Media Portrayal of Blacks in an Ever-Changing Society
One hindrance that has plagued mankind since the dawn of time is the way we as human beings deal with differences among our cultures, societies, and color. Although the American society has taken great steps in combating this chauvinistic concept, prejudicial views of black culture are still prevalent among even the most open-minded individuals. They are engrained in our minds in some form or another, and many times are subconscious. Tolerance is the 21st century answer to this issue, but that was not always the case, even in the media, an establishment intended to entertain the public as a whole. This paper will discuss the following question: why is priming still used to stereotype black culture in American media when we live in a time where egalitarian norms have made it unfavorable to appear prejudiced? In essence, I want to understand why the media still portrays blacks to fit their historical stereotypes, even though we live in a colorblind nation. It is an important question because this stereotyping contradicts the values and beliefs of the majority of American citizens and the way we want to advance as an open-minded society. History of Stereotyping
To begin answering this question, we must first look at the history of how black stereotypes were used in the media, beginning with entertainment. Nineteenth and early twentieth century plays featured black characters, played by white actors, and usually took the part of a few major stereotypes: the caretaker, or black woman who took care of household chores of whites, the incompetent buffoon who had difficulty assimilating in a white society because of his stupidity, and the aggressive and disorderly black who disrupted the peaceful white society (Dixon). More often than not, these stereotypes fit the culture of the south rather than the north, simply because of geographic and economic factors. Even in literature, blacks were portrayed as dimwitted, lazy creatures that lacked morals and standards (Wilson). One of the most famous ways blacks were portrayed in the media in the nineteenth and twentieth century was the application of black makeup to white actors, who acted as one of the aforementioned roles in performances. “Blackface” as it was called, was used up to World War I, when black actors began taking the stage, although limited to the roles they could play (Bellanta). Up until the 1950’s, blacks were still heavily stereotyped in the media. This early priming set the stage for new mediums to depict these stereotypes, mainly in television and advertising. Blacks in Advertising
We are now able to look at how priming was and still is used in television advertising, beginning in the 1950’s when television became a mass medium. Although we sometimes do not realize it, stereotypical advertisements are quite prevalent in today’s media. Take one look at Aunt Jemima, the infamous maple syrup lady. She clearly represents the “mammy” stereotype; a polite, calm, down home southern maid who merrily lives to serve others. The marketers goal is to prime us to imagine a sweet tempered mother figure serving us breakfast when we think of pancakes and maple syrup. Quaker Oats is not the only conglomerate that is priming us with stereotypes through advertisements. Before the black civil rights movement, it was commonplace in the south to call an older black man “uncle” as a sign of disrespect (Witherspoon). Uncle Ben’s rice products feature a grinning elderly black man with a suit and a bow tie. Uncle Ben represents the stereotypical post-Civil War well dressed subservient attendant who catered to the every wish of his white overseer. In this instance, the advertisers of Uncle Ben’s Rice Bowls prime the public to believe we are being served by Uncle Ben because the meal is quick easy to make. Based on stereotypes we have learned throughout our lives, this image and label strengthens our predispositions, and makes us think...
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