'What has changed in 12 years?'
Yale Political Quarterly
Volume 21, Number 1
by Stephen Balkaran
The history of African-Americans is a centuries old struggle against oppression and discrimination. The media have played a key role in perpetuating the effects of this historical oppression and in contributing to African-Americans' continuing status as second-class citizens. As a result, white America has suffered from a deep uncertainty as to who African-Americans really are. Despite this racial divide, something indisputably American about African-Americans has raised doubts about the white man's value system. Indeed, it has also aroused the troubling suspicion that whatever else the true American is, he is also somehow black. 2
American race relations provides a case study in Marxist class theory. Marx argued that society has two classes: the exploited or working class, and the exploiters or owners of the means of production. He further stressed that one class will ultimately overpower the other using any necessary means. Looking at American society we can clearly see the development of the two class system. There were slave owners and slaves, and racism served as a means to overpower the exploited class.
Reich argues that the major corporations in the U.S. (e.g. Time Warner, Coca Cola, General Motors, etc.) all have at least one member on each other's corporate boards of directors. As a result, it is in the interest of these members to maximize profits while employing the above devices. The mere fact of these corporate executives' sharing economic corporate power, combined with the quest for economic profit has now paved the way for economic discrimination. But the question still remains, is the media one of the tools used to promote racism? Does the elite use the media to ensure profits are maximized by corporations?
One of the main reasons for the inadequate coverage of the underlying causes of racial stereotypes in the U.S. is that the condition of blacks itself is not a matter of high interest to the white majority. Their interest in black America is focused upon situations in which their imagined fear becomes a real problem. Events like boycotts, pickets, civil rights demonstrations, and particularly racial violence mark the point at which black activity impinges on white concerns. It is not surprising that the white-oriented media seek to satisfy the needs of their white audience and reflect this pattern of attention to these selected events.Research has disclosed that most serious crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, and assault) in inner cities are committed by a very small proportion of African-American youth, some 8% by estimates. 7 Yet the tendency to characterize all African-American males as criminals continues in our society. It is now common for law officers to stop young black males and to harass them as a result of this stereotype. The negative stereotype has continued to affect the black community, as well as their prospects for employment and advancement. All this has been destroyed and, as a end result, it has contributed to high unemployment within the African-American community.
Although there are significant variations in school dropout rates from community to community, nationally the dropout rates for both blacks and whites have decreased since the 1970's. The proportion of African-American high school dropouts fell from 24 to 13 percent from 1972 to 1991. When family income and other background differences are taken into account, African-American youths are no more likely than whites to drop out of school. For many African-American youths, staying in school has not improved their prospects for full- or part-time employment. In fact, unemployment among this group remains at more than twice the rate for white youths. 9 The consequence of racially biased coverage is to maintain racist stereotypes in popular culture and to lead us towards an increasingly dysfunctional society. Given that the news media are staffed and controlled almost exclusively by whites, it follows that the media-reinforced popular consensus is that of the predominant sub-culture. The dysfunctional aspect of this bias emerges when the realistic concerns of African-Americans are dismissed as irrelevant or threatening to the majority population.
Thanks to Ronald Taylor Ph.D., Director of the Institute for African American Studies and Professor of Sociology, Darryl McMiller, Ph.D. Professor of Political Science, and Rose Lovelace, Program Coordinator of the IAAS at the University of Connecticut for their help in researching and documenting this paper.
1 Ronald L. Taylor, "The Harm Wrought by Racial Stereotype," Hartford Courant, 19 March 1995, D1.
2 Ralph Ellison, What America Would be like without Blacks. (Preager Press, 1970), 4.
3 David Goldberg, Racist Culture (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 42.
4 Paul G. Hartmann, Racism and the Media (Rowman & Littlefield Press, 1974),147.
5 Cornell West, Race Matters (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 74.
6 Ibid., 3.
7 Ronald L. Taylor, "The Harm Wrought by Racial Stereotype," Hartford Courant, 19 March 1995, D4.
8 Ibid., D4.9 Ibid., D4.
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