American Popular Culture as an Instrument of Racial Oppression
The cultural images produced by the media serve to further oppress racialized groups in America and form national psyches which allow America’s institutionalized racism to prosper. Images proposed by the media and popular culture have made claims about all different racialized groups in America. The media has been instrumental in perpetuating ideas about the black male perp, the black male buffoon, all black Americans since the days of slavery as “darkies,” who are content with playing in the mud, Americans of European descent as harmless, safe, and normal, Asian Americans as dangerous, inassimilable aliens, who pose a threat to Americans, the American Indian culture as a joke, and suitable to be applied to American sporting events, and Chicanos/as as criminals, among the other various vicious stereotypes given to the different groups in American society. This paper will discuss the problems of the American media, and how national psyches are constructed as a result of the racism that is so prevalent in the media and that is demanded by its audiences, but will also emphasize that the racism in popular culture is nothing new, and America has a legacy of racism.
Since the birth of America, she has been a racist country that misrepresents its minorities in order to create racial hierarchies, which are as socially constructed as the idea of race itself. In Werner Sollors’s “How Americans Became White: Three Examples” he discusses the early appearance of racism in American. He quotes Friedrich Alexander von Humboldt who states, “‘In a country dominated by whites those families of whom it is assumed that they are least intermingled with Negro or Mulatto blood are the ones most highly honored,’” (Sollors, 3). This is a testament to the ways in which popular images have served to subjugate people who defy the white-American ideals. Furthermore, Sollors seeks to show that, from the beginning, whiteness was equated with power, and it enabled those people to make up the aristocracy. Since the colonization of the Americas, white people have been given privileges. Robert Jensen’s “White Privilege Shapes the U.S.” is written about that privilege, which has been so manifest in any examination of American history, yet the privileged people, the whites, often have no acknowledgement of it. Jensen states that people are put into their places in society, and “we are the product of both what we will ourselves to be and what the society in which we live lets us be,” (Jensen, 117). For white Americans, this means that they will almost never be feared by others, and will usually be viewed as safe or harmless. Jensen writes, “…when I seek admission to a university, apply for a job, or hunt for an apartment, I don’t look threatening. Almost all of the people evaluating me for those things look like me-they are white. They see me in a reflection of themselves-and in a racist world, that is an advantage…I’m not dangerous…after all, I’m white,” (Jensen, 116). This is the way white Americans are viewed; this is the national psyche regarding them. Jensen also states that he has the privilege of walking into a store, and not being followed around, as if he is likely steal something. This is a privilege that certainly does not extend to Black men, due to the misrepresentation of Black men in the media. Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s “The Criminalization of Black Men” laments that Black men are always feared as dangerous, despite the actual crime statistics that show that white men are indeed the ones Americans should fear. Hutchinson states, “White males committed 54% of violent crimes in America…White males were 80% of America’s drug users and abusers…White males committed the majority of serial and mass murders,” (Hutchinson, 420). With information like that, it is mind-boggling to think that Black men are still so criminalized, while white men live under the protection of...
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