The following is based upon the research and conclusions made by the Heinz Endowments’ African American Men and Boys’ Task Force.
I’ve written before how the media projects blacks in a less-than admirable light at least once. I did it based on some simple research found in books, websites, and observation. Then again, it doesn’t take much research to show that racism plays a huge role in what we watch, hear, and read. Plus, it has been studied and documented before with similar results. One of the most important genres within media that I focus on are news outlets both local and mainstream. I’ve never had much respect for the news in how it reports minorities, and it’s sickening how they portray black males.
Pittsburgh’s newspaper the Post Gazette, through a link provided by The Black Man Can, reported on a recent summit that addresses the problem as it pertains to Pittsburgh news media outlets and urges young African Americans to start creating their own media:
“Mainstream media in Pittsburgh must broaden their coverage of black men and youths from a disproportionate diet of crime and sports stories, a summit of scholars, experts and news media executives concluded during a daylong, invitation-only summit Tuesday sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Public Affairs Office.
Those attending the summit, titled “Evolving the Image of the African American Male in American Media,” at the University Club recommended that news executives be held more accountable for the content they publish or broadcast and African-American youth should seize control the narrative of their lives by utilizing film, radio and various online media to tell their own stories.”
Meyer Communications, based in Miami, and the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC conducted the studies, each using their own brand of statistical methods. The newspapers used in the study are the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and the television stations researched are KDKA, WTAE and WPXI. News reports from three months last year were analyzed. The results concluded that the largest block of news reports about black men and youth were about crime–87 percent of the news broadcasts and 37 percent of newspaper stories:
“And crime coverage featuring black men tended to get more prominent play in the news, with the stories more likely appearing atop the news page or at the beginning of the newscast,’ the report said.”
The PDF report that can be found on the website displayed a few pictures that support their findings. The first of four photos showed the cast of Richmond High School’s production of Bye Bye Birdie performing Healthy Normal American Boy. The picture presents a mostly-white cast on stage with one black boy among the actors. The boy Antonio Paris is pictured. However, there is another photo directly underneath that shows a young black male in a hospital gown, handcuffed, climbing out of a police van. The man, Sean Kelly, was a crime suspect who escaped from the hospital and led the police into a destructive car chase during lunchtime. The second photo was printed on the front page of the Post-Gazette under the headline Menace To Society.
The first picture was shown to prove how rare it is to see black men in the news outside of reports of crime. The second picture is one that is all too common in newspapers. The point is that you will likely see black men in the context of the second photo than the first on the front page. Now, if there was a group of black men involved in crime, you will likely see ALL of the suspects’ mugshots.
The third photo showed a black male teen playing high school basketball. The fourth, and final, picture is akin to the second photo in regards to crime. It depicts the indictment of 29 gang members on drug and gun charges. In this case both photos are common in the news. Black males are mostly seen in sports topics along with crime reports.
I won’t get into too much more detail about this. So, I will just list some of the key findings:
1. There is low coverage of black men and boys overall.
2. The coverage that exists tend to focus on crime. If a murder, robbery, or rape has occurred, and it was committed by a black male, it’s prominent news. However, if a black male were to rescue someone from a burning building, there’s a much lesser chance it will get any air-time.
3. Crimes committed by black men and boys get a prominent display and positioning meaning any news about crime will have those that involve black male suspects take the lead in the front page or the first few minutes of the broadcast.
4. If crime is taken away, that will leave extremely little coverage of black men and boys.
5. The African American community is frustrated, and want more fair and balanced coverage of black men and boys. They are tired of only seeing themselves in mugshot photos, escorted and restrained, or in court as a defendant.
The conclusions drawn from this study are as follows:
1. Pittsburgh’s mainstream media fails to provide an honest portrait of life in the black community. Only one view, the negative, crime and drug ridden view is presented often.
2. Systematic omissions present a narrow view. This means that other realities of black life, especially the ones that do not involve crime or violence, are edited out most likely for ratings and shock value.
3. Focus on crime and violence AND the causes behind it. Crime is the effect, not the cause. What is behind the high crime rate in poor black communities? Not focusing on the causes will make people conclude that something is wrong with black people.
4. Why are young faces and voices absent? Why can’t black youth be seen beyond the deviant behaviors of a few? Why does black youth only matter to newsrooms when they commit a crime? What about the black youth making a difference and defying stereotypes?
