Television’s Detrimental Effects on the African American People

by on January 21st, 2011
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Although one of the ways that mankind marks its success is through the progression of technology, that technology is not always put to good use. Television for generations has provided us with an escape from reality through programs, kept us informed of local and global news and featured products that we can buy to make our lives better and easier. It has also hinder our progress towards racial equality by endangering the self-worth of African Americans.

African American self-worth, as defined by Dr. Daudi Azibo and other scientists that study Africentirc psychology, is made up of racial awareness, racial identity and racial preference. Examples from modern television as well as a variety of clinical studies, show the negative impact that television can have on these three criteria and in turn, on the self-worth of African Americans in general. In the 2010 study “Criteria That Indicate When African-Centered Consciousness is Endangered or Depleted by the Mass Media,” racial awareness is defined as judgments made that can be either negative or positive when observing the different racial groups. It further defines racial identity as the idea of belonging to a group set apart by physical characteristics determined by race. Lastly, it defines racial preference as the positive attachment that a person develops towards certain races due to feelings of superiority in some area.

The first examples that we’ll look at come from commercials. In 1980 a public service announcement aired warning against the dangers of drugs, drug dealers and drug dealing. The entire commercial is shot in a run down neighborhood and all of the people that appear in the video are African American males in their teens and early 20’s. The main character is one such guy who raps about selling drugs and ruining the lives of children. At one point in the ad, he goes behind a telephone pole and emerges on the other side as a black monster. This hurts racial awareness by sending out the message that African American males should be feared and are all drug dealers or users. It hurts racial preference by telling people that if you want to be good, you can’t be an African American male. Lastly, it hurts racial identity by preventing people from wanting to positively identify themselves as African American because they are ‘monsters.’

Racist advertising doesn’t have to be found back in the 80’s. In 2006 Sony ran a campaign for their new PSP in ceramic white. Their ad featured a strong looking white women who was grabbing a submissive looking black woman while the words ‘White is Coming’ were shown. This commercial affected two of the three criteria for self-worth. It affects racial awareness by sending out the message that African Americans are inferior to whites. Racial preference is also affected because the ad shows that whites are superior and that people should want white and not black.

In 2007 Intel also ran a detrimental commercial for their new Intel Core 2 Duo Processor. This ad featured a white man in a business suit standing in the middle of the room while 6 African American athletes, 3 on each side, where bowed down in a runners position. This commercial is very representative of slavery. There is a white leader/master and African Americans bowed in submission while the white man “mastered the power of his employees.” This hinders racial awareness by again showing African Americans as subservient and inefficient on their own. This attitude of inefficiency also hinders racial preference.

A 2003 study by Gonzalez Castro, “Physiological, psychological, social, and cultural
influences on the use of menthol cigarettes among Blacks and Hispanics,” shows that pro-smoking advertisements are one of the most significant factors that lead to teenage smoking. According to the study ” For years, the tobacco industry has been effective in marketing glamorized social and cultural images to racial and ethnic adolescent.” It stands that if the tobacco industry does this, other industries can as well. It also stands that if they can target self-esteem to sell a product, that self-esteem can also be targeted solely for the purpose of changing it.

The next examples that we’ll look at come from tv programming and some have been featured in Complex magazine in their article “The 50 Most Racist Tv Shows of All Times.” The first popular show is Family Guy which has one black character. In various episodes the African American character gets cheated on, has a son that he can’t control, owns a deli but never goes to work and various other negative things. At some point, Fox network gives the character a spin off show called The Cleveland Show which repeatedly uses every known black stereotype there is. This show is just as detrimental and even puts the lead character, voiced over by a white guy, with a bear and a racist as neighbors.

This is detrimental to racial awareness by only displaying the negative and stereotypical behaviors of African Americans making them feel that this is all they can be and in turn feel negative about it. It is detrimental to racial identity by suggesting that when African Americans encounter racists, that they should look the other way and be friends with them because they don’t know any better or because that is just the way that they are. Lastly, it damages racial preference by airing episodes that suggest that even the bear character is better than the African American character. This is shown when the bear beats out Cleveland for a promotion, when the bear has to help him get a job and when Cleveland’s wife repeatedly expresses regret over not having married the bear instead.

Dr. Azibo’s 2010 study even points to the popular and long time running, “Desperate Housewives.” He mentions the brief point during the long running season where suburbia gets an African American housewife. Her role on the show is short lived and ends with her being driven out of the neighborhood after her son is shot. Dr. Azibo argues that this is harmful because “identification with the winning side may be preferred by many.” This concept is detrimental to racial preference because it again communicates the message that African Americans are inferior and it can lead to African Americans not wanting to be around other African Americans. It can also influence their racial identity by putting negative connotations on to African Americans who the show tells them are bad parents and bad neighbors.

