Literature Review: African American Stereotype

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Perception of Black American Stereotypes in Mass Media

Introduction
Derogatory images of minority groups remain a commonplace in society despite marked improvements in white Americans’ racial attitudes over the last several decades. Social, ethnic, and racial stereotypes, the ‘‘pictures in the head’’ that members of one group form of other groups, are often uncomplimentary, for, in addition to their purely cognitive function, they are motivated by an ethnocentric bias to enhance one’s own group and to disparage out-groups (Sigelman 1997). Popular culture is an exceptional means for gaining an insight into what masses of people are thinking, feeling, and dreaming (Lemons 1977). Historically, the media has depicted highly negative images of Blacks. Prior the late 1900’s, whites constructed entertainment media with a white audience in mind. Because of this, whites were depicted in the most flattering of ways, where as other minorities, primarily Negroes, were depicted in a harsh and negative light. Mass produced music, cheap magazines, comics, and mass circulation of newspapers began to circulate in the 1890’s allowing for black stereotypes in popular culture to be seen nationally. This literature review will serve as an exploration of black stereotypes as depicted in mass media.

Black’s Perception of White Stereotypes on Blacks
Stereotypes in general serve to “reinforce the beliefs and disbeliefs of its users” as well as provide “solidarity for the prejudiced.” White Americans’ negative stereotypes of blacks have softened as racial attitudes in the United States have become liberalized. Negative stereotypes of blacks can promote white resistance to neighborhood integration and lessen support of equal opportunity and multiculturalism. While addressing stereotypes, it is important to address not only public perception, but perception of one’s own group as seen by other racial groups. In particular with this case, it is important to observe how blacks perceive themselves in confluence with the perception of blacks by white Americans.

A 1988 survey’s results showed that many whites perceived blacks as less ambitious, less attached to work and work ethic, and more likely to engage in crime. While these images of racial and ethnic groups by whites foster a negative racial climate they prove whites as significant because they have influence over other attitudes toward these groups (Sigelman, 1997).

In a study on meta-stereotypes, blacks perceptions of blacks by whites, black Americans were asked the question “Do you think that most white Americans hold the following perceptions of black Americans?” The response showed that at least two-thirds of blacks saw whites as endorsing every uncomplimentary stereotype. The majority of blacks alleged that most whites viewed them as “violent, unintelligent, immoral, lazy, undisciplined whiners who abuse drugs and alcohol and would rather live off welfare than work.” In addition to those perceptions, most blacks also believed that they were viewed as religious and athletic by whites. Though neither blacks nor whites have the tendency to project their own policy preferences onto the other race, blacks exaggerate the conservatism of whites while whites exaggerate the liberalism of blacks. In order to determine how accurately blacks perceive whites’ stereotypes of blacks then one must have accurate information about whites’ stereotypes of blacks (Sigelman, 1997).

Black American Stereotypes Popular Culture
Blacks Perceived as “Comical”
Black stereotypes of the Zip Coon, Jim Crow, and Aunt Jamima were extremely prevalent in mass media at the turn of the twentieth century. These degrading images became a statement of black culture. Popular culture presented Negroes as comical figures. The black figure took the crown as the most popular comic character of this time. This stereotype, as shown in minstrel and vaudeville became extremely difficult to part ways from. Between 1900...
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