By Taylor Pomasl
Recent research shows that the news media portrayal of Black Americans is making strides to becoming less biased.
As issues of race gained national attention during the 1990s, “many social scientists and communication scholars sought to study the portrayal of racial minorities within the news media,” wrote John Wihbey of Journalist’s Resource in his 2015 article. Studies conducted prior to Wihbey’s release would document findings that revealed a high rate in which African Americans were typically depicted as violent or dangerous in news – until now.
A 2000 paper written by Travis Dixon and Daniel Linz and published in the Journal of Communication revealed that African Americans were more likely to appear as perpetrators over whites. Furthermore, whites were shown to be “overrepresented as police officers on television, despite significant numbers of racial minorities in law enforcement in the countries examined.”
In 2015, Travis Dixon of the University of Illinois, a researcher from the previous 2000 study, revisited the core aspects of the earlier study, publishing his own in Communication Research. The study investigated how blacks, whites, and Latinos were presented in television news in the roles of victims, perpetrators, and officers, and revealed that whites were often positively portrayed and “Blacks were accurately portrayed in the news in all three roles.”
A study conducted by Media Matters for America reveals that being the topic of news wasn’t the only place where African Americans were underrepresented or wrongly portrayed. Eighty-three percent of guests featured on CNN, for example, were white in May 2008.
In 2014, an article was published in light of Black History Month that featured several photos of each African American shown on a single day between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., showing an increase in appearances by African Americans on certain news networks, including CNN.
Mychal Denzel Smith of The Nation stresses that there’s still more progress to be made.
“At our peril, we ignore how invested we have become in those racist institutions those older generations created. It’s not just a matter of changing attitudes about skin color. We have to be willing to challenge systems of power.”
Why should readers care about the ethnicity/race of news contributors and sources? Chimamanda Adichie talks about the “danger of a single story” below.