Mahnoor Imran, YGI Staff Writer
In every society, the media plays an influential role in the way a civilization develops and prospers. In a way, its portrayal of topics and issues can result in a phenomenon comparable to the butterfly effect. One small alteration in the manner in which the media presents a certain piece of information can largely affect the opinions of a nation. Those misconceptions travel down through words and actions and can become the instigators for issues like islamophobia and racial prejudice.
These modern methods of mass communication raise many questions: How does it impact the development of society as a whole? What negative stereotypes does it perpetuate? What toxic societal trends does it create?
American media has metaphorically become a race in which the racial and religious minorities trail behind while privileged classes dominate public opinion, winning the trophy every time. It has become a game in which minority groups are the pawns and journalists are the players and hold the control. Practically every news report, article, or broadcast evaporates into a mist of propaganda and one-sided perceptions. It has clouded people’s minds and judgements leading to outbursts of violence and hatred deep rooted in phobia. The fact of the matter is that western media prioritizes the value of white lives over racial and religious minorities. It is what plays a major role in the bigotry presented in many Americans.
Portrayal of Black People
The discoveries of Harvard’s Project Implicit determined
that approximately 88 percent of white Americans have an implicit racial bias against black people, with a racially homogeneous media industry. In New York City, statistics from the Color of Change report that local news stations are representing 3 out of every 4 criminals as Black (75%), when the NYPD’s actual Black arrest rate is in actuality, only 2 out of 4 people (51%). When media makers get the proportions so egregiously unrealistic, it reinforces a culture in which the benefit of the doubt is not distributed evenly, resulting in a more hostile environment for blacks.
In addition, there is an underrepresentation of blacks with experts called in to offer perspectives and analysis in the news, characters in video games, and empathetic characters with well-developed lives in television shows and films. Instead, they are often depicted as the embodiment of criminality, unemployment, and poverty. Positive associations are more limited, specifically with sports, virility, and musicality. The media largely ignores issues like black economic disadvantage and the obstinate continuance of anti-black male bias.
Through the specific wording in article headlines, the news also treats white suspects better in contrast to black victims. It seems as though journalists go to an extra length to enhance the suspect’s character, carrying quotes that describe them in a positive manner while criminal records are dug up for black victims which describe them in a negative manner. For example, the top headline from Whittier Daily News uses quotations to express a man’s disbelief that Elliot Rodger could have been the cause for the mass shooting in Santa Barbara, California. The bottom title from AL.com highlights the drug abuse history of a 25-year-old black man who died in a shooting in Alabama. In many other instances, the “lone wolf” characterization is often utilized by journalists for other white criminals, outlining that the cause for the crime was due to mental illness or emotional instability.
Portrayal of Muslims
When it comes to the topic of Islam, there are endless misconceptions about Muslims that are clearly displayed through the way they are portrayed. Islamophobia has become the mainstream media discourse where Muslims are illustrated as murderous fanatics in movies, videos and computer games.
Similar stereotypes can be seen in the Muslim character Sayid Jarrah on ABC’s Lost. Formerly having worked for the Iraqi Republican Guard, he is recurrently shown using torture to extract information from prisoners. Despite the level of care taken to show that Jarrah is a member of an anti-terrorism squad, his actions are constantly exposed as inherently violent. Through the six seasons, these themes of non-violence vs. violence are brought up and results in a personal struggle for him to choose which side he feels morally connected to. In crime dramas such as CSI or Criminal Minds, patriarchal issues come into play since Muslim women are almost always represented as victims of male domestic violence and women’s appearances in police films or television shows are often cut short by a male who asserts his supremacy. Not surprisingly, it appears that the most common words used when describing Muslim women by journalists and politicians are synonymous with ‘segregated’, ‘beaten’, and ‘abused’.
Specifically in the news, there is a media bias when it comes to these topics. When Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims are killed by Muslims, Islam is identified as playing a direct role in these occurrences. When Muslims are killed by Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims, however, the religious identity of the violent perpetrators is downplayed or ignored.
When the event at Chapel Hill occurred, many took to social media to explain the hypocrisy in the news. “The face of terrorism is a white man who can get away with murdering three Muslims without being called such.” “Meanwhile, white violence is excused, humanized, provided justifications for, no matter the extent of its damage, destruction and death toll.” These are Tumblr posts that went viral for clearly showing the double standards presented in the media. It was a result of the outrage when the US news insisted that the Chapel Hill shooter carried out his crimes due to a disagreement over parking, while downplaying the evidence that it was prejudicially motivated by his islamophobia.
Many other minority groups such as Asian-Americans and Hispanics experience problems with stereotyping, especially in television and film. These portrayals ultimately raise a serious question: Does the media reflect the reality of society, or does society attempt to imitate the reality shown by the media? According to the Radio and Television News Directors Association, television newsrooms are nearly 80 percent white, while radio newsrooms are 92 percent white. According to the American Society of News Editors, “The percentage of minority journalists has remained between 12 and 14 percent for more than a decade.” Possibly, with more diverse representation in the journalism and media industries, the double standards and hypocrisy presented in the media can be reduced. Maybe one day, the question can become answerable and the media can reflect a more accurate depiction of the miscellany of people in American society.