A black man is arrested for leaving his children unattended while he is at work. The media publishes his mug shot, and fails to mention in the headline that when he left for work, his children were with a babysitter who then left the children at the home unattended (Chung, 2017). A white male is arrested for shooting up a high school. At least 17 people are dead, but the media is quick to mention that the boy was a troubled teenager who suffered from mental illness and had a hard life (USA Today, 2018). Time and time again, the media portrays blacks as vicious perpetrators and whites as troubled souls who did not know better. American society was built on white privilege, and that is shown in several aspects of today’s society, including the media. Black men are portrayed as a perpetrator, and white men are portrayed as victims to circumstance when they commit the same crime, or worse. The image the media gives to both ends of the spectrum, have real life consequences and affect outcomes on different circumstances.
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According to the article “Coverage of Black versus White Males in Local Television News Lead Stories” by Tina T Creighton, Curtis L Walker, and Mark R Anderson, “It has been well documented in research that local newscasts misrepresent Blacks as the racial group that is committing most crime [5,6,12]. In one study, researchers, Dixon and Linz  suggest that despite arrest records to the contrary, ‘Blacks were twice as likely as Whites to be portrayed as perpetrators, six times more likely to be portrayed as perpetrators than as officers, and overrepresented as criminals 37% of the time while comprising only 21% of those arrested according to crime reports’” (2014). Black men are constantly being portrayed as dangerous and violent in the media, giving the public a negative image of black males. This is something that has been going on for decades. When searching for a story about a white female cop who shot and killed a black man when she accidentally entered his apartment thinking it was hers, google ranked stories about a black officer who killed a white woman first. The phrase “white female police officer shoots black man” was typed into the search bar, the very first story that came up was that of a black officer who killed a white woman. This is one of many examples of different types of medias pushing the image of black men being dangerous. Blacks are also underrepresented in a myriad of media outlets, which leads to racial bias in the real world. According to The Opportunity Agenda’s article “Media Portrayals and Black Male Outcomes,” “even in the cases when blacks appear in the media as sympathetic and competent figures, they tend not to be ‘relatable’ figures with whom the audience is asked to truly identify. They may not have names (black crime victims are often unnamed, as opposed to their white counterparts who are named); they may lack visible family lives (there are many fewer competent and successful black male fiction characters, compared with white characters); and so forth. In the world as portrayed by the media, life is lived primarily by white (or other non-black) people, with black males, more or less sympathetic, in the background. (See also Bogle, 2003.)” (2011). The media often shows black men as isolated characters who aren’t in positive roles, therefore influencing the image of black men in the real world. The media also over exaggerates negative images of black men, whether that be in a TV show or a news story (The Opportunity Agenda, 2011). The Opportunity Agenda also mentions that, Blacks are overrepresented as perpetrators of violent crime when news coverage is compared with arrest rates [but are underrepresented in the more sympathetic roles of victim, law enforcer]. (Entman & Gross, 2008, p. 98, citing Travis L. Dixon & Daniel Linz, 2000) …[in a small sample of local Chicago TV news from 1993-1994] stories about Blacks were four times more likely to include mug shots [than stories about Whites accused of crimes]. (Entman & Rojecki, 2000, p. 82)” (2011). The fact that blacks are far more likely to have their mug shot included in a news story headline, shows that the media over emphasizes a violent and negative image for blacks.
White men have always been portrayed as heroes in American society, white privilege gives them a free pass on many things in life. For example, according to the article “School Bus Driver Who Raped 14-Year-Old Will Not Go to Prison” by Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura,a white man who is an ex school bus driver recently was given no jail time for raping a 14 year old girl (2019). The man lured her in with alcohol and gifts, then invited the 14 year-old-girl to his home and raped her (Freytas-Tamura, 2019). The article also states that he was given the “lowest-level status on New York’s sex offender registry” (Freytas-Tamura, 2019). This status is given to offenders with a “low risk of committing another similar crime, and means that his future addresses will not be made public” (Freytas-Tamura, 2019). The judge explained his sentencing in that the perpetrator had “no prior arrests and that only one victim had been involved” (Freytas-Tamura, 2019). The explanation given by the judge is a prime example of just how far white privilege can reach to save the image of a white man. Similarly, in the well-known case of Brock Turner, a white male college student was charged with raping an unconscious girl at a party (Grinberg and Shoichet, 2016). He was released from jail after 3 months of serving his sentence for sexual assault (Grinberg and Shoichet, 2016). Again, we see white men getting off easy because of their white privilege, and the media jumping to their rescue to make them seem less of a perpetrator. Creighton, Walker, and Anderson also state that, “When it comes to crime, news outlets, on the other hand, tend to show White adults in much more positive roles compared to Blacks . Whites are overrepresented as police officers when employment records do not support that representation . Local news, with its typically heavy focus on urban crime, may have some responsibility for this exaggerated perception ” (2014).
