Racial Bias in Mass Media

While there are some exceptions, when you appear in court, the lawyers, judges, and juries, for the most part, will be white. Three-quarters of whites don’t have any non-white friends, so for many, the media forms their opinion about what they think about other races. Yale researchers found that "Racial Profiling of Black Men Starts in Preschool" and a Loyola Law Professor cites "18 Examples of Racism in the Criminal Justice System".

WEB Dubois stated that all art is propaganda.

"Thus all Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent."

Lebron James on Vogue cover
Lebron James 2008 Vogue Cover image compared to a World War I Army propaganda poster.

Propaganda is an organized effort to manipulate the public using mass media, including censorship, misinformation, half-truths, lies and other deceptive persuasive techniques. Propaganda often includes half-truths or statement of facts and beliefs, but, omit details that might persuade the audience to the other side.

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Racial images in advertising, television, movies, news broadcast, and other media have promoted stereotypes and perpetuated negative imagery of African-Americans which helps create or increase the bias of police, prosecutors, judges, and juries. It is important to understand this whenever you appear in court, so you can formulate a strategy to deal with the reality of racial bias.

Jim Crow Images

The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia is a collection of racist artifacts dating from the present back to the segregation era in the United States, put together by Ferris State University Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, David Pilgrim. The exhibit has over 9,000 pieces.

Located in Big Rapids, Michigan, the Jim Crow Museum free and open to the public, displays a wide variety of artifacts, including cartoons, figurines, and advertising, depicting the history of racist portrayals of African Americans in American popular culture and portrayed in various forms of media.

Media is Controlled by 5 or 6 White Corporations

 Five or six white corporations control most of what we watch, hear and read every single day.  They own television networks, cable channels, movie studios, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, music labels and even many of our favorite websites.

Media greatly influences what we think. Don't believe me; what's your opinion about ISIS? Where did that opinion come from? What's the first thing that comes to your mind about the following; Indians, drug dealers, billionaires or Oscar-winning actors and actress? Do you personally know any billionaires, drug dealers, or Hollywood actors? All of us have a variety of opinions about things we personally know nothing about, except for the messages and images we gain from media.

Americans have a false illusion of choice. However, when the same few companies own all the channels you're flipping through, you're most likely receiving the same message, packaged differently.

According to the Census Bureau, the United States contains, 3,144 counties and equivalents, 19,354 cities, towns, villages, and other "incorporated places". You would think a variety of interesting things would be happening every day, however, turn on the national evening news and each of the major networks are reporting about the same 3 or 4 stories.

In 1983, it took fifty companies to control 90% of Media in America. By 2000, ninety percent of America's media was controlled by only six companies: GE, News-Corp,  Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS. By 2011, only five companies were in control.

Black people do not control any major media outlet that frame images and opinions about us. There was a time when we had a variety of black newspapers, magazines, and other media. White media has even convinced some black people that the motto "Black Lives Matter" is negative.

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Click on graphic to enlarge[/caption]

As of 2018, the largest media conglomerates in terms of revenue rank Comcast, The Walt Disney Company, AT&T, CBS Corporation and Viacom per Forbes.

Imagery is used by media to frame perception

Ray Tensing, a white University of Cincinnati police officer fatally shot Samuel Dubose, an unarmed black man during a traffic stop on July 19, 2015. Tensing originally said he was dragged by the car and feared for his life, but the video clearly shows he was not dragged and the shooting was unjustified. After some national news outlets displayed the photo below, people on social media questioned why the officer, who was indicted for murder, would be pictured patriotically in full uniform standing with a flag in the background, while the murder victim was portrayed using a mug shot.

photo of murder victim Samuel Dubose vs murder suspect Ray Tensing a police officer

Many people expressed the opinion that the more appropriate imagery would have been to use the photos below, which are Tensing's mug shot and a normal photo of Dubose.

Ray Tensing mug shot vs Samuel DuBose photo

For those unfamiliar with this incident, the police body cam video, which was released after Tensing was indicted for murder, shows the traffic stop and murder. Hamilton County Prosecutor, Joe Deters, said that Ray Tensing “purposely killed” Samuel DuBose after pulling him over for a “chicken crap” infraction…“This is the most asinine act I've ever seen”. The body cam video below shows Dubois being killed at about 3 minutes and 15 seconds in the timeline. Warning, the video is graphic.