5. The status quo and irrelevance of the news businesses due to word-of-mouth or the internet.
For more information, click here. Here is my take on the study:
Like I said earlier, I’ve written about how the news is racially biased against blacks, particularly black males, and this study helps confirm it. Even though this was done using information from Pittsburgh media stations and newspapers, it’s a national trend. Black men in the news are likely seen as criminals and athletes which both further fuel black male stereotypes. Despite that negative stereotypes of black men have existed for hundreds of years, they sometimes change or remain the same. The mainstream news have done a horrible job trying to relinquish these and other racist stereotypes, not to mention present other realities of the black community that doesn’t involve violence or sports.
Newsrooms claim to be presenting a mirror to society. With the kind of “news” that is circulated, one has to conclude they are using funhouse mirrors. The news present a view of society that is subjective according to what gets published or broadcast. Even though white people are shown in crime reports, they are also shown in other walks of life that present positive, and even uplifting, images. Plus, white criminals are always seen as products of their environment, and are more likely to be “humanized”. Blacks are mostly seen through a dark lens. They present the illusion that most poor people and criminals are black, and most black people are poor and criminals. There are no explanations behind it other than the notion that black people have a destructive pathology and a culture of criminality. Even if they are shown as products of their environments and upbringing, that still perpetuates the negative racist assumption that black people are somehow “born to be failures”.
News outlets follow a slogan that says that “if it bleeds it leads“, which explain why violent crime is a hot and leading topic in newsrooms. The more horrific the crime is, the more likely that it will probably get more airtime than nonviolent crimes. If a black male were to be a serial killer or a serial rapist, they will get a lot of coverage that will extend until he is caught and his trial ends. This is not to say that those crimes are not serious. However, with reports on crime in general, you will likely see black men there than in any other news report.
And what causes high rates of crime in poor black communities? What about the social, political, and economic factors behind it? Crime is not created out of thin air with no indicators, influences, and circumstances. If the news is so quick to report the symptoms of a societal disease, why are they so hesitant to report the disease itself?
I’ve read in a few articles and books that say that journalists deem the causes behind crime is more complex and difficult to report. Somehow I don’t buy it. I believe they think that it wouldn’t get high ratings as oppose to something that can be told in a one-minute soundbyte. I think most of the mainstream public prefers drama as long as they are not involved in it, even if it projects a racially distorted view of certain groups. And that’s what the news provides, drama with no explanations, and a reason to fear “other” people. It’s just a guess.
People see the news as a reliable, objective source of information. So, if all you see are black men as criminals, you may start to think that most black men are criminals. If all you see are black men as athletes, then you may think that black men are gifted in sports. If you are a black male and you take these images in, chances are you will limit yourself severely. Your self-esteem may even drop as you see men who look like you in mugshots. You start to feel bad about being born a black man. You may even believe that the images you see are how black men are supposed to be. It’s not a definite, but it will happen, without supervision and guidance.
However, there are a lot of positive black men, young and old, out there. Some are not members of a sports team, but they are doing big things not just for themselves, but for other African Americans. They more than deserve some airtime as much as crime does, maybe more. Seeing them in mainstream news media reports is like trying to find the Lock Ness Monster or a UFO. It’s no surprise seeing as how most of the mainstream media, national and local, are owned by white males. The news business in America is not immune to racism, not by a long shot which is all the more reason to create your own media, your own news.
Brothas can not rely on white-owned newspapers and stations to present unbiased, non-racist images, positive of black men to balance the corrupt, stereotypical images they seem to be obsessed over. Brothas must present those images to ourselves and to the rest of the world to offset the racist images shown heavily by white-owned media. This is part of the larger objective to show everyone there is more to being a black male than getting arrested and shooting hoops. There are black men who are doctors, lawyers, firefighters, community activists, heroes, and devoted fathers, brothers, uncles, and grandfathers. There are black boys who’ve made the honor roll, won Spelling Bees, are good artists and musicians, and are geniuses. There are also black males who have spoken out and is fighting crime in their own neighborhoods. (Some are police and some aren’t) There are black men who have saved lives of ordinary citizens, and there are black men making differences in almost every level of society.
In short there are black men doing amazing things. Shouldn’t that be worthy of some acknowledgement in newsrooms? After all, why should the media humanize and uplift one group in a society while demonizing another in the same society?