Media Coverage: Why is It Important to Study African American History

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • History
  • Theory
  • My Thoughts and Data


African Americans have been treated unfairly in all outlets of the media. African Americans are always given the short end of the stick and portrayed as savages and inferior to whites. This paper discusses the ways in which the media aids in the destroying of African Americans character. This paper uses several scholarly articles to closely examine how major media outlets will strategically paint African Americans in a negative light and the damage it is doing to the African American communities. Discrimination has repeatedly hurt African-American communities by denying them quality human rights. White Supremacy continues to reign, while the minority race of African American males remain oppressed. Thus, several issues pertaining to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of the African American community are at an all time high.

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Literature Review

Many people perceive African Americans as criminals since which is how they are represented. Studies have been completed that when news outlets paint criminals as darker in skin tone it heightens the stereotype that all people of color are criminals (Dixon, 2005). Major news outlets link poverty with African Americans while media outlets link white people to education and superiority (Robinson, 2017).

If, someone is watching television and notices someone that looks like themselves portrayed in a negative way ones tends to reflect him or herself in that manner. Many do not understand the effects that some news has on its viewers. Census shows that African Americans make up 12% of the world's population. Provided that African Americans are becoming one of the largest group of consumers, they are still underrepresented in mainstream advertisements. Companies tend to use African American athletes, public figures and actors when trying to reach African Americans in advertisements. On the other hand, using such prominent African American endorsers in advertisements that promotes an unhealthy lifestyle is unethical (Lee, 1995).

Imagine attempting to change one’s poor direction in life and then suddenly it’s too late? Lifestyle theory of victimization focuses on how individuals indirectly position oneself in vulnerable states; victimization does not occur by random (Harper, 2014). To further elaborate based upon one’s choice of action there are direct consequences that follow. Choosing a particular lifestyle makes one prone to indulge in certain activities or to procure certain characteristics. Case in point, a drug-dealer would be prone to violence due to retaliation. Consequently, one’s poor decision making skills influences the consequences one will eventually endure. Thus, to change one’s lifestyle will assist one in abstaining from recidivism (Harper, 2014).

To begin, people become accustomed to one’s current living habits; hence, one begins to make those unfortunate habits part of one’s routine. Once those habits become “normal” the person then becomes fearful of change. Consequently, causing offenders to continue to partake in criminal activity due to the fear of the unknown. Questions are posed… Will I be able to afford life expensive if I change my lifestyle? Will I be viewed differently by my peers; will this change alter my reputation etcetera. Moreover, lifestyle theory not only focuses on the person’s actions but also the company one chooses to interact will. To show, Jones narrates “lifestyle theory contends that people become victims because of certain lifestyles that require their interaction with criminals and the criminal subculture” (153), revealing there are other factors that influences one’s substandard conduct. To illustrate, factors that contribute to poor lifestyle choices include: roaming urban environments during late hours, narcotic addiction, and binge drinking, and associating with the wrong peers (Harper, 2014). Each factor could trigger one to expose oneself to criminal involvement.

African Americans are also perceived differently in television. African Americans are rarely ever seen as positive models in the media. Many viewers felt that African Americans played roles that diminished their integrity and showed them in a negative light. For example, African Americans are seen as uneducated, dishonest, and only needed for entertainment. Various shows on television paint African Americans to be unemployed or hold jobs that were inferior to their white counterparts (Punyanunt-Carter, 2008).

Black victimization is at an all time high. Although, African Americans make up about 12% of the U.S. population, they are faced with more crime penalties than any other race. News articles in the state of Nebraska are more likely to report false and dramatic crimes done by African Americans in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Top news outlets fabricated stories in order for African Americans can be put to blame (Creighton TT, 2014). In addition, the media neglects to convey a positive depiction of African American males. In doing so it gives audiences negative attitudes and leads males to think less of themselves and ultimately become the person portrayed in the media (“Improving Media Coverage and Public Perceptions of African-American Men and Boys”, 2011).