Studies of Americans’ unconscious beliefs reveal that most people believe black people are dangerous and that people in general and the police are quicker to shoot black people than they are to shoot white people. A study by Color of Change points out that every major network affiliate station in New York is consistently over-representing Black people as perpetrators of crime. They are unfairly and disproportionately focusing their crime reporting on Black suspects, and inaccurately exaggerating the proportion of Black people involved in crime. St. Louis news stations seem to follow the same pattern. When black people are arrested, they are more likely to be portrayed in ways that make them seem more threatening than white people.

However, most black folks did not need a study to explain what they already knew about news portrayals of blacks. In 1964 Malcolm X stated: "This is the press, an irresponsible press,” he said. “It will make the criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

Unfortunately, more than 50 years later, Malcolm X's statements still ring true. 

Hurricane Katrina

The racial biases of the reporters in New Orleans became part of the national narrative during Hurricane Katrina. The Huffington Post reported the following on September 1, 2005:

Repeatedly, reporters refer to white victims clinging to life as "survivors" and "residents," while African-American victims doing the same things are called "looters" and "criminals." Disproportionately, the humanizing, "heart-breaker" stories feature white victims and families. Meanwhile, images of African-American crowds are almost invariably in the background during discussions of "criminal activity."

Yahoo.com's news page provided one of the most blatant examples of this kind of bias.

The website featured a photo of two white residents, wading through the water with food. The caption read: "Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store after Hurricane Katrina came through the area in New Orleans, Louisiana. (AFP/Getty Images/Chris Graythen)"

Then there is a photo of the Black youth, wading through water with food. The caption reads: "A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005. Flood waters continue to rise in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina did extensive damage when it made landfall on Monday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)"

You can see the images yourself below:

A half-truth is much worse than a whole lie because it makes it even harder to tell the difference between the two.” – Unknown author, based in part on a Yiddish Proverb.

Kanye West added fire to the racially biased coverage with his Red Cross Telethon comments:

I vividly remember the scenes from Katrina which brought tears to my eyes and anger with the government's response. See additional Katrina comments on our "Government Discrimination" page.

Unconscious Conditioning

Propaganda is a powerful brainwashing tool and to some degree, we are all victims of unconscious conditioning. Those who control and have access to media have access to and potential control of public opinion.

The vast majority of media including; broadcast and cable television programming, news broadcasts, social media, radio stations, newspapers, magazines, record companies, and movie studios are white owned and controlled.

The Wilmington Massacre of 1898 Demonstrates the Power of Propaganda

Modern propaganda uses all the media available to spread its message, including: press, radio, television, film, computers, fax machines, posters, meetings, door-to-door canvassing, handbills, buttons, billboards, speeches, flags, street names, monuments, coins, stamps, books, plays, comic strips, poetry, music, sporting events, cultural events, company reports, libraries, and awards and prizes. People often don't recognize certain messages or images as propaganda.

Propaganda as a weapon

Many black-owned media outlets are dependent upon advertising dollars from white owned corporations and other businesses which influences, directly or indirectly what is presented. Black record labels and movie studios are dependent upon a white-controlled distribution network and retail outlets. White distributors control black media content by deciding what they will distribute vs what they won't.

For example, if a company that is providing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in advertising revenue to a media outlet and that company does not like new programming and threatens to stop advertising what do you think would happen?

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health revealed, "African-American youth receive substantially more exposure to alcohol advertising in magazines and on television, and more exposure to distilled spirits advertising on radio, than youth in general." How likely is it that media outlets will report negative stories about alcohol consumption? Doing so may jeopardize their future advertising revenue. When was the last time you read a negative newspaper or magazine article about consuming alcohol when the publication had advertising from distilleries?

