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.

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