Although demeaning and offensive racial stereotypes were pervasive in popular media of every kind during the 20th century, most observers would agree that the media is much more sensitive to representations of race today. But the pernicious effects of that stereotyping live on in the new racism arising from disparities in the treatment of stories involving whites and people of color in a ratings-driven news market, media-enhanced isolationism as a result of narrowcasting, and other sources. This paper examines the role media has in the perpetuation of racism in Canada through stereotypes.
A background to the topic of racism in Canada is offered first where concepts such as the other, whiteness, and white privilege are explored. These concepts are than linked to demonstrate the cognitive processes involved in stereotype formation and transmission. Additionally the perpetuation of racial stereotypes is explored as several case studies are presented which have indicated the persistence of racial stereotypes in the media. Evidently, the paper will examine stereotypes in media such as television, cinema, news, and advertising.
Racism in Canada has been demonstrated clearly by the sense of “whiteness” or white privilege. Just as there are racial identities of color in Canada, there is also a white racial identity. Peggy McIntosh, in her article “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, has defined the concept as a “packet of unearned assets that white people could count on cashing each day, and about which they were meant to ream oblivious” (McIntosh, 1990). In her article, Peggy McIntosh had listed some privileges put forth by being white.
She talked for instance about her being financially reliable just by appearance, simply because of the color of her skin; or her being sure to not be single out whenever she is pulled out by the police or the IRS; or her again being sure to get legal or medical assistance whenever she needs it, all these simple because she was a white person. Furthermore, Frankenberg mentions some examples of white privilege as well. She mentioned examples of “white people moving to the opposite side of the street when two, tall black men approach on a sidewalk.
These people do not move aside when approaching other white people because they are assumed to be good or normal. She also indicated that she received shoddy or poor service when she went into cafes in her town with friends of color” (Frakenburg, 1996). Whiteness or white privilege is evident everywhere; a realistic example is in student life. Powell also found that white students know the rules of the game and are better achievers just as members of white society know the rules of the game. This is one of the advantages of being white- they learn the rules as they group up and succeed in life.
Those who are not white never get a chance to learn the rules and they are generally not successful. “White students who were overwhelmed and unable to finish the paper asked for an extension. Several of them took an extra 24 hours and turned in A papers, receiving an A-. Black students also reported lack of time as a major difficult in competing the paper; however, none of them considered asking for an extension, which as one black woman said, 1) would put me (the teacher) in an awkward situation and 2) would feel like asking for welfare” (Powell, 1997).
One way that white privilege is maintained is through the construction of stereotypes of people of color. Generally these stereotypes are different from ideas of a “normal Canadian” and depict negative images. People of color are expected to conform to the values of whiteness; yet this is impossible because it based on race. Even if a person’s family has been in Canada or the US for a number of generations, a person of color will never be as good as a white person and will never be allowed access to the privileges that accompany color in our society.
White privilege has directly influenced numerous forms of racism. The idea of whiteness has influenced people around the world since the beginning of the printing press which distributed daily news stories to the never-ending transmission of information via technology on the worldwide web, the power of the media has grown as a socialization agent shaping attitudes, behaviors and communication patterns. The idea of white privilege and its correlation with stereotyping has lead to a huge influence in the media today.
In order to understand this, one must examine the role of media and the potential for influence on the shaping of racial attitudes and behaviors. The power and potential of the media to shape attitudes and perceptions of race through the stereotypical portrayal of ethnic groups has been significantly researched. Media specialists have researched racial stereotyped images in the media at great lengths. The following are different case studies to show the influence of stereotyping in the media today. Firstly, the research by Gardner looks at the imagery and portrayal of stereotypes utilized by advertisers.
He found that the formation of stereotypes in human attitudes to be the result of the singleness of features in commercial art and characters. Findings indicated that marketing agents center on audience convenience and mass nature when establishing trademark icons to make profits. Therefore, implanting stereotypical features, which are easily recognizable to consumers. “Necessarily, to some degree, we react simplistically to things and signs we lack time to know, much as other animals respond insincerely to ‘trigger features’ in their environment” (Gardner, 1992).
Moving forward, Latinos have traditionally been grouped together as media representations of Mexican Americans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Central and South Americans have shared similar qualities, and are often not distinguished from on another in the media. Chavez discusses the negative attitudes about Latinos as a result of the images, which have tainted Americans views of Latinos. They have been labeled in negative roles all around the media world. Labels such as “undocumented worker”, “illegal alien”, the infamous “wetback” (Chavez, 1996).
