Minorities in America have made tremendous progress for autonomy and equity in the 20th century. Despite the changes in the voting status and influence of minority groups, it would appear that freedom for all has not penetrated the common whole of American society. Rather than the totally inhumane activity that the law upholds, there is a less overt method of apartheid by the entertainment, radio, and film industries. Less than favorable representations of minorities can still be found in sitcoms, newscasts, and large screens, where they are misinterpreted. While some progress has been made in how minorities are portrayed on television in America, much has to be done to reduce negative presentation and show the reality.
Minorities, especially African American, have been underrepresented on television since the industry started. In early works, blacks were not even allowed to play black roles which would instead be given to white actors who would wear a blackface (Williams 53). This led to the development of demeaning stereotypes as more often than not African Americans were portrayed in unfavorable light. African Americans would purposely be presented with negative stereotypes like being stupid, cowardly, animal-like, and irresponsible so as to reinforce white supremacy over them (Williams 148). Throughout history other minorities, too, have been misrepresented or portrayed negatively on television. Such portrayal has had tremendous effects on how society views minorities due to the impact television has on the public mind.
Television is an important media that sets the tone for the morals and values of many societies around the world. However, for a long time, it has also been the most popular spread of negative portrayal of minorities. In many television shows, a majority of the actors are usually from one race thus there is little representation of minority groups as white Americans dominate this area. The unequal representation of various ethnic groups and races on television is a major issue because it is not a true reflection of the American society. Shows on TV are dominated by white actors, and thus do not show the diversity of the American society. For instance, the popular show The Simpsons has many stereotypes concerning minority groups. An Indian character Apu is given a very long last name and has a stereotypical job at a grocery. The writers of the show continue the stereotype that Indians in America can only qualify to work in grocery stores and all practice Hinduism.
News stories from different ethnic groups do not get equal coverage on the news. This can be seen in how stories about missing persons are reported on television. In 2005 a black American woman, LaToyia, who was five months pregnant disappeared in Philadelphia. At around the same time, an 18-year-old white lady, Natalie Holloway, also disappeared while traveling to her graduation in Aruba. While Natalie’s story obtained extensive media coverage, LaToyia’s disappearance received very little if any (Conlin and Davie 38). The latter’s family had to picket on a street corner in order to get some media coverage, and only BET (Black Entertainment Television) and radio stations aired their story. Such inconsistency in the coverage of missing persons led to the expression “missing white girl syndrome” where missing white persons become prime time news while minority groups are underreported (Conlin and Davie 39). There seems to be more focus on attractive white women while hundreds of black women who disappear do not receive national coverage.
A major reason there is unequal coverage on issues affecting minority groups compared to those affecting white Americans is that newsrooms lack diversity. A survey by the Radio-Television News Directors Association revealed that minority groups make up only 23.1% of the staff in newsrooms (Papper). Thus, it can be argued that the continued misrepresentation of minorities in television news is due to the lack of more races in newsrooms. Another reason there is no equality on American television is that reporters and journalists are mainly interested in stories that attract more viewers. Audiences in modern America care less for issues affecting minority groups but follow more keenly the lives of rich people. Stereotypes pushed by the media have led many people to actually believe that crime in black and Hispanic communities is a normal occurrence. Such stereotypes, in turn, lead to further misrepresentation and less coverage of minority groups on television.
For a long time, minority groups have not been allowed to tell their own stories because they do not control the entertainment industry. Most media houses are owned and controlled by whites, and it is them who chose what images of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and other minority groups to portray. As such minority groups are also misrepresented in movies where they are given roles that portray them as violent, uncultured, drug addicts, and vulgar people (Rodman 352). Movies like Friday, Boyz in the Hood, and Hustle and Flow were done in inner cities where the characters are involved in criminal activities like selling drugs or other kinds of illegal jobs. African Americans in these movies are portrayed as stupid, lazy, or violent. Another movie The Mix portrays Italian-Americans as gangsters who are always involved with the mafia.
The images of minorities portrayed in media form racial patterns that shape the minds of the rest of the population about them. According to Dixon and Williams (28), a mug shot of a black criminal is likely to appear on television news three times more as compared to that of a white person. Similarly, the name of a criminal is more likely to be shown on the news if they are black than if they are white. Such statistics shows the continued portrayal of African Americans and Caucasians in a negative way, leading to even more stereotypes towards such minority groups. Finally, it has been observed that in television debates, experts of African American descent are mostly used when the topic of discussion touches on black issues (Shoemaker and Reese 126).
Despite some significant gains over the years, progress has been mostly slow, and sometimes non-existent, when minorities on television are the case. Minority groups are still portrayed in a negative light through stereotypes that affect how the rest of the population views them. Furthermore, minorities are underrepresented as can be seen in the proportion of staff from minority groups in newsrooms to that of the white population. Their issues are also underreported by the major media houses that have nationwide coverage. There needs to be a shift in how issues affecting minorities are represented and reported on television because this medium is an integral part of the modern society.
Conlin, Lindsey, and William R. Davie. Missing White Woman Syndrome. Electronic News 9.1 (2015): 36-50. Web.
Dixon, Travis L., and Charlotte L. Williams. The Changing Misrepresentation of Race and Crime on Network and Cable News. Journal of Communication 65.1 (2014): 24-39. Web. 1 July 2017.
Papper, Bob. RTDNA Research: Women and Minorities in Newsrooms. Rtdna.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 July 2017.
Rodman, Gilbert B. The Race and Media Reader. New York, NY [u.a.]: Routledge, 2014. Print.
Shoemaker, Pamela J, and Stephen D Reese. Mediating the Message in the 21St Century. New York: Routledge, 2014. Print.
Williams, Roland Leander. Black Male Frames. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2014. Print.