19 April 2015
The Media’s Portrayal of Minorities
Arabs as barbarics, African Americans as drug dealers, Hispanics as gang members and Asians as kung fu fighters. We’ve all seen at least one of these examples whether it was on a television show, in a movie or even on an advertisement. In the discussions of the media’s portrayal of minorities, most of us will readily agree that the media has a tendency to stereotype and misrepresent minority groups. This argument continues to say that media will continue to place minorities in a negative light creating social boundaries. Where this agreement usually ends, however, is with the idea of using the media as a tool to represent both dominant and marginal groups equally. It is my own view that non-representation of minorities in the media is much more harmful than the stereotypes themselves. Although the visibility of minorities in the mainstream media may seem trivial, it is in fact crucial in terms of today’s concern over building equal representation.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the mass media, news and entertainment teaches the public about minorities. This curriculum taught to the public has a powerful impact, especially to those who do not have direct relationships with the members of the groups described. For instance, there are numerous accounts of films that depict Arabs as a barbaric, animal like creatures. What comes most shocking is that this heinous stereotype has even appeared in a children’s movie. In the opening scene of the1992 Disney film “Aladdin” the theme song describes “a land from a faraway place, where the caravan camels roam, where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but hey its home.” Marvin Wingfield of the American-Arab, Anti-Discrimination Committee asserts:
Thus the film immediately characterizes the Arab world as alien, exotic and “other.” Arab Americans see this film as perpetuating the tired stereotype of the Arab world as a place of deserts and camels, of arbitrary cruelty and barbarism.
To add insult to injury, in one scene as a poor Arab woman attempts to steal an apple for her starving son an Arab man portrayed as a raging barbaric catches her in the act and becomes excited at the idea of chopping off the woman’s hand as punishment. Although this “innocent” children’s movie has it’s own theatrical charm, its unfortunate down fall unveils some disturbing stereotypes.
These typical Hollywood stereotypes have created social boundaries and unjust inequalities for cultural minority groups. Carlos Cortes—a Cultural Consultant for Nickelodeon’s “Dora the Explorer,” Professor of the Emeritus History, Author of The Children Are Watching states, “Only about 40 percent of the nation’s 1,600 daily newspapers employ any minorities in editorial staff positions.” Also adding, “it still must be remembered that in six decades of Academy Awards, only three blacks, two Asians, one Puerto Rican, and one Chicano have won Oscars for acting. That makes an average of just over one per decade.” This has provoked minority groups to protest and try to convince industry decision makers to allow for better minority representation in entertainment and better balance in news coverage in hopes to stop negative views from forming.
While we attack the media for presenting us with such stereotypes we need to examine the bigger picture. Attacking the media will not solve the problem at hand. Instead we need to shift our attention to empowering these groups. Jokes Hermes, in a presentation regarding combating stereotypes said:
Our focus should not be on everyday practices of stereotyping. Nor is it much use to target and scapegoat the media instead of the social constellations that permit structural inequality to continue to exist. While to scapegoat the media is easy, it does not solve material social problems. To empower marginal groups, whether women, gay and lesbian, men and women, transgender persons, the disabled, to develop a public voice is a much better strategy.
Stereotypes are open and ambiguous, they have and will continue to have a presence in the media. It is an ideal solution to use the media as a tool to represent and give a voice to both dominant and marginal groups equally. Another example of using the media as a tool of empowerment for both groups is a growing marketing trend referred to as “visual diversity.” Marketers have taken a new approach by putting the faces of all races, gender and age on their ads in order to connect to a more widespread audience. “Going forward, all advertising is going to be multicultural by definition, because in most states, majority ethnic populations will no longer exist.” Says Danny Allen, managing director at SENSIS Ad Agency in Los Angeles. In 2009, Pepsi produced an iconic Super Bowl commercial which featured people from all walks for life, all races, and included a visual collage of the past and present. They utilized the musical collaboration of African-America rapper Will.I.Am and white American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan to play as the background music to the ad. Whether we like it or not the media permits a certain type of legitimacy to people, places and things. So while some may criticize the marketing approach as just another smart business tactic it clearly exhibits our nation’s progress on our racial perspective.
As we’ve discussed the media’s tendency to inadequately represent minority groups the argument of non-representation amongst them could prove to be more harmful than the stereotypes themselves. Without representation in the media there is no identity, without identity there is no voice. It is a much better solution to focus on empowerment among minorities and use the media as a tool, rather than just a scapegoat.