It was reported by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists that, “Crime, terrorism, poverty and welfare, and illegal immigration accounted for 66% of all network stories about Latinos in 2001” and “Illegal immigration continues to be an important focus of network news coverage of Latinos” (Mendez, & Alverio, 2001). Native Americans, have historically been represented negatively in many ways. They are portrayed in the media in dangerous roles such as the “bloodthirsty or noble savage, the spiritual guide, or more currently, the protestor” (Ganje, 1996).
These racially stereotyped images, like those mentioned above, carry great potential to shape attitudes and beliefs, both historical and present perceptions, of ethnic groups. History has not been on the Natives sides, as the Indian Act was a enormous pessimistic law that was set in the 1800s. The Indian Act was passed in 1876,and intruded on the lives and cultures of status Indians more than any other law that was passed. It included prohibitions against owning land, controlled every aspect of their lives like denying the right to vote and prohibiting the consumption of alcohol.
Having this burden for absolutely no reason has carried on since that time. These “hard-times” have converted in to stereotypes against the Native American’s in today’s media. “Stereotypical images of Native people have come part of America’s culture, slipping into our lexicons and finding a home as mascots and icons for everything from sports teams to butter from cars to malt liquor” (Ganje, 1996), an unfortunate reality when these negative images are repeated time and time again. Lastly, Coltrane and Messineo have used content analysis as a means of analyzing television content for racial stereotyped imagery.
They reviewed the content of television commercials that aired from 1992-1994 and found that white male characters overwhelmingly enjoyed a majority of roles with more importance and authority. Where as African American males were represented in several cases as violent and aggressive, while African American women were cast in roles seen as inconsequential. “The subtle perpetuation and prejudice of exaggerated cultural differences between white and black television characters” (Coltrane & Messineo, 2000). The stereotyping of African Americans has been the most “popular” out of all other races. Aversive racism is a perfect example.
Many people act very aversively to African Americans, they do not act in discriminatory ways but they are prejudice. The unfair criticism of black culture, black stereotypes, and the constant association of Black people with poverty, crime and delinquency reinforces negative racial attitudes. Carrying on with the racial stereotypes against African Americans, the construction of most of these stereotypes is from a white perspective. Assuming that racist stereotypes uphold the concept of whiteness and white privilege, one would expect whites depicted as NOT being the like the traditional stereotypes of non-whites.
An example of this is in the movie “Kids”. Kids is treated as a documentary film, which explores the white kids in gangs. However, the movie is consistent with the traditional “othering” of American-Americans. Throughout the various scenes of the movie, black (rap) music is playing in the background. Non-white skinned females are depicted as sexual images and rival (black) gang members are seen as a threat. The entire theme of the movie is based on making a big deal about two white gang members while black gang members are portrayed as commonplace.
The entire movie is consistent with the desire of the right to regulate racial mixing and divert focus from the real issues like class exploitation, exclusion and racial subordination. Racism continues to exist in Canada despite Canada’s official policy of multiculturalism and tolerance. The media has played an active role in perpetuating this racism through negative stereotypes. As advertising, cinema, news and TV play a bigger role in the socialization of youth, the images of minorities that they see as children will be their images that they reproduce as adults.
It is time that this circle is broken, media must bare its share of this responsibility; but so must the individual. The individual should have the option to “turn on and off”. The effects of media on the socialization of our youth are more profound today than at any other period in history. Historically, stories and beliefs were passed on through the family religion, tribe, and community or school. “Today, by the end of highschool. The average student will have spent 15 000 hours watching TV and only 11 000 hours in the classroom” (Davison, 1997). Work Cited Chavez, R. (1996).
The Mexican Americans. In P. M. Lester (Ed. ), Images that injure: Pictorial stereotypes in the media (p. 32). Westport, CT: Praeger Coltrane, S. , & Messineo, M. (2000). The perpetuation of subtle prejudice: Race and gender imagery in 1990s television advertising. Sex Roles, 42, 5, 363-389. Davison, P. (1997). Media Literacy Strategies for Gender Equity. At http://www. cfn. cs. dal. ca/CommunitySupport/AMLNS/violence. html, pp. 1-4. Frankenburg, R. (1996). “When We Are Capable of Stopping, We Begin to See”: Being White, Seeing Whiteness. In Places We Call Home , pp. 3-18.
New York: Routledge. Ganje, L. A. (1996). Native American stereotypes. In P. M. Lester (Ed. ), Images that injure: Pictorial stereotypes in the media (pp. 41, 45). Westport, CT: Praeger. Gardner, R. M. (1992). Stereotypes and media. The Midwest Quarterly, 34, 1, 121-134. McIntosh, P. (1990, December). White privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack. Retrieved from http://www. amptoons. com/blog/files/mcintosh. html Mendez, S, & Alverio, D. (2001). The portrayal of Latinos in network television news. Association of Hispanic Journalists, Retrieved from www. nahj. org