Racial Bias in Entertainment Media

Black record labels and movie producers might shy away from projects they assume would offend or might not otherwise be well received by their distribution. Marvin Gaye's song "What's Going On", was originally rejected by Barry Gordy because he considered it to be "too political" and thought it might hurt Motown. Gaye threatened to go on strike and a Motown executive released the song without Gordy's knowledge.

What's Going On was an instant hit, and became Motown's fastest-selling single resulting in Gordy approving a full album by the same name; What's Going On sold over two million copies by 1972, becoming Gaye's and Motown best selling album to that date.

The album is told from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran returning to the country he had been fighting for and seeing only hatred, suffering, and injustice. Gaye's introspective lyrics discuss themes of drug abuse, poverty, and the Vietnam War.

Rap Music

I grew up during the beginning of the modern rap era in the 1970s. Early rap music contained very political messages and often protested conditions in urban America including police brutality. Rappers such as The Last Poets and Gil Scott-HeronPublic Enemy were the first predominately political hip hop group. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released their first sociopolitical rap song in 1982, called "The Message", which inspired numerous rappers to address social and political subjects.

Other examples of conscious and political hip-hop music include X Clan's "Prison", Whodini's "Growing Up", Kurtis Blow and Run-D.M.C.'s "Hard Times", MC Lyte's "Cappucino", Lupe Fiasco's "Words I Never Said", "Conflict Diamonds", Big Daddy Kane's "Lean On Me", Mos Def's "Mathematics", most of Public Enemy's discography, including, "Black Steel  in the Hour of Chaos" and "By The Time I Get To Arizona", Mosh by Eminem, "Rebel Without a Pause", "911 Is a Joke", "Burn Hollywood Burn," and "Night of the Living Baseheads"; much of the The Roots' discography, including the track "What They Do" and albums such as Things Fall Apart, Game Theory, Rising Down, Undun – The Roots are now Jimmy Fallon's house band; Jadakiss "Why" and "Why Remix", much of Kendrick Lamar's discography; much of KRS-One's discography, including the tracks "Sound of Da Police" "Move Ahead" and "Know Thyself"; Boogie Down Productions' the album Criminal Minded; much of rapper Common's discography, such as the track "I Used to Love H.E.R."; Main Source's "Watch Roger Do His Thing", N.W.A. "Fuck the Police"(explicit lyrics), Killer Mike "Burn" "Reagan" "Pressue", and much of 2Pac's discography, including "Changes".

Rap music suddenly seemed to change direction. Instead of lyrics that were socially conscious that promoted social change or justice, the lyrics became destructive with disrespectful references to women and the community. 

Self Destruction

In 1988, during a concert by Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy, a young fan was killed in a fight. The killing occurred shortly after Scott La Rock, a founding member of Boogie Down Productions, was killed in a shooting. KRS-One responded to these deaths by forming the Stop the Violence Movement to advance a vision of hip hop that would restore what he called hip hop's original principles to the music industry. Composed of some of the biggest stars in contemporary East Coast hip hop, the movement released a single, "Self Destruction", in 1989, with all proceeds going to the National Urban League.

In 2012, an anonymous letter entitled, "The Secret Meeting that Changed Rap Music and Destroyed a Generation", claimed to be written by a record industry insider, revealed that some record companies had secretly invested in the private prison industry and began marketing rap music in ways to increase crime and the prison population. Just like the Willie Lynch – How to Make a Slave letter, the authenticity of the anonymous rap letter has been challenged. However, many people already suspected similar scenarios to explain rap's sudden message change.

Former MTV/BET Producer Exposes The Music & TV Industry

Fortunately, socially conscious hip hop and rap is making a comeback, ignited mostly by Trayvon Martin, Micheal Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and other killings of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers.

Media Distortion

Media has historically credited others or misrepresented the imagery and the accomplishments of black people, at times completely eliminating black achievements completely out of the narrative. Hollywood has a long history of presenting the achievements made by some black folks and representing them as white achievements.

Since the beginning of the Hollywood film industry, movies have not until recently been very racially, ethnically or culturally sensitive or diverse.