Major news outlets morally hold the responsibility to inform the public of the dangers of society. Magazines that generally attract African American females such as, Jet, Ebony, and Essence do not rightfully cover the dangers of tobacco related cancers. As a result, African American females were not properly notified of the dangers of tobacco related cancers which are basically preventable (Hoffman, 1997). Equally important, Black women psychologically are seen to be unattractive in all advertisements. Meaning, most consumers do not want their products to appeal to African Americans. One may find a Black woman in an advertisement fully clothed rather than a skin care product promoting beautiful and clear skin.

The white standard of beauty for white Americans is merely any size lower than a size two, while many African American woman are voluptuous and range from sizes eight to fourteen (Jackson, 1991). White women are widely known to be models and seen more on advertisements. Black women are more prone to diseases linked to their weight and eating habits. Whites are portrayed as slender and the correct standard of beauty (Huey, 2013). Advertisements This leaves victimization is left in the hands of Black women. In other words, society sees African American women as irrelevant pawns in society (Greer, 2007). Furthermore, African American women are treated poorly even though black women are more comfortable in their bodies. African American women are always shamed for loving themselves unlike white women who are cheered for taking unhealthy steps to become a lesser version of themself.

Coverage of the AIDS epidemic in African American communities was geared in the direction that the disease derived from African American males engaging in sexual activities together. Magazines would only cover this topic and no new information would be added. There were certain methods to follow for this practice. To this day, AIDS/HIV are always associated with people of color. The epidemic was on a rise before news media covered it since at the time it only affected the African American community. In doing this, it left the public unaware of the deadly disease and ways on how to prevent coming in contact (Krishnan, 1997). With this in mind, African Americans are more unlikely to receive medical attention for serious matters than whites. A known fact is that African Americans get diabetes more than other races. Without the proper medical attention other related medical problems can occur. African Americans are often denied this attention because of their skin (Engelgau, 1998).

Environmental racism is not a myth. It is a very strategic plan to place large factories in or near predominantly Black neighborhoods. Environmental problems in African American communities are ignored. In one case, in the state of California, when a damaged railroad car omitted toxic fumes in surrounding African American communities. This story received little to no coverage in the mainstream media. Gentrification also plays a role in this. Gentrification is the act of removing African Americans out of neighborhoods, tearing down and rebuilding the houses to appear more attractive for whites (Heinz, 2005). Another case, is the unbelievable epidemic happening in Flint, Michigan. The city of Flint, which is a predominantly African American community, has not had clean water since 2014. Mainstream media did not report this issue until a year later. Many residents have protested to not pay water bills and in doing so they were threatened with serious jail time as well as losing their homes (Jackson, Derrick).

The American government has used many ways in order to lower the African American population and major media outlets are not shy to lend a helping hand. One tactic was to insert drugs and diseases into the Black Community. Former President Ronald Reagan introduced the Black communities into the drug Crack. Crack is characterized as, “[The] crystal form of cocaine, which normally comes in a powder form. It comes in solid blocks or crystals varying in color from yellow to pale rose or white” (Foundation for A Drug Free World 2016). This drug is mainly used by members of the African-American community. In the 1980s, American was at war and in order to fund their war, America used strategies such as selling weapons to foreign countries as well as protect the flow of all drug movements.

Michelle Alexander, author of novel The New Jim Crow, sheds light on this subject. Alexander writes, “The timing of the crack crisis helped to fuel conspiracy theories and general speculation in poor black communes that the War on Drugs was part of a genocidal plan by the government to destroy black people in the United States” (Alexander, 2010). The government willing flooded black communities with such drugs and then have the audacity to turn around and call them crack “babies” and “crack whores”. Crack causes a short-lived, intense high that is immediately followed by the complete opposite effects of intense depression, edginess and a craving for more of the drug. People who use it often don’t eat or sleep properly. They can experience greatly increased heart rate, muscle spasms and convulsions. The drug can also make people feel paranoid, angry, hostile and anxious even when one is not high.

