Many forms of media, especially televised media, have a negative influence on racism in America. In our society they often perpetuate the myth of white supremacy.
I didn’t know what racism meant as a child, but I also never saw people of color represented on television or in books or newspapers. My earliest memory of noticing a person of color in television was a remarkably negative experience.
I was nine years old in 1991 when I watched on the television as a black man was brutally beaten by a group of police. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was scared. Seeing him lying there unable to defend himself, unable to run, unable to protect his own life, was beyond disturbing. I knew it was wrong. In my 9-year-old logic there could be no reason for that. But at home my dad said Rodney King deserved to be beaten for running. I didn’t understand, as he was barely moving in the video. But he had been running from the police before that, and had a record of evasion and drug abuse. Maybe in an authoritarian society that would warrant being beaten to death on the side of the road. I don’t know.
What I learned from the media that day was life-changing. My previous view that police were community servants and protectors, switched to the view that police were enforcers, punishers, ultimate authority; police were white.
It’s not surprising with shows like COPS, where the camera lens was constantly being pointed at people of color, especially black people breaking the law. In contrast, there were television shows like The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Family Matters, all which portrayed mostly “white-washed” black people, views, and situations. Such shows rarely addressed racism, colorism and the difficulties of life without the privilege enjoyed by whites.
People of color had representation in these shows, but without accurate and positive representation of their culture, most depictions were negative.
There is an infamous, emotionally jarring, and highly relatable scene from The Fresh Prince. Will (Will Smith), who lives with his uncle and has an absentee father, broke down in his uncle’s arms, crying because his father didn’t want him. This scene is especially significant because fatherless homes are more prevalent in communities of color than white communities. Many statistical studies show 57.6 percent of black children live without fathers in the home. Thirty-one percent of Hispanic children live without fathers in the home. Compare these numbers to just 20.7 percent of white children.
Today, most people can agree that blatant racism in television is almost nonexistent. In fact, the last 50 years have been occupied by media that broke color barriers in advertisements and programs, by introducing campaigns and shows that featured African-American, Hispanic, and Asian faces. However, this is not enough. There is still a subtle undertone running through the screen and right into our brains. Characters like the “token black man,” the “fool,” the “lazy one,” or the “bad guy/girl” still persist in the media. This is extremely detrimental to society. Being aware of these issues is of utmost importance. Recognizing white privilege and the damage it causes, especially if you’re white, is the priority. Harriet Tubman once said she could have freed more blacks if only she’d been able to convince them they were slaves. In our era, putting this on the opposite spectrum means that whites must realize their privilege and understand that white supremacy is a lie before they can be released from the bondage of racism.