Birth of a Nation

"Birth of a Nation", considered the first blockbuster, the silent film, chronicles the relationship of two families in the American Civil War and Reconstruction era: the pro-Union Northern Stonemans and the pro-Confederacy Southern Camerons over the course of several years. The film portrayed black men (some played by white actors in blackface) as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women, and the Ku Klux Klan (whose original founding is dramatized) was portrayed as a heroic force.

Black occupation soldiers are seen parading through the streets and pushing white residents aside on the sidewalks. During an election, whites are seen being prevented from voting while blacks are observed stuffing the ballot boxes. The newly elected, mostly black legislature is shown at their desks taking off shoes, putting feet up on desks, drinking liquor and eating fried chicken. The new black legislature passes laws requiring white civilians to salute black soldiers and allowing mixed-race marriages.

The Birth of a Nation was used as a recruiting tool for the KKK and created a surge in membership which peaked in 1924-26 to between 3-6 million members. These new members were not just poor and working class whites but included mainstream, middle-class Americans; doctors, lawyers, and ministers became loyal supporters of the KKK and too.

Early Hollywood's mainstream films were far from racially, ethnically or culturally sensitive. When minority characters were represented at all, they were typically characterized as immoral, criminal simpletons, used as comedic contrasts to their white protagonists, as outlined in the book Racism, Sexism, And the Media. The typical modern roles are all too often the black sidekick of a white star, the token black person, the comedic relief, the athlete, the over-sexed ladies' man, the absentee father or, most damaging, the violent black man as drug-dealing criminal and gangster thug.

Our Gang

Early children's programming indoctrinated children to find humor in exaggerated stereotypes and accept racial bias as normal. Stymie wants some chicken is a classic example.

Animated Stereotypical Propaganda

Between 1930 and 1950, animators at Warner Brothers, Walt Disney, MGM, Merrie Melodies, Looney Tunes, R.K.O., and many other independent studios, produced thousands of cartoons containing racial stereotypes and references to alcohol, adultery, female anatomy, cross-dressing, gambling, marijuana, pornography, sexual situations, smoking, and suicides. The compilation of banned cartoons below starts with a very racist cartoon and an equally racist cartoon is shown at about 21:56 in the timeline.

Black Marine During 9/11

After the attack at the World Trade Center the morning of September 11, 2001, Sergeant Jason Thomas, a dedicated black marine, troubled and moved to action by the terrorist attacks; dons his uniform and makes his way through police lines and plays a key role in helping to find two New York City police officers (the last two survivors) in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

At some point, Thomas meets another marine, David Karnes, and the two marines search for survivors on their own after the other rescuers have been pulled out because it was too dangerous to continue searching the unstable rubble in the dark, which included burning or smoldering debris, jagged metal and shards of glass.

In the Oliver Stone movie, World Trade Center, about the September 11 attacks, Sergeant Jason Thomas the black marine who helped rescue the two police officers was cast as a white man. The producers and directors claimed they didn't know the identity or race of Thomas until after the film began. The imagery of a black hero being excluded from the narrative helps to distort perception about contributions made by blacks in this country.

Professor Lester Spence in an NPR article stated, "I don't think those associated with the movie did this to ignore the contributions of people who didn't happen to be white. Not at all. I think they did it to increase white self-esteem" and I agree. Below is a clip from the movie when Thomas and Karnes discover the two survivors.

Jason Thomas at WTC Sept 2001
Marine Sergeant Jason Thomas in WTC rubble – September 2001

Jessica Lynch, Shoshana Johnson, and Lori Piestewa

Jessica Lynch, Shoshana Johnson, and Lori Piestewa were ambushed in the same attack during the Iraq War on March 23, 2003, with Piestewa being killed and Lynch and Johnson being injured and taken prisoner. 

Jessica Dawn Lynch served in the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S. and allied forces. Her convoy was ambushed by Iraqi forces during the Battle of Nasiriyah. Lynch was seriously injured and captured. She received considerable media coverage and on April 1, 2003, was the first successful rescue of an American prisoner of war since Vietnam and the first ever of a woman.

