AFRICAN AMERICANS STILL NEARLY INVISIBLE IN MEDIA, BOOK SAYS
COLUMBUS , Ohio – While African Americans have made inroads into some parts of American society, they are still nearly invisible in many parts of the news media and the entertainment industry, according to an Ohio State University professor.
Rudolph Alexander, Jr., professor of social work, argues in a newly revised book that the media often ignores African Americans in stories of both heroes and victims, even when they are an integral part of the narrative.
In the book Racism, African Americans, and Social Justice (Rowman and Littlefield, 2nd edition, 2005), Alexander discusses the media coverage of Jessica Lynch, a white U.S. soldier who was captured while in Iraq and later rescued. While Lynch was widely celebrated in the media as a hero, much less attention was given to Shoshana Johnson, an African American woman who was also injured and captured along with Lynch.
“No one begrudges Jessica Lynch the attention and financial rewards that she has received,” Alexander said. “But I wonder why Shoshana Johnson, as an African American woman, has not received anywhere near the same level of attention.”
If that was the only example of such subtle racism in the media, it may be excused as an aberration, Alexander said. But it isn't, he said. The same disregard of African American stories goes on in the entertainment media.
Alexander discussed the 1999 Hollywood movie “Boys Don't Cry” as one example. The movie, which won Hilary Swank a best actress Oscar, told the true story of Brandon Teena, who was born a female in Nebraska but decided to live as a man. She was later killed along with two other people, a white female and an African American man. While the white female was part of the movie, the African American man who was killed, Phillip DeVine, was completely cut from the script.
“There was a missing part of the story, the part that dealt with an African American man. That's not an accident,” Alexander said.
A common strategy of Hollywood film makers is to take a true story that centers around an African American and change the focus to highlight the role of a white person in the story, Alexander said.
For example, a new movie planned about the Black daughter of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, a one-time segregationist, will reportedly focus on the white reporter who uncovered Thurmond's relationship with a Black woman.
“African Americans don't often get to play the role of heroes in the media, even when they did in real life,” he said.
The invisibility of Blacks in the media is just one example of how African Americans are still the victims of unequal justice in the United States from a variety of institutions, from schools to courts to law enforcement. The book includes chapters on institutional racism in the military, economic discrimination, and the controversy over reparations for slavery, among other issues.
Alexander, whose own research has focused on the criminal justice system, says the differential treatment of minority juvenile offenders is another good example of unequal justice.
Many studies have shown that African American juveniles are more likely than whites to be jailed for drug offenses, even though white teens are more likely to use drugs. Alexander found that in suburban Cleveland, white juveniles who were arrested for drug crimes often were dealt with informally, outside of the juvenile justice system, and were not detained. However, Black juveniles often did not get this informal treatment.
“African American youth with minor drug offenses should be treated by their communities from a mental health perspective rather than from a legal perspective,” Alexander said. “There should be more emphasis on helping them rather than punishing them.”
Media coverage of Blacks, and the treatment of African American youth in the juvenile justice system, both show how American society still has a long way to go to achieve social justice, Alexander said.
“Although there has been improvement in many areas, African Americans still don't have equal standing in the United States,” he said. “There's still much that needs to be done.”
Contact: Rudolph Alexander, Jr., (614) 292-1878;
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.firstname.lastname@example.org