Regardless of how much of the drug is used or how frequently, crack increases the risk that the user will experience a heart attack, stroke, seizure or respiratory failure, any of which can result in sudden death. Throughout this epidemic, the only news that media outlets were shedding light on is the fact that African Americans were becoming addicted to this new drug. They never covered how the drug appeared or even how the drug should be put to end. But, when wealthy whites came to know and the drug and transformed it into cocaine then and only then was the public informed of the already ongoing epidemic.

In this generation, gentrification is at its all time high. As in illustration, one could say gentrification destroys the African American community. The term gentrification is defined as, “the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents (Merriam-Webster). In layman's terms, it is the process in which communities will move all African Americans out of the neighborhoods to make room for white people.


Since the beginning of time, African Americans have always gotten the short end of the stick. They were forcibly taken from their land, given new names in a new world and were expected to cope in this new environment. African Americans were denied many human rights.Along with that, they were never given the chance to rightfully tell their story. Always shut down and pushed to the side.

One must ask themself what is considered newsworthy? There are ten elements that must be met in order for news to be newsworthy. The news must have Proximity, Prominence, Timeliness, Oddity, Consequence, Conflict, Human interest, Extremes/superlatives, Scandal, and most of all Impact (Mudd, 2014). To emphasize, any news concerning children, murder, heinous crimes, vehicular accidents, etc., is all news that the public should immediately be notified about. Considering all elements, there has been an influx of news geared towards negatively affecting African Americans. When African American children go missing you typically do not hear about it. On the other hand, when a white child is missing for an hour it is being plastered and shoved down the publics throat until the child is found. Why don't African Americans get the same respect as whites? When women in countries such as Africa are being raped everyday by the dozen there is no coverage. However, when there was nonstop bombing in France there were memorials held in for fallen victims everywhere. Keep in mind that both instances are horrendous, but why does one get coverage and the other does not.

In addition, fifteen year old Devonte Hart Black Lives Matter advocator as suspiciously disappeared from a car crash that happened in November 2014. Devonte Hart and five other children were adopted by two white females Jennifer and Sarah. Reports state that the two women drugged themselves and the six children and later drove their family car off the road. Reports state that Devonte and two other children were not found after the car was found. Keep in mind that this incident occurred in 2014 but it is just barely hitting mainstream media in 2019 (Brennan 2018).


Journalist must follow a code of ethics. A code in which they are entrusted to provide the public with “Breaking News” for people of all color and skin tones. Under the code of ethics there are four principles that journalist must uphold. The first and by far most important principle is to “Seek Truth and Report It”. In other words, one should never deliberately distort facts. In doing so it leads the public to have one thought and image about a particular group (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014). Journalist tend to hide behind the Constitution.

The first amendment allows each citizen the right to express themselves in a freely manner. In the first amendment it mentions, “… or the right of the people peaceably to assemble…” (US Const. amend. I,). In other words, whenever a journalist is accused of being discriminatory towards a certain group of people they will simply claim that it is their First Amendment right to practice freedom of speech. A journalist from Oxford University explains his opinion on freedom of speech as:

The author uses the terms “freedom of speech” and “freedom of expression” interchangeably. According to him speech is really a term of art when used in constitutions, and courts should ask whether, in the light of the reasons for protecting expression from legal regulation and so adopting a free speech principle, the type of communication in issue should be covered by the principle (Barendt, 2005).

The term Advertise solely means, “ to call public attention to especially by emphasizing desirable qualities so as to arouse a desire to buy (Merriam-Webster). An advertisement or a commercial play a major role in which big companies persuade consumers to purchase their products. They will make their products appear to a certain audience. For instance, when a company wants to sell an everyday product such as toothpaste, aspirin or lotion it will cast whites for the commercial. On the other hand, when appealing to consumers who usually buy sugary foods they will cast an African American cast (Wilkes and Humberto, 1989).

