probably blog about this, but I have some VERY strong opinions on American’s perception of Muslims.

While interning in London during the summer, I stayed in an area where Muslims comprised over 20 percent of the population, according to census data. There, I was exposed to a radically different environment than I had ever been accustomed to. I was surrounded by Muslims. At first, I felt a little uncomfortable. But I soon realized that many stereotypes we have about Muslims in the U.S. aren’t true. Many Muslim women wear hijabs and veils, but many do it for modesty – of their own prerogative. It was strange at first seeing so many people with only their eyes exposed, but I got used to it. They would shop at the same grocery store I frequented, and would ride the bus and tube like everybody else. The biggest surprise came when I witnessed two Muslim women smoking outside the door of the complex where I was staying.

The part of London where I was staying didn’t have the best reputation. It wasn’t the part of town that Americans wanted to see, and I never saw any Americans staying in the area. So I would go out and talk to the locals to pass time. It turns out, Muslims are plenty friendly. They’re not all hostile to western ‘infidels.’

And this semester, both of my roommates are cousins from Oman. And they’re both Muslim. They’re just normal people like everyone else and I’ve never once felt threatened by them.

We need to face our irrational fear of Muslims. The clock is ticking, and every hour, every day, every month, Muslims are fleeing violence around the world and many are seeking refuge and opportunity on our shores. It’s time we learned to accept Muslims for who they are – not “what” they are. They’re like us: they are people.