Racial Stereotypes

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Although demeaning and offensive racial stereotypes were pervasive in popular media of every kind during the 20th century, most observers would agree that the media is much more sensitive to representations of race today. But the pernicious effects of that stereotyping live on in the new racism arising from disparities in the treatment of stories involving whites and people of color in a ratings-driven news market, media-enhanced isolationism as a result of narrowcasting, and other sources. This paper examines the role media has in the perpetuation of racism in Canada through stereotypes. A background to the topic of racism in Canada is offered first where concepts such as the other, whiteness, and white privilege are explored. These concepts are than linked to demonstrate the cognitive processes involved in stereotype formation and transmission. Additionally the perpetuation of racial stereotypes is explored as several case studies are presented which have indicated the persistence of racial stereotypes in the media. Evidently, the paper will examine stereotypes in media such as television, cinema, news, and advertising.

Racism in Canada has been demonstrated clearly by the sense of “whiteness” or white privilege. Just as there are racial identities of color in Canada, there is also a white racial identity. Peggy McIntosh, in her article “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, has defined the concept as a “packet of unearned assets that white people could count on cashing each day, and about which they were meant to ream oblivious” (McIntosh, 1990). In her article, Peggy McIntosh had listed some privileges put forth by being white. She talked for instance about her being financially reliable just by appearance, simply because of the color of her skin; or her being sure to not be single out whenever she is pulled out by the police or the IRS; or her again being sure to get legal or medical assistance whenever she needs it, all these simple because she was a white person. Furthermore, Frankenberg mentions some examples of white privilege as well. She mentioned examples of “white people moving to the opposite side of the street when two, tall black men approach on a sidewalk. These people do not move aside when approaching other white people because they are assumed to be good or normal. She also indicated that she received shoddy or poor service when she went into cafes in her town with friends of color” (Frakenburg, 1996). Whiteness or white privilege is evident everywhere; a realistic example is in student life. Powell also found that white students know the rules of the game and are better achievers just as members of white society know the rules of the game. This is one of the advantages of being white- they learn the rules as they group up and succeed in life. Those who are not white never get a chance to learn the rules and they are generally not successful. “White students who were overwhelmed and unable to finish the paper asked for an extension. Several of them took an extra 24 hours and turned in A papers, receiving an A-. Black students also reported lack of time as a major difficult in competing the paper; however, none of them considered asking for an extension, which as one black woman said, 1) would put me (the teacher) in an awkward situation and 2) would feel like asking for welfare” (Powell, 1997).

One way that white privilege is maintained is through the construction of stereotypes of people of color. Generally these stereotypes are different from ideas of a “normal Canadian” and depict negative images. People of color are expected to conform to the values of whiteness; yet this is impossible because it based on race. Even if a person’s family has been in Canada or the US for a number of generations, a person of color will never be as good as a white person and will never be allowed access to the privileges that accompany color in our society. White privilege has directly influenced numerous forms of...
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