The Phenomena of Mainstream Media
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses. The press is so powerful in its image-making role”
- Malcolm X, Civil Rights Activist, Black Nationalist, Author, Organizations of Afro-American Unity Founder,
The media allows people to view current news, post their ideas, publicize upcoming events, share their lifestyle, organize with others, and relieve stress by breaking the monotony of everyday life. It also allows people with different ideologies and backgrounds to communicate; which creates a space for alternative perspective to be shared, a deeper look into a culture in addition to creating echo chambers surrounding specific ideas. It has the power to make the voiceless heard, create connections with people, promote brands, allow creatives to express their passions, and to connect people with different beliefs and experiences in a wide variety of different mediums; giving them access to resources they would not normally come across.
Arguably the biggest aspect of media is that it provides unfiltered positive representation for Black people and allows for the many cultures within Africa and the Diaspora to be spread around the globe. It is even more powerful when people can get a look into the essence of the culture from a perspective curated by a Black creative. Algorithms also aid in spreading the information because as a topic becomes trending more people would be able to see it and the more they view such topics the more of that content they will come across. Digital media platforms have made it as easy has searching a hashtag to find the information one wants. The dichotomy of this is that Black people are now able to revisit their traumas much more frequently, however, the increased exposure ultimately creates more awareness for these issues to be addressed and tackled.
AGENT OF CHANGE
It is impossible to argue against the fact that the media has had a large part to play in the course of major movements throughout history, Black and African liberation movements alike. From police officers being caught on camera assaulting Black people dating back to Rodney King, journals publicizing the messages of activists or Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment to galvanize a nation to stand up against the unjust system of apartheid dividing South Africa, and to bring awareness to the atrocities happening in different nations much like the Kony 2012 campaign. A recent showing of that is when media bringing increased attention to the Black Lives Matter Movement, the EndSARS movement against police brutality in Nigeria, amongst various social movements all over Africa and the Diaspora in areas such as Uganda, Congo, and Brazil. Social media makes it much more efficient to spread real-time information, have discourse on a large platform for millions of people to see and point out the inconsistencies of one’s actions and behavior.
It is clear that media is a powerful tool for activism; simply through spreading information in the hopes of compelling enough people to take action on a cause they may not have ever been exposed to. The Black Lives Matter movement, can be traced back to 2013 as a response to the murder of Trayvon Martin, became bigger because social media would continue to showcase the injustice, systemic racism, and brutality that members of the Black community face daily. It was allowed to constantly be in people’s faces, moving many into some form of action to fight back against that, even inspiring millions into action globally. BLM utilized the power of social media by displaying harsh images and accounts of injustices Black people faced on a day to day basis in addition to showing the clips of positive impact Black people were leaving in their communities; all of the increased awareness being done to encourage political involvement of the average citizen and spurring sociopolitical activism. Social media can give a voice to the underrepresented and can band people together whom under normal circumstances (only seeing the negative representations), would not be moved into action or even see have an awareness of an issue.
For decades, the mainstream media has been vilified for the negative representation of Black people. It is no mystery whether or not media portrayal directly influences public perceptions of a group; possibly altering, reinforcing, or discrediting the ideologies of said group. Further exacerbated since the inception of television, a medium that blatantly displayed Black people as buffoonish, uneducated, immoral, and a myriad of other undesirable characteristics. Social media has done a lot to sway that because it is a less controlled form of media that can reveal numerous perspectives on a particular subject. While it is great to have more exposure, it is also dangerous when bias comes into play. It can easily be recognized in America news outlets how the same story can be spun to fit a bipartisan narrative while also using it to further personal agendas. While it is understood that Black culture and viewpoints are not monolithic, the media should be impartial. An issue is that perspective plays a major role in how the media is perceived. Something deemed as positive within the Black community can be viewed as without the context or full understanding of it. For example, there are some people that view HBCUs and call for a defunding because they believe these schools are created specifically for Black students and alienate other demographics. Even though that is not true, a portion of the American population wants a defunding which may be attributed to certain news outlets only pushing that agenda. The biggest problem was the amount of gatekeeping by White executives and curators not allowing for Black creatives to create content without a filter or even allowing Black people to create at all. Although the number of Black bodies in mainstream media has significantly increased since its inception, more quality exposure has been an uphill battle still being fought for. This would be more easily reached if large media and technology corporations created more opportunities for Black people, not from being pressured by the public but rather due to an altruistic creation of opportunity because there is the understanding that Black people need to hold certain spaces.
Representation of the Black Family Structure
The negative depictions of Black in the media have been grossly exaggerated and reinforced, with an overwhelming number of mainstream media portraying Black individuals as criminals, overall dependent on government safety nets, participating in dysfunctional relationships; all of this being stigmatized despite numerous statistics showing otherwise. A study “Representations Of Families, By Race, In News And Opinion Media” by professor of Communication at the University of Illinois Dr. Travis L. Dixon, disputes the negative representations by providing contextual data. Out of all Racial groups, Black families were depicted more than other races as poor even though they are 27% the size of white families, who are 66% of people living below the poverty line. Black families being amoral, in need of discipline, and opposing the standard of social stability is dangerous rhetoric that has led to many Black lives being put down and affected. There needs to be a strong reversal in a lot of mainstream media depicting Black families as uninvolved in a child’s life in addition to stipulating a strong correlation between crime potential and darker skin tone.
News media is supposed to be unbiased and objective but often directly contributes to the perpetuation of racial stereotyping. News is generally assumed to be an outlet of plausible and truthful information to be delivered to the masses. By only consuming this one form of media, a person may take the information at face value. The news is supposed to tell you truths and occurrences about the world around you, so if one sees negative aspects of a particular demographic, they may believe that those negative depictions dominate the world around them. The danger to negative media portrayal can have serious implications such as influencing legislation, reinforcing destructive social standards, and at its worst can lead to a loss of life. News media needs to improve their standards of accuracy when reporting on Black families because racially biased reporting is being used to justify negative occurrences within the Black family unit. Fact checking and verifying information is critical. With the amount of power the media has in swaying public sentiment and spurring action, the information needs to be accurate and traceable to the source to hold people and organizations accountable for what they present. While every platform has the right to broadcast and share content that they please, there should be a push to create an ethical journalistic standard in what it presented to the masses.
In the last decade, there has been a noticeable push for a reclamation of many different aspects of Black culture; not to say that the culture has been taken away from the community, but there are parts that have been contorted in ways that need addressing. Examples of this range from using the term “dreads” vs “locs” to non-Black owned media portraying the same figures as role models for the youth, even though a Black child has the ability to excel in whatever field he or she chooses outside of sports, music or entertainment. There has been a surge in the number of children’s’ books about Black kids and families done to help tackle this very issue. The rebranding is done by people deciding to put a spotlight on aspects of Black culture that have been misconstrued by popular media and deserve to be preserved and expressed how it was originally intended to in its greatest form.
An interesting phenomena is that you can see culture moving in ways never seen before because Black people are getting more opportunities to impact mainstream media in meaningful ways. Kids can now see people that look and grew up like them achieve heights they only dreamed about. See their lives and stories told more on the big screen and being shared more online, having other relate to their experiences and seeing success stories about members of their communities. Influencers, pillars of the community, established organizations, and entertainers such as pgLang, Hoorae production company, Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, Kendrick Lamar, and Simone Biles amongst many others are the ones pushing the narrative and making more visible through their respective mediums and platforms. These influencers understand that more Black narratives being told and an increase in representation in popular media inspires others to believe that that their dreams of the future are much more attainable and visible than ever before.