How has our understanding of ‘race’ been shaped and influenced by mass media in America in relation to hip-hop?
Mass media, through its selective portrayal of hip-hop has played a crucial role in the way that it has been understood and interpreted over time. The media’s focus on negative aspects of the genre has led to the establishment of a two-class system. This brings forward the theories of Karl Marx in relation to the ‘two-class system’. The media also portrays the dominance of capitalism, and has a sensationalist view where the high powers have hyperbolized selective aspects of the hip-hop culture with the intention of increasing viewership and readership numbers. This sheds light on artists such as Biggie Smalls and his provocative messages about the ghettos in Brooklyn, New York and the stereotypes of African Americans.
Before attempting to understand racism in relation to mass media, one must be familiar with the history and origins of racism. ‘Race’ has become an institutional aspect of American society from the Founding onwards. Since then, race has played a notable role in the shaping of American consciousness. Robert Entman argues in The Black Image in the White Mind “the most widely consumed source—television… is both a barometer of race relations and a potential accelerator either to racial cohesion or to cultural separation and political conflict”. Thus, we can understand why the issue of racism is inextricably linked to depictions made by mass media.
Issues of race relations in America can be used as a case study in Marxist class theory. Marx emphasized that society is divided into two classes: “the exploited” or ‘working’ class and “he exploiters or owners of the means of production” (Marx, K (1975). Moreover, he stressed that one class will ultimately overpower the other using any necessary means. The development of the ‘two-class system’ has become evident in American society. For example, slave owners and slaves used racism as a means to determine the overpowering of the exploited class that being the African Americans. In the 1980s, Michael Reich developed the ‘segmentation theory’, otherwise known as the ‘divide and rule’. This attempted to explain racism through an economic lens in that society’s main goal is to maximize profits and the exploiters will attempt to use any means to “(1) suppress higher wages among the exploited class, (2) weaken the bargaining power of the working class, (3) promote prejudices, (4) segregate the black community, (5) ensure that the elite benefit from the creation of stereotypes and racial prejudices against the black community”. McDonough, T., Reich, M., & Kotz, D. M. (2010). It remains questionable, therefore, whether the media is a tool to promote racism in a volatile society. It can be further questioned whether the elite use the media as a tool to ensure profits are maximized by corporations. So it can be understood that the media has divided the working class and stereotyped young African-American males as ‘gangsters’ or ‘drug dealers’. The media can be held accountable for this social divide, and in turn young African Americans experience difficulty in rising above the ghettos and reaching social advancement. The media has had a profound focus on negative aspects of the black community, for example engagement in drug use, criminal activity and welfare abuse, maintaining the cycle of poverty that the elite demands. The media has a sensationalist approach to the difficulties associated with African Americans, thus demonstrating the way our understanding of ‘race’ has been shaped by mass media. It is for this reason that racism stands as a major issue in American society as individuals within society are not substantially educated on the historical struggles faced by the African-American community. Ultimately, why so many young African Americans turn to violence as they have no opportunity and in which have used hip hop as a way of communicating there...
Bibliography: Cornell West, Race Matters (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 74.
David Goldberg, Racist Culture (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 42.
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