Tackling Racism

Everybody is a little racist.

Avenue Q, an American satirical musical, made a good point about how “everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes”. The show is best defined as an adult version of Sesame Street. It addresses issues associated with entering adulthood.

One of the messages presented in the musical is that even though everyone might be a little racist, it does not mean they go around committing hate crimes.

Racism does not always mean we wish to harm someone who is different. It can be as subtle as a fleeting thought or assumption.

Racism is a complex issue and everyone is biased in one way or another.

It is our human nature to identify more with people who are like ourselves. People have a preference for the familiar.

However, we must not use “human nature” to dismiss it as not being problematic. Having preconceptions based on how people appear may not cause any immediate harm, but when this is compounded over time and by everyone in society, it can lead to much greater harm.

Admitting racism is not easy but it is an important step in tackling the issue.

The problem will never go away as long as we neglect to acknowledge it in both society and within ourselves.

This issue is especially important as evident with recent events.

Tim Wise, an American anti-racism activist and author, posted a reaction to the Zimmerman verdict. In a video posted on July 19, he asks his audience to consider an important question: “Does having black friends mean you’re free from racial bias?”

The answer is no. As stressed in the first sentence, everybody is a little racist.

It is also crucial that people understand the role the media plays.

According to Rem Rieder of USA Today, the media played a role in the Zimmerman case that cannot be ignored. Rieder suggested in this case, the media went after the best story rather than the truth.

The media perpetuates stereotypes. Therefore is of upmost importance for people to learn to understand the complex messages presented by the media.

In a previous blog, Why Media Literacy Matters – Stereotypes, I discuss how photographs, film and video are used to perpetuate stereotypes. I explained how these images are used to present people of other races as “other” and establish them as inferior.

Such media messages perpetuate the idea of “us versus them”.

People need to be aware of how media messages influence them. They need to learn how to analyze those messages so they are not misled by false information.

People need to understand the importance of being media literate.

There needs to be a push for media literacy education.

It will help minimize the harm.

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Why Media Literacy Matters – Stereotypes

Information comes from all over the world through powerful images.

Photography, video and film can perpetuate stereotypes.

Stereotypes can manipulate people’s thoughts and feelings, cause rage, unreason and even persecution (Shaheen, 2009)

Misrepresentations of immigrants and certain minority groups in the media play a significant role in shaping the public attitudes and opin­ions of people (Martens, 2010), which further perpetuate the stereotypes in society.

Immigrants and certain minority groups are often viewed as dangerous, a nuisance or as individuals in need of the country’s assistance. These stereotypes have been accepted by society as the norm.

These messages perpetuate the idea of “us versus them”.

These negative stereotypes presented by the media portray people of other races and cultures as “other” and establish them as inferior.

The media consistently portray racial minorities in stereotypical roles and although not all stereotypes are negative, even benign ones could encourage prejudice and benevolent feelings that are just as problematic (Ramasubramanian and Oliver, 2007).

Therefore, people need to be aware of how the media manipulates their beliefs.

People need to learn how to analyze media messages so that they are not misled by false information.

Media literacy education can help minimize the harm.

Media literacy teaches people the critical thinking skills that are necessary for understanding the complex messages presented by the media.

Researchers have concluded that if people practice and put in a conscious effort to negate stereotypical associations, they could reduce prejudice (Ramasubramanian and Oliver, 2007).

Media literacy training can help people see how news media often serve to rationalize existing social norms and expectations (Ramasubramanian, 2007).

People will then be more aware of how the media shapes social reality and will be less likely influenced by negative stereotypes.

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References

Martens, H. (2010).Evaluating Media Literacy Education: Concepts, Theories and Future Directions. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 2(1), 1-22.

Ramasubramanian, S. (2007). Media-Based Strategies to Reduce Racial Stereotypes Activated by News Stories. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 84(2), 249-264.

Ramasubramanian, S. and Oliver, M.B. (2007). Activating and Suppressing Hostile and Benevolent Racism: Evidence for Comparative Media Stereotyping. Media Psychology, 9, 623-646.

Shaheen, J. (2009). Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press. Preface and Introduction.