The concept of stereotyping is useful in an analysis of race. Lippmann (1922) defined “stereotype” as a form of perception that imposes ways of seeing. Stereotypes often target race, gender, age, disabilities and sexuality. Members of dominant groups often use stereotypes to dehumanize other cultural groups that differ in values, beliefs or physical characteristics to maintain its own political power and social control (Lassiter, 1999).
Representations are noteworthy because stereotyping can be a social control tool to build group solidarity and create an “us versus them” mentality. People attach negative qualities depicted in the media to groups and use them to justify their oppression (Collins, 2004). Moreover, many negative stereotypes spill over into news media portrayals of minorities. Numerous scholars have observed that news stereotypes of people of color are pervasive with African Americans more likely than Whites to appear as perpetrators in drug and violent crime stories on network news (e.g. Dates & Barlow, 1993; Martindale, 1990; Collins, 2004; Poindexter, Smith, & Heider, 2003; Entman & Rojecki, 2000). In the end, stereotypes persist because ‘‘they fulfill important identity needs for the dominant culture’’ thereby maintaining the status quo and preserving hegemony (Mastro & Behm-Morawitz, 2005, p. 112).
Stereotypes persist because ‘‘they fulfill important identity needs for the dominant culture’’ thereby maintaining the status quo and preserving hegemony (Mastro & Behm-Morawitz, 2005, p. 112). For instance, notions of ‘‘race’’ and ‘‘ethnicity’’ are often framed in a discourse of whiteness. Many cultural critics note that mass media have normalized and privileged whiteness to the point of profound invisibility. Shohat and Stam (1994) noted whiteness typically is made visible primarily via ‘‘the signifying capacities of color.’’ In other words, ethnicities only make sense in relation to other ethnicities. One of the most familiar patterns to exemplify this is consistent negative characterization of people of color. They often function to reinforce the attitude of White superiority (Shohat and Stam, 1994).
While stereotypes of dominant groups exist, they often are not as pervasive or offensive and mass media often depict people who fit such stereotypes as the exception, not the norm for mainstream society. For instance, common stereotypes are depictions of Whites in comparison to typical stereotypes of African Americans. These include the idea that white people are not good at sports, dancing and singing. Conversely, portrayals of African-American, Native American, Hispanic and Asians have been negative and inaccurate. Portrayals have historically reflected and reinforced racist stereotypes by portraying them as lazier, less intelligent, less moral and more prone to crime than Whites (e.g. Marchi, 2008; Gerbner, 1993; Gray, 1995; Friedman, 1991; Rodriguez, 1997; Smith, 1992; Wilson and Gutierrez, 1985).
Historically, portrayals of African-American men and women in cinema were extremely negative with Blackface representations dominating pop culture. Terms such as “Jungle bunny” or “porch monkey” encompass references to laziness, dark skin, African culture, coarse hair and animal-like qualities, particularly those of monkeys and apes. Other common derogatory terms include “tar baby,” “pickaninny” and “jigaboo” all of which have exaggerated facial features such as eyes, noses, teeth, meant to give the impression that they are half-human and half-animal (Origins of Racist Terms, 2011). People of color depicted in such roles often appear savage-like and not particularly smart or essential to society. In addition to overemphasizing and ridiculing their facial features, such portrayals also feature them eating certain foods such as watermelon, fried chicken and chitterlings (Counihan & Van Esterik, 1997).
The civil rights era presented some different portrayals. African Americans were often associated with racialized issues such as bussing and segregation—topics that might fuel racial prejudice by Whites. Grimm (2007) explored how the New York Times framed Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., from 1960 through 1965. Both men are icons of contemporary African-American culture and had a great influence on black Americans. However, Grimm concluded that the main premise of the articles covering Malcolm X centered on his diminishment as a leader, public mistrust and a deep fear of racial violence. Malcolm X was often labeled a deviant while King was embraced as a righteous leader. The author asserts that such characterizations reinforced hegemonic power structures while also supporting ideological notions of accepted racial norms in the United States.
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