In the initial press briefing on April 2, 2003, the Pentagon released a five-minute video of the rescue and claimed that Lynch had stab and bullet wounds and that she had been slapped about on her hospital bed and interrogated. It was reported that "Pfc. Jessica Lynch, rescued Tuesday from an Iraqi hospital, fought fiercely and shot several enemy soldiers after Iraqi forces ambushed the Army's 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company, firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition, U.S. officials said yesterday. Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk, continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting 11 days ago, one official said." She was hailed as an American war hero and in November 2003, a movie, "Saving Jessica Lynch" aired on NBC depicting a heroic battle scene before her capture.

There was no sign of gunshot or stab wounds, and Lynch's injuries were consistent with those that would be suffered in a car accident, which Lynch verified when she stated that she got hurt when her Humvee flipped and broke her leg. On April 24, 2007, she testified in front of Congress that she had never fired her weapon, her M16 rifle jammed and that she had been knocked unconscious when her vehicle crashed.

Shoshana Johnson actually fought back, at one point during the attack, which lasted about 90 minutes, Johnson said, she managed to fire her M-16 rifle at an Iraqi but missed. After she was wounded, she handed her rifle to Sgt. James Riley because his own had malfunctioned. She said the constant weapons malfunctions, which an Army report later said likely occurred because of a lack of maintenance, probably cost some of the 507th soldiers their lives. Johnson still questions why she and the soldiers had been instructed to wrap their rifle magazines with duct tape, which melted in the harsh Iraqi desert heat. The main rifle malfunction was that the rounds wouldn't load from the magazines into the rifle chambers. During the ambush scene from Saving Jessica Lynch, Shoshana Johnson is depicted as panicking, never firing a shot, while Lynch is depicted fighting, even though she never fired a single shot.

Lynch, a young, blonde, white woman, received far more media coverage than Johnson (a black woman and a single mother) and Piestewa (a Hopi from an impoverished background, and also a single mother), with media critics suggesting that the media gave more attention to the woman with whom audiences supposedly more readily identify. Lynch received a million dollar book deal and even receives a larger disability payment than Johnson, even though Johnson was held captive longer and had served five years vs Lynch's two years.

Angelina Jolie cast as Mariane Pearl

Mariane Pearl is the widow of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in early 2002. She is of Afro-Chinese-Cuban descent and wrote a memoir, "A Mighty Heart", which deals with the events surrounding her husband's kidnapping and barbaric execution (by beheading), was adapted for the film A Mighty Heart. Angelina Jolie was cast to play the part of Mariane Pearl in the film and wore a wig and makeup to darken her skin. A photo of Mariane Pearl with Angelina Jolie is shown below.

Kevin Spacey in Pay it Forward

Pay It Forward is a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde, released in 1999 which was adapted into the motion picture Pay It Forward which released theatrically and to DVD in 2000–2001. Kevin Spacey starred in the film and played the role of Eugene Simonet, (whose original name was Reuben St. Clair) and was African American in the novel. Simonet is a teacher who inspires the main character Trevor McKinney to change the world.

The role was apparently offered to actor Denzel Washington, but he declined because of other commitments. Maybe there were no other Black actors available. When Kevin Spacey agreed to the movie the character was changed to a white man named Eugene Simonet.

The real Lone Ranger was a black man

Bill O'Reilly reveals how the 1950's television program "The Lone Ranger", was based on a real-life figure, Bass Reeves, an escaped black slave who became a deputy U.S. Marshal after the Civil War. Reeves arrested over 3,000 felons and shot and killed fourteen outlaws in self-defense.

Even before the killing of Michael Brown and the Ferguson unrest, St. Louis has long been considered one of the most racially divided cities in America. In 1991, a racial bias experiment was conducted right here in St. Louis on PrimeTime featuring Diane Sawyer. As many black people would have suspected, St. Louis exhibited systemic racial bias and discrimination during every experiment conducted.

NBC news video below talks about the white criminal culture in the United States and demonstrates the subtlety of racial bias in news reporting.

 Effects of negative racial images and bias on children

Children are introduced to racial imagery early in life and are indoctrinated with a bias that has profound effects on how they see themselves and others. One of the particularly sad reactions of black children is that many of them see themselves and those that look like them negatively.

Doll Test

A Look at race relations through a child's eyes

Put the power of the law in your hands