The Representation of Race in Mass-Media

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Race as a discourse, has emerged from society romanticizing the idea of biological and psychological differences existing between various ethnic groups. To comprehend and analyze the phenomenon of this racial dilemma, one must have a complete understanding of how culture and identity work hand-in-hand within our society. By controlling most of the social institutions, such as mass communication, politics and corporations; the dominant culture methodically overpowers and exploits the ethnic minority groups, in order to establish its own cultural identity. One such institution is mass media- an industry that not only historically oppresses ethnic minority groups such as African-Americans, but also diminishes their societal status to that of a second-class citizen through the use of stereotypical representations. Because, it is controlled predominantly by the white liberal elites- an autocratic, financially driven organization, whose main objective is to protect the integrity of white culture; mass media industry is therefore, forced to reject all moral conventions, in order to present ethnic minorities as antagonists. The ideas of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Stuart Hall accurately represent the century-old exploitative and oppressive nature of mass media- an industry that has perpetually employed racialized discourse and racist expressions against ethnic minorities such as African-Americans, in order to portray them as subordinate.

Stuart Hall, a cultural theorist and sociologist from the United Kingdom, suggests that humanity should simply not just study the theme of culture, but also view it as a primary source of social interactions (Proctor 16). Because culture is a site of an ongoing struggle of power between different ethnic groups, what Hall is suggesting is that, one should only study it with the mindset of exposing each and every one its negative consequences on humanity. According to Hall, in American culture, the mass media industry is one of the main reasons why such a power struggle continues to exist within our society. He describes mass media as an industry that not only generates and influences the beliefs of mankind, but also produces “representations of the social world, images, descriptions, explanations, and frames for understanding how the world is and why it works as it is said and shown to work” (Hall, “The Whites” 19). Since the beginning of time, race has played a vital role in the transformation of human consciousness. Therefore, as long as this notion exists in our society, mass media will continue to exploit it for financial profits. During the eighteenth-century, racial stereotyping was so widespread in the United States that any illustrator could pick up a pen and draw minorities based on the two themes of their lack of culture and innate laziness (Hall, “Representation” 249). These caricaturists and cartoonists degraded the African-American community by exaggerating their physical characteristics: big noses, frizzy hair, wide faces, dark complexion, thick lips and hips, etc (Hall, “Representation” 249). Hall describes such a form of ethnic discrimination as a “racialized regime of representation”, a phenomenon that continues to exist, even in the twenty-first century (Hall, “The Whites” 26).

Throughout history, African-Americans have always been presented as a race that is juvenile, one-dimensional, and greedy for money and sex, and perpetrators of violence and crime (Hall, “Representation” 272). The uneven distribution of power in American culture has allowed the white population to characterize the lives of African-Americans as inferior, an objectification that has been frozen in time and space. Popular representations of racial stereotypes against African-Americans can be examined in the American cinema of the mid-twentieth-century. Donald Bogle’s 1973 critical study titled, Toms, Coons, Mulattos, Mammies, And Bucks: an interpretive history of blacks in African films analyzed the five...
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