The last examples to look at come from the news on television. This will include regular aired news and political campaigns run on tv. The first example of detrimental news comes recently from the CBS news station in Chicago where a video interview with a 14 year old African American boy was edited to give the appearance that the boy’s goal was to become a ‘thug’ when the real video shows the boy’s actual commentary is about him wanting to become a police officer. A study by Daniel Romer in 1998 called “The Treatment of Persons of Color in Local Television News: Ethnic Blame, Discourse or Realistic group Conflict?” showed that African Americans appear more in news reports on crime than any other race. It also shows that they are more likely to be shown as the people committing the crimes rather than the victims despite the fact that both of these are statistically inaccurate.

Slander and misrepresentation in the news are highly detrimental to the self-worth of African Americans because this is the one type of television program that most people consider ‘realistic and representative.’ African Americans being shown as criminals make African Americans not want to be around other African Americans and makes then less likely to think of African Americans in a positive light. It also makes them want to disown their own race, which is perhaps one of the most detrimental. This can be seen when people, like Billie Williams, insist that they are not African American but human (you have never heard a white person say that) and when people like Sammy Sosa and Michael Jackson bleach their skin so that they can appear more white. This just further promotes the idea that being black is a bad thing and should be abandoned or covered up.

Political campaigns can be just as harmful. One such campaign was ran by “The Republican Party, Jesse Helms” against Harvey Grant shows a well qualified white man that loses out on a job to an African American who is not qualified for the position but gets it because Harvey Grant supports meeting diversity hire quotas. The voice over then goes on to talk about how that white man needed the job to feed his family. This ad is detrimental because it suggests that African Americans are unqualified and only get jobs do to affirmative action. This affects racial awareness because it leads to detrimental feeling about the African American character. It is detrimental to racial identity because it again showcases African Americans as being little more than thieves and hurts racial preference but alluding to the fact that African American men don’t have families or don’t support their families.

Another campaign was run by the Republic Party against Harold Ford when he was running for the Tennessee Senate. This campaign featured all white people aside from one African American woman. All of the white people had negative things to say bout Ford and most were stereotypical and mentioned words like stealing, drug use and undereducated. The African American woman was the only person with a nice thing to say about Ford and that was only about how she found him good looking. This is detrimental to racial preference because it indicates that only African Americans can be attracted to other African Americans and also by suggesting that the only things African Americans care about is looks. It damages racial awareness by showing the African Americans are the minority and that almost everybody is against them. It lastly damages racial identity by telling African Americans that being black is unpopular and should be avoided.

The negative impact that television has on the self worth of African Americans is a problem not only because of the damage is does to how they feel about themselves and other African Americans, but also because of the detriment that this has on the quality of their over all lives. Thomas Parham in the 1993 study “The Relationship of Demographic and background Factors to Racial Identity Attitudes,” showed that there are correlations between positive racial self identity and success and the converse. This success was measured at the personal and societal level.

In order to get back on track with racial equality, consideration must be given to the affect that television programming has on the self worth of African Americans. Only when shows, commercials and new programs are aired that will focus on the strengths, positive qualities and endearing traits of African Americans will it result in the increased feeling of self-efficacy and self worth in African Americans. It is also only when this happens that mankind will truly be able to count the use of this technology as being a success in the betterment of mankind.

Sources Cited
“The 50 Most Racist TV Shows of All Time | Complex.” Complex | Style, Music, Sneakers, Entertainment, Girls, Technology. Complex Media, 30 Sept. 2010. Web. 13 Dec. 2011. .

Azibo, D. (2010). Criteria That Indicate When African-Centered Consciousness is Endangered or Depleted by the Mass Media. The Journal of Pan African Studies, 3(8), 135-150. Retrieved November 7, 2011, from http://www.jpanafrican.com/docs/vol3no8/3.8CriteriaThat.pdf

Belgrave, F. Z., & Allison, K. W. (2006). African American psychology: from Africa to America. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Castro, Felipe G. “Physiological, Psychological, Social, and Cultural Influences on the Use of Menthol Cigarettes among Blacks and Hispanics.” Nicotine & Tobacco Research 6.1 (2004): 29-41. Print.

Parham, T., & Williams, P. (1993). The Relationship of Demographic and Background Factors to Racial Identity. Journal of Black Psychology, 19(7). Retrieved October 30, 2011, from http://jbp.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/19/1/7

Romer, Daniel; Jamieson, Kathleen H; de Coteau, Nicole J. (June 1998). “The Treatment of Persons of Color in Local Television News: Ethnic Blame, Discourse or Realistic Group Conflict.” Communication Research 25(13): 286-305.doi:10.1177/009365098025003002.

X, J. (2011, August 1). Not Even Black Toddlers Are Safe From Media Slander . Black Youth Project | Music and Politics, News and Culture. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2011/08/not-even-black-toddlers-are-safe-from-media-slander/


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