Oscar H. Gandy Jr. defines racism as, “the process of exercising power or seeking to exercise power with regard to people defined by identifying them as a member of a particular race.”1 Racism and race stem from the identity one puts onto certain groups of individuals based on their colour. The identity that one forms is acquired from a number of places including parents, religion, school, government and, on today’s youth, mainly mass media such as television and music. In this essay one will focus on the influence that mass media has on our identity position of race. It is obvious that all forms of print and electronic media, from news media to books, films, television, radio, and all other forms of media collectively represent our image of ourselves.
2 The focus for the purpose of this essay will be on news media, television and music, being the most influential forms of media, while focusing on the youth of today, being the easiest to influence. News media has great power in influencing how people identify themselves by how they are represented on the. The stereotypes that television has shown, are viewed by many young individuals of colour, and are portraying how their race is viewed upon among society. Music has the greatest influence on young African-Americans, which view their idols as those shown in music videos. Mass media in a collective form, although may represent individuals of colour, influence the viewers of colour, how they should distinguish themselves.3 Mass media reflects what we think we are and influences what we think we should be.
Beginning with the news from a nation wide news station to a local newspaper or news program. News media has the ability to stereotype and categorize people of colour, by using words such as minority. Never are minorities not called minorities even when they take up one third of Canada’s population. Along with categorizing people of colour with the use of minority, they include words like crime, poverty and others that stereotype people of colour.4 This is viewed by young non-whites, which make them believe that this how things are and how they should be. The media now have the capability to alter our perceptions of ourselves, and change the way we live our lives. Young African-Americans, who view the news and see how their race is being represented, may possibly alter their perceptions of their lives and view themselves as criminals, when the news relates their race to criminal acts.
The rarity of recognition a person of colour receives in the scholastic proceedings, is viewed among the youth of today. Of course there must be someone, somewhere of colour, “writing or saying something that should be listened to, or producing art that should be seen, heard, approached with intellectual seriousness.”5 This failure to recognize individuals of colour will influence youth not to pursue intellectual readings and to learn educational subjects, which are not represented by their race.
In “Postmodern Blackness” by Bell Hooks, its states, “This discourse created the idea of the ‘primitive’ and promoted the notion of an ‘authentic’ experience, seeing as ‘natural’ those expressions of black life, which conformed to a pre-existing pattern or stereotype.”6 In the news when we see a person of colour committing a crime of some sort, we look at it as being a normal act and this how things are in our society. Whites and non-whites alike look upon the news and make assumptions about how they should act, what their values should be, and how they live their daily lives.
The youth of today will be the first generation to come of age in a North America where racial minorities are the numeric majority. The future of diversity will depend upon a child’s perception on the position of racial identities. The youth of all races will have to expand their conception of race and race relations in ways their parents never knew. Is it important for children to see people of their own race on television? Children of colour are most likely to think so. Caucasian and African-American children can say they see characters of their race on television while Latino and Asian children are much less likely to see their race represented.7 It is the way they are represented which will affect the influence television will have on children.
While some television stations do show diversification in their programming such as OMNI, they are not providing a realistic viewpoint. When a Caucasian character on television is poor, lazy and unintelligent, the show is considered to be comical, such as ‘The Simpson’s’ or ‘Married with Children’, and not taken as realistic.
Whereas, when they are successful, rich and intellectual, the show is considered to be dramatic and viewed as being realistic. African-American characters are rarely presented as being poor, lazy and unintelligent, but always rich and successful, such as ‘The Cosby Show’ and ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’, and are always meant to be comical, but never taken seriously or realistically. Shows like these influence African-American children that their race is not taken seriously and are viewed as being humorous. This would affect a young African-American’s thinking is a sense that he is suppose to be a comedian.
Many television shows give minority actors, minority roles. Taxi drives in most sitcoms are always non-white, grocery store workers and gas station attendants are always non-white, in shows such as ‘Seinfeld’. Although these sitcoms are not suppose to be taken realistic, young individuals of all races are more likely to associate positive characteristics with Caucasian characters and negative characteristics with minority characters. Sitcoms and other television shows have the ability to alter these perceptions, but continue to stereotype minorities.
Still focusing upon the children of today, because they have great faith in the media’s power and it’s potential to influence them. Media can teach children that people of their race are important.8 If television had shows, which evenly distributed the role of characters to all races featuring equality and diversification, they can accomplish sending a message of the importance of all races.
Children look to the media for role models and imitate their favourite character. From the way they dress, talk, style their hair to following the messages sent by their characters. From the haircuts of the women on ‘Friends’ to the baggy fashions of the hip-hop scene, the influence of media on today’s children can be seen everywhere. Beyond superficial messages about style and appearance, children are getting more formative messages from the media. The characters they admire and the news stories they watch send both subtle and explicit signals about their values, their families and their race.9 This shows the importance of the messages being sent out by mass media and the importance of different characters and the characteristics they portray. Many African-American children will look to African-American characters for idols and will portray them.
In “The New Cultural Politics of Difference,” Cornel West states,
The widespread modern European denial of the intelligence, ability, beauty, and character of people of colour puts a tremendous burden on critics and artists of colour to ‘prove’ themselves in light of norms and models set by White elites whose own heritage devalued and dehumanized them. In short, in the court of criticism and art – or any matters regarding the life of the mind – people of colour are guilty (i.e., not expected to meet standards of intellectual achievement) until ‘proven’ innocent (i.e., acceptable to ‘us’).10
The image that people of colour are guilty until proven innocent illustrates to young individuals of all colours that because of this, people of colour are not as intellectual as Caucasians.