One must also keep in mind the term propaganda. Propaganda is infamous for having a negative context and is often used in order to change the minds of audiences. In the text it states, “The ultimate goal of propaganda is to get the respondents to fake a particular course of action. Many definitions of 'propaganda' postulate that the goal of propaganda is to change the respondents' beliefs, or to persuade the respondents to accept some proposition as true” (Walton 1997). In other words, propaganda is tool used by the media to distort certain pictures and news in the public's mind. In doing this, it leaves the public to think another way. Ultimately, the goal of using propaganda is to be persuasive. The text also states:

The goal of the propagandist then is not just to persuade or 're-educate' the audience to change their beliefs, but also to gain their commitment to the extent that they will act on the basis of the new viewpoint they have come to accept, or to take part in or support actions in line with or justified by this viewpoint (Walton 1997).

As a result, not only will propaganda change the ideology on one circumstance, but it will continuously reoccur. The negative context that propaganda leaves distorted and deceptive balance in the news media. Meaning, there will be people who believe the deceptive news and persuade others to believe it as well. On the other hand, there will be people who do not believe the lies and try to spread the real news.

My Thoughts and Data

During my research, I asked myself a series of questions. I have narrowed those questions down to five in order for the public to fully grasp my ideology. I asked a number of males and females of all ages and different backgrounds the same questions. Although some of the responses have shocked me, I have found that many people share the same views that I hold. The results are represented below in the follow bar graph.

The first question goes as follows, “Do you think African Americans are properly represented in the media?” Just as I suspected, majority feels as if African Americans are not properly represented in the media. Shockingly, there were many more responses for Strongly Agree than I expected. Although it is less than 10% that voted it was still more than I expected. In regards for the second, “Do you feel news media negatively portray African Americans?” it mirrors the first question but just in a different direction. This question actually has the highest response for Strongly Agree, as shown above. The third, “Usually when a heinous crime occurs, one assumes the perpetrator is an African american male?” With this in mind, I wanted everyone to think back on recent or previous crimes that were being plastered on all media outlets and whether or not the suspect was African American.

The fourth, “Do you believe in Environmental Racism?” This question was by far my favorite. I think many people often forget about this technique of destroying African American communities and then turn around not give aid. Finally, the last question, “Can major media outlets be blamed for the negative perceptions of African Americans?” I was ecstatic that no one selected Strongly Disagree for a response. Hence, African Americans are not to be put to blame for something out our their control.

The sole purpose behind doing this survey was to get a feel for the ideologies of others. In addition, I did not want to simply give “Yes”, “No”, and “Maybe” responses. I felt that it was not only cliche but I would not be able to fully grasp a person's thought. There are a lot of people in this world who share the same views as I. Moreover, this bar graph is to represent the changes that need to be made throughout the media. It is evident, that a considerable of amount of people feel as if the media is to blame.

White-Collar crimes are merely crimes committed by upper-class white males. These crimes are typically ponzi schemes and wire fraud. Unlike African Americans who are presumed guilty, these white males are given the benefit of the doubt. The media does not always report these crimes right away although they should. It gives the white male an upper hand to save his character and dignity.

Since the media does not want to report such crimes, it leaves the public to think that it is not happening. As shown above in the chart, whites have a higher rate of committing White Collar Crimes than African Americans who commit violent crimes. The media does not feel the story is “newsworthy” and will often sympathize with the perpetrator. These perpetrators of White Collar Crimes are looked at as victims in their society. (Friedrichs, 2009). Often times, crimes are not reported to the police. Along with mainstream media, the police task force also plays a role in destroying African Americans. Many officers take heed to what is seen in the media and tend to have racist attitudes towards African Americans. In this case, it leads to more arrest (Posick, 2015).


Given these points, the unwillingness for white America to properly represent African Americans in media outlets only elongates the time that African Americans will be accepted in mainstream media. The government was not designed to work in the favor of African Americans. It must be remembered that the government puts African-Americans in situations that are designed for them to fail.They are willing to watch African-Americans suffer or even aid in their demise. The media and their tactics have been and will continue to be unsuccessful.

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