Today, people of color all around the world face injustice and prejudice in their daily lives. From seeing a white model on a billboard poster to scanning the news and finding black people victim-blamed, the media sends the message every single day that white people are superior, that there is no place for people of color in this world.
In most media we see nowadays, white people are widely represented, whether on TV, in movies, advertisements, pictures or books. While white people can easily find examples of people like themselves succeeding in life, people of other races do not have as many examples. Additionally, white people come in all forms and personalities in the media, often portraying a variety of characters, while other races are often reduced to a stereotype, such as black people commonly portrayed as antagonists.
Perhaps closely linked to white representation, beauty standards in the media are often skewed to favor the features of white people. Models in beauty advertisements and magazines are usually white, while actors, actresses and celebrities are also commonly white, due in part to the disproportionate number of white characters in Hollywood shows. This has led to people all over the world considering white features the standard of beauty, such as fair skin, thin hair, a prominent nose and facial features of a certain shape. In fact, it is believed that a third to a fifth of women in Seoul, South Korea have had plastic surgery done to make their eyes look more like that of white people’s.
When Sandra Bland died in police custody on July 13, 2015, the local authorities ruled it a suicide. However, Bland’s friends and family were skeptical about the media’s version of the incident. Bland was a 28-year-old black woman who had spoken out against police violence. A few factors added up to the suspicion that she may have been a victim of racism. Before being taken into police custody, she was seen in a video being aggressively arrested by Texas police. The county she lived in had a violent history of racism, including the district attorney’s office and the standing sheriff who was fired from his previous post due to racism. As a black person living in racist America, Bland was subject to being targeted by police for stops, arrests and incarceration, and also more likely to suffer force from officers. However, when the media reported on her case, it stated that “Woman Found Dead in Jail Cell Had Prior Run-Ins With Law”.
Whether Sandra Bland was really at fault or not, she is only one of many people of color who are often portrayed in a negative light in the media. An analysis of stories reported in the media suggests that white people are more often presented with their accomplishments, while black people are more often presented with their crimes. Although everyone has definitely had both achievements and shortcomings, the media tends to capitalize on humanizing white people while vilifying people of color.
On a related note, white people responsible for horrific crimes such as Adam Lanza and James Holmes are said to be smart, quiet and nice, and have their accomplishments detailed in their stories. Josh Duggar, who molested his four sisters when he was 14 years old, was defended by Megyn Kelly on Fox News as being only a teenager. She mentioned that he was a former employee of the Family Research Council with “strong Christian values”, and that his family was going through “something terrible”. However, Kelly had quite the opposite reaction to an incident in McKinney, Texas involving another 14-year-old – a black girl, Dajerria Becton. Becton was at a party with other friends of color when white neighbors verbally and physically assaulted them. The white Corporal Eric Casebolt was called to the scene and pinned Becton to the ground, pulling a gun on her friends and sitting on her to restrain her. According to Kelly, the black girl is “no saint”, while a white boy’s molestation of his four sisters was excusable.
Along the same line, white people are usually shown in glamorous pictures while people of color are shown in negative pictures. One Twitter use, C. J. Lawrence, created the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown to show how very different pictures of the same person could be used by the media for opposite effects.
When a white person is covered in the media, whether they are a victim, a criminal or even a mass murderer, they are typically portrayed in innocent-looking pictures, such as the smiling senior picture of theater shooter James Holmes, in a suit and tie with the caption “a brilliant science student”. On the other hand, the unarmed Michael Brown who was shot by police was shown towering over the camera with his hands in a gang sign. It was not that Brown did not have any accreditable pictures – he had recently graduated from high school – but that a more incriminating picture was chosen to sway public opinion. Another example is that of Pamela Turner, who was shot by a police officer in her own home while screaming that she was pregnant. The only picture shown of her on media was a mug shot.
Regardless of who was really at fault in these cases, it is undeniable that white criminals tend to be defended and supported more in the media, while black people – even victims – are often blamed for their actions. This adds to the subconscious mindset of white supremacy and convinces viewers that the black people in the story were justified in becoming victims.
Although white people are represented more than black people in the media for most other things, the one area where black people win out is their representation in the news for getting killed at the hands of police.
Statistically speaking, black people are actually less likely than white people to be killed by police because they are less likely to be in a situation where police may shoot at them, attributed to the higher crime rates of white people than black people. In 2015, of the 990 people killed by the police, 494 were white and 258 were black. However, not a single white case went viral on the media, while black killings were largely reported and made headlines. While there may be many reasons why black victims receive so much coverage compared to whites although white killings statistically happen more often, activists believe that black killings by police draw more attention and controversy. Since the media thrives on viral stories and more readers, it would be in their interests to report on issues of racism which would elicit more of a response from their readers than a story of a white police killing a white person.
Aug 03, 2020