In “Postmodern Blackness,” Bell Hooks states,
It is no accident that “rap” has usurped the primary position of rhythm and blues music among young black folks as the most desired sound or that it began as a form of “testimony” for the underclass. It has enabled underclass black youth to develop a critical voice as a group of young black men told me, a “common literacy.” Rap projects a critical voice, explaining, demanding, urging.11
To all young African-Americans, this message is saying that their only voice, their only outlet, is through entertainment in the way of music. They are not enough African-American writers to allow them to consider an outlet that is scholarly. They feel they have to portray the image that is being sent to them through rappers and musicians alike to dress, talk, walk and act the way these rappers ‘say they do,’ in drinking, smoking and heading for drugs.
Young African-American men that watch rap videos, sports, movies and may see many men of their race in this forms of media, but the image they represent is that if you cannot make it as a rapper, actor or athlete, you’ll never become wealthy and successful. Rarely are there images on news media about wealthy African-American businessmen unless it’s criminal; rarely are business shows on television shown where black businessmen are the portrayal of the show. They may be a rarity, but should not be and ought to be discussed in business matters.
Looking at music for influences, from Stanford, Kathleen O’Toole puts in best,
Music alters and intensifies their moods, furnishes much of their slang, dominates their conversations and provides the ambiance at their social gatherings. Music styles define the crowds and cliques they run in. Music personalities provide models for how they act and dress.12
This states that music alters our perception of ourselves and what we should be and how we should act. Our identity is affected and changed according to music videos. Rap videos show African-American singers as doing drinking, smoking, having naked women around them and treating them inappropriately and this is how African-American youth thinks they should act, instead musicians need to send an suitable message out to the youth of today. Also, other races will feel that this is how African-Americans act and will treat them accordingly. Many African-American rappers have lyrics, which are against authority and this influences others alike to perceive the same thoughts.
Everyone of every race has an identity they’d like to call their own. But this identity is usually not their own and influenced by many sources, especially mass media. From music to television to news media, the influence these have on the children of today is immense. Music, television and news media, collectively with other mass medium, have the ability to alter one’s perceptions of oneself and the characteristics of others. Race has always been a touchy subject because of its sensitivity and although I am a person of colour, I may have made some stereotypical comments of both whites and non-whites, but I did so only with the intent of making my point. Mass media reflects what we think we are and influences what we think we should be.
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. “I’m Looking for Me: Children’s Perception of Race and Class in the Media.” Family Matters Newsletter. October 2002. <http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/fammatrs/fm0210e.html> (20 Nov. 2003).
Gandy, Jr., Oscar H. “On Race and the Political Economy of Communication.” Art & Survival: An Internet Review. Issue 2, Volume 1.<http://www.artandsurvival.com/issue2-vol1/dialogue/dialogue_contents.htm> (23 Nov. 2003).
Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory. Patrick William & Laura Chrisman, eds., Pp. 392-403, (c) Columbia University, 1994.
Hooks, Bell. “Postmodern Blackness.” Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics, Pp. 23-31, (c) Between the Lines, 1990.
Lauder, Matthew. “News Media Perpetuation of Racism in a Democratic Society.” Cancon: Articles. <http://www.canadiancontent.ca/articles/071502mediaracism.html> (21 Nov. 2003).
O’Toole, Kathleen. “Rock & Roll: Does it Influence Teens’ Behavior?” Stanford Report [Online]. 1997. <http://www.stanford.edu/dept/news/report/news/november12/ teenmusic.html> (20 Nov. 2003).
Third Way Cafï¿½. “Children and Race in the Media.” Racism: The Public Face. Beyond the News. <http://www.thirdway.com/BTN/racism/public/children.asp> (21 Nov. 2003).
West, Cornel. “The New Cultural Politics of Difference.” The Cultural Reader. 2nded. Simon during, ed., Pp. 256-267, (c) Routledge, 1999.
1 Gandy, Jr., Oscar H. “On Race and the Political Economy of Communication.” Art & Survival: An Internet Review. Issue 2, Volume 1.<http://www.artandsurvival.com/issue2-vol1/dialogue/dialogue_contents.htm> (23 Nov. 2003).
2 Third Way Cafï¿½. “Children and Race in the Media.” Racism: The Public Face. Beyond the News. <http://www.thirdway.com/BTN/racism/public/children.asp> (21 Nov. 2003).
3 Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. “I’m Looking for Me: Children’s Perception of Race and Class in the Media.” Family Matters Newsletter. October 2002. <http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/fammatrs/fm0210e.html> (20 Nov. 2003).
4 Lauder, Matthew. “News Media Perpetuation of Racism in a Democratic Society.” Cancon: Articles. <http://www.canadiancontent.ca/articles/071502mediaracism.html> (21 Nov. 2003).
5 Hooks, Bell. “Postmodern Blackness.” Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics, Pp. 24, (c) Between the Lines, 1990.
6 Ibid. 26.
7 Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. “I’m Looking for Me: Children’s Perception of Race and Class in the Media.” Family Matters Newsletter. October 2002. <http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/fammatrs/fm0210e.html> (20 Nov. 2003).
8 Third Way Cafï¿½.
10 West, Cornel. “The New Cultural Politics of Difference.” The Cultural Reader. 2nded. Simon during, ed., Pp. 256-267, (c) Routledge, 1999.
11 Hooks, Bell. 27.
12 O’Toole, Kathleen. “Rock & Roll: Does it Influence Teens’ Behavior?” Stanford Report [Online]. 1997. <http://www.stanford.edu/dept/news/report/news/november12/ teenmusic.html> (20 Nov. 2003).