As the media constantly enhances the gap between the perception of blacks and whites, real consequences are happening that furthers the gap even more. According to an article by Andrew Welsh-Huggins, earlier this year in Ohio four black inmates were chained to a table at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, one white supremacist inmate was let loose with a knife and the four black inmates were attacked and stabbed several times (2019). It was believed by the inmates that the guards set up this attack because of the time it took for the attacks to be stopped and the fact that the inmates were chained up to a table (Welsh-Huggins, 2019). The inmate that attacked the four black inmates pleaded not guilty in the charges made against him (Welsh-Huggins, 2019). An Ohio prosecutor called the video of the attack “quite disturbing” and said that he was not happy with the amount of time it took the guards to respond, but he also said that he “wasn’t going to second-guess the actions of the guards that day [and saw] no evidence of a setup” (Welsh-Huggins, 2019). This is another example of whites having an unfair and unnecessary leverage and advantage over black people. Not only were the four inmates chained to a table and attacked but nobody believes that this somehow was set up by the guards. If this was the other way around, the attacker would have been immediately found guilty and the incident most likely would have been looked into much more to find out if this was actually a setup. Yet again a white man is given leeway in a violent scenario because of the perception white males have been given in the media and in life. Another scenario of whites being given more lenient treatment because of their perception in the media is that a white man who shot up a historically black church and gunned down nine people was taken to a nearby burger king by police while he was in custody because he was “polite” and “quiet” and complained that he was hungry (McCormack, 2017). A man who had just violently gunned down a group of black people was given the benefit of the doubt by police because he was quiet. This is a perfect example of people not believing as much that white men can be violent and dangerous because of their representation and portrayal in the media. If this had been a black man, the scenario would not have been the same. The man blatantly showed that he was dangerous and violent and police still gave him the treatment of an innocent man and almost made it seem as if they felt bad for him.
Another way that the media effects real life in regards to the gap between blacks vs whites, is that since black men are underrepresented as heroes and good guys in the media, they are also underrepresented in real life positions of “heroes” or roles of authority. This leads to an even bigger gap between whites and blacks and leads to white police officers taking advantage of their role of authority since they are seen as heroes anyway, they get away with a lot more violent and racist acts. According to mappingpoliceviolence.org, “black people are most likely to be killed by police, [they are] 3x more likely to be killed by police than white people, [and] 30% of black victims were unarmed in 2015 compared to 21% of white victims” (2019). The website also states that “fewer than 1 in 3 black people killed by police in 2014 were suspected of a violent crime and allegedly armed” (2019). 69% of black victims were non-violent and unarmed (mappingpoliceviolence.org, 2019). The position of authority that white men are given, and the underrepresentation of blacks in the police force lead to a significant gap in the amount of blacks vs whites that are victim to police shootings. There is also no accountability for officers that are involved in violent shootings and killings of black people, according to mappingpoliceviolence.org, “99% of cases in 2015 have not resulted in any officer(s) involved being convicted of a crime” (2019). Officers are killing people who are most of the time are unarmed and not suspected of being violent and are not being held accountable for their actions. They are being given a free ride and this is not only letting them know that they can get away with violent acts but it is also further pushing the misconception that police, mainly white police, can do no wrong and are heroes regardless. This is one direct result of underrepresentation in the media for blacks as hero figures and overrepresentation of white men as non-violent, safe samaritans and heroes. One of the many example of police violence toward blacks is that according the an NBC news article by Erik Ortiz, in February of 2019 a young black male was asleep in his car, six officers were patrolling his car and instead of trying to wake up the boy to question him, they shot at his car at least 20 times, some of the bullets striking the victim and killing him on the scene (2019). It was stated by police officers that two patrol cars were the first to spot the victim’s car in the parking lot of a Taco Bell around 10:30 pm, they reported the driver of the vehicle was asleep over the wheel (Ortiz, 2019). They also said that they noticed a handgun in the driver’s lap, at this time they did not decide to try to wake the driver up and instead called for more patrol units, and as one of the patrol cars was placing itself behind the driver’s vehicle he woke up (Ortiz, 2019). According to police the driver was given “ ‘several commands’ to put his hands up”, when he did not comply the police said it appeared that he moved his hands down toward the firearm (Ortiz, 2019). It was then that the officers claimed to “fear for their safety” and assume fire toward the victim, more than 20 shots to the car later, the victim was dead (Ortiz, 2019). It should not have taken six officers to shoot at or patrol this boy that was asleep in his car, they could have woken him up before calling for more backup and they did not have to shoot at him as many as times as they did. This is a perfect example of officers abusing their power and killing an innocent black man at the excuse that they “feared for their safety”. According to the article “Where Police Don’t Mirror Communities and Why It Matters” by Mike Maciag, “The longstanding perception of police as an oppressive force has hurt minority recruitment, and some fear it has only worsened due to recent shootings. ‘Many people in our society see us as not always [standing] up for their best interests, and you certainly see that in recruiting,’ said Irving police Lt. John Mitchell” (2015). Not only does the perception given to whites vs blacks in the media and the underrepresentation of blacks in the police force affect those in the community because of police violence, but it also affects whether or not blacks want to enter the police force, therefore making it harder to close the gap between whites and blacks in the force. The police violence that is seen in communities towards blacks and other minorities makes it much harder for those minorities to want to join that group of authority. They believe that the police aren’t doing enough not only to represent them but to protect and serve them. Maciag also states that, “Delores Jones-Brown, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the policing profession is mired by a legacy of racism, and many of the best-qualified minority candidates instead take their skills to the private sector. Further compounding matters, young black men are already disproportionately burdened with prior arrests, disqualifying them from police work. Recent shootings provoking public uproar involved African Americans, so observers most often argue to increase their numbers in law enforcement” (2015). Again, the underrepresentation of blacks in the police force makes it harder for black males to want to join the police force. It is also intimidating for black males to enter a force that has historically been predominantly white and racist. Again and again the underrepresentation and the portrayal of blacks in the media affects the outcome of real scenarios and the stereotypes of blacks and whites further the gap more and more.
