Racial stereotypes have become a given within everyday American life. A person’s race is used as a way of identifying them, understanding them without verbal communication. Each group of people are victims of stereotypes, whether it be black, white, Latino, or any other. These stereotypes are constantly perpetuated by the media in the United States. The music, movie, and television industries all play instrumental roles in embedding these stereotypes in to the minds of citizens.
In today’s music environment, one can find many prominent black artists. These artists produce some of the greatest chartbusters and generate the most hype among fans. However, according to Omi “despite the revenues generated by black performers, blacks remain “grossly underrepresented” in the business, marketing, and Artists and Repertoire departments of major record labels” (549). This lack of recognition that the black community suffers is due to the stereotypical ideas branded on them.
Michael Omi analyzed an argument presented by Al Campanis on an ABC Nightline program, in which Campanis asserted that: “Black exclusion from the front office, therefore, was justified on the basis of biological “difference”” (550). Therefore, blacks are recognized as successful artists, but denied important positions due to the American perception of “difference”. Television and Film also follow a similar pattern of perpetuating stereotypes.
According to Omi, “In Television and Film, the necessity to define characters in the briefest and most condensed manner has led to the perpetuation of racial caricatures, as racial stereotypes serve as shorthand for scriptwriters, directors, and actors” (553). By using stereotypes as shorthand, these two mediums manage to place emphasis on these ideals continuously. An audience that constantly sees the presentation of the same idea will begin to believe it true. For example, a Black man casted to play a drug dealer in every other film about drug crime will propagate the idea that the Black community as a whole is involved in drugs.
Actors of color were given only certain roles to play in movies and on television. Omi asserts that: “Black men were instead casted as comics, harmless, and non-threatening figures exemplified by such stars as Bill “Bojangles” Robison, Stepin Fetchit, and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. Dark black women such as Hattie McDaniel and Lousie Beavers were cast as “dowdy frumpy, dumpy, overweight mammy figures”; while those “close to the white ideal,” such as Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge became “Hollywood’s treasured mulattoes” in roles emphasizing the tragedy of being of mixed blood” (556).
The constant presentation of colored actors in the same roles leaves the impression that these people are all like this in real life. There is no variety or possibility of difference. They all fall under these basic categories. Another aspect of stereotyping in cinema is the countless movies made which attempt to portray whites and blacks as friends. DeMott asserts: “Watch Pulp Fiction or Congo or A Little Princess or any other recent film in which both blacks and whites are primary characters and you can, if you want to, forget about race.
Whites and blacks greet one another on the screen with loving candor, revealing their common humanity” (567). This forced portrayal of love and a common bond serve to emphasize the gap between these two races. One realizes almost instantly that what is being shown is not what really is. There is that sense of “difference” that separates people based on common stereotypes. The movies almost make a special effort to portray people of color as equals, despite the highly impoverished environment in which black people exist.
The government uses this “newfound friendship” as an excuse to cut vital relief programs for the black commuting. According to DeMott: “Justice Anthony Kennedy can declare, speaking for the Supreme Court majority last June , that creating a world of genuine equality and sameness requires only that “our political system and our society cleanse themselves…of discrimination” (569). A new stereotype has arrived in our society, and that is that blacks and white are friends and can exist completely independent of each other.
Due to the movie’s constant portrayal of black-white friendship, black people are not recognized as equals, they are stereotyped as equals. Their equality becomes a punishment rather than a celebrated privilege. This punishment is propagated by the media. Blacks and other people of color are not the only victims of stereotypes. Stereotypes exist about all races and social classes. The poor white man, for example, is usually stereotyped as “white trash”. The media consistently portrays the working class white man in two ways.
Price asserts: “Representation of working class whites in the popular media are responsible for the dissemination of “white trash” as well as “good country folk” stereotypes in society” (592). These stereotypical groups are generally portrayed as dirty, uneducated, and even violent. Price cites the movie Deliverance as an example. She states: “Deliverance may be the most well-known and damaging film centered on poor whites, in this case “hillbillies” Deliverance embodies all the fear of urban modern America concerning what is most primitive and dangerous in the character of a man” (594).
Such films not only teach people that all members of the poor, working class white America have these qualities, but also that they must be feared, scorned, and outcasted from society. Both blacks and whites suffer from these stereotypes. Blacks suffer from their share of jokes, based on their physical appearance, “capabilities”, and “differences”. The portrayal of black women as overweight and frumpy is seen in many popular movies, such as the character of Rasputia in the film Norbit. For weeks after the release of the film, Rasputia’s character was a popular joke amongst the film’s audience.
She was mocked, laughed at because she represented the media’s ideal of what a black woman is. People found humor in her appearance and diction and accepted it willingly. There was no controversy or dispute to this “character parody”. Whites also suffer from such representation and jokes. Popular television show “The Beverly Hillbillies” gave rise to a whole new genre of jokes, Hillbilly jokes. Similar to these are the redneck jokes and white trash jokes. Each of these genres are propagated by the media and accepted by the audience.
Hurtful, unfair ideas infiltrate our society and have become common place, accepted. People do not see the demoralization of a fellow human, but a normal thought process. The media plays an integral role in the propagation of racial stereotypes in American society. People of all racial groups suffer from these stereotypes. These stereotypes are used as methods of identifying a person, learning about them without speaking to them. The music, television, and film industry all play a role in exposing the audience to these ideals, making them common place in American society.
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