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Overall, the media gives a negative view of black males, and a falsely positive view of white males that affects the image of black and white males in the real world as well as affects the treatment of black males vs the treatment of white males. There is a large gap between whites and blacks that the media only continuously makes larger by misrepresenting each category of men. This misrepresentation comes from the ignorance of the media and lack of effort. Ignorance that comes from years of negative thinking in regards to people of color (that is a completely different story in itself). Lack of effort because if people in the media were actually in touch with the people they are delivering news to they would know that the difference in representation between black and whites is staggering. All you have to do is look at the headlines when each of them do something wrong. If a person of color commits a crime or is the victim, the headline is typically an attack on the person’s character along with a mugshot or a picture that does not depict the person they actually are. For a white person, the headline is the complete opposite. It typically says that the person was a great husband or a great student that had a history of mental problems, basically justifying their actions and saying that the crime they committed is way off from the person they seemed to be. Whether or not this is purposeful or not does not make this acceptable in the slightest. There needs to be an emphasis on making everyone look the same throughout the media, a killer is a killer and the victim’s family does not need to see in the media that their family member deserved whatever happened to them because of what they have done in the past. It is up to media members holding themselves and each other accountable for their portrayal of different types of people in the news because their job is to get it right regardless of the circumstances. The future of media needs to be more inclusive of blacks in creating headlines and stories to therefore reduce the amount of misleading headlines in regards to the perpetrator or victim. If the media crews are more diverse, there will be more thought put into how the headline and how the story is portrayed. The media also should further implement black males as roles of positive influencers and role models in communities and in TV shows and movies to try to eliminate the stereotype that black males are dangerous and violent. Although the changes may not happen overnight, it is a change that needs to happen in order to close the gap between races and make the world a more fair and less oppressive place.
- Chung, Maya. “Community Helps Man Arrested After Leaving Kids Home Alone to Go to Work.” Inside Edition, Inside Edition, 20 Aug. 2017, www.insideedition.com/headlines/25068-community-helps-man-arrested-after-leaving-kids-home-alone-to-go-to-work.
- Creighton, Trina T, et al. “Coverage of Black versus White Males in Local Television News Lead Stories.” OMICS International, OMICS International, 17 Sept. 2014, www.omicsonline.org/open-access/coverage-of-black-versus-white-males-in-local-television-news-lead-stories-2165-7912.1000216.php?aid=30998.
- Editors. “Florida School Shooting: What We Know about Nikolas Cruz, Attack at Parkland High School.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 15 Feb. 2018, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/02/15/florida-shooting-what-we-know-attack-parkland-high-school/340110002/.
- Freytas-tamura, Kimiko De. “School Bus Driver Who Raped 14-Year-Old Will Not Go to Prison.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 Apr. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/04/30/nyregion/bus-driver-rape-watertown.html.
- Grinberg, Emanuella, and Catherine E. Shoichet. “Brock Turner Released after 3 Months in Jail.” CNN, Cable News Network, 3 Sept. 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/09/02/us/brock-turner-release-jail/index.html.
- Maciag, Mike. “Where Police Don't Mirror Communities and Why It Matters.” Governing, 2015, www.governing.com/topics/public-justice-safety/gov-police-department-diversity.html.
- “Mapping Police Violence.” Mapping Police Violence, 2019, mappingpoliceviolence.org/.
- McCormack, Simon. “Cops Bought Dylann Roof Burger King Hours After Charleston Shooting.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/dylann-roof-burger-king_n_7645216?guccounter=1.
- Ortiz, Erik. “'It Seems like an Execution': 6 Officers Open Fire on Man Asleep in Car.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 2019, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/california-rapper-sleeping-car-killed-police-who-opened-fire-n971241.
- The Opportunity Agenda. “A Social Science Literature Review.” The Opportunity Agenda, 2011, www.opportunityagenda.org/explore/resources-publications/media-representations-impact-black-men.
- Welsh-huggins, Andrew. “Video Shows Brutality of Knife Attack on Helpless Inmates.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 25 Jan. 2019, www.apnews.com/0bd447b0070f4000af5a3c984ecbf7f1.
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