African American Stereotypes and Social Media

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Research Methods I:  African American Stereotypes and Social Media

Abstract

African Americans have endured many injustices and stereotypes for decades.  The fact that the media embellishes upon the stereotypical ideations of behaviors exhibited in movies, rap videos, and other labels given to this culture of beings, makes for harmful reactions from others outside of the culture.  Individuals who have no diversified relationship outside of their own culture, have adopted the pigeonhole tag that has been placed upon African Americans.  This has proven to be both an injustice for this group, as well as harmful for them.  The notions of the urban styled clothing worn by African Americans have had them referred to as thugs and hoodlums, the roles portrayed in movies, have become a reality, when it is merely acting, and the videos in which African American women perform in, have gained them the label of being called a hoochie, and other derogatory names.  These judgmental names and portrayals have been openly adopted by social media, who have in turn ran with it, and reinforced the stereotypes placed prematurely upon individuals, hindering relationships, job placements, and society’s overall thoughts of one culture in particular, the African American culture.

Introduction

African Americans are disproportionately, and negatively portrayed in the media. The question explored is whether those portrayals have consequences. When negative stereotypes are portrayed in areas where people are not exposed to African Americans significantly, their opinions are negatively polarized. Employers cease to view job applicants as individuals, but rather instead judge them for how well they conform to the stereotypes they have been exposed to. Media portrayals are not neutral, and have negative consequences. Therefore, it is incumbent on those with media ambitions to balance portrayals so that positive role models can positively impact the African American community. Much research has been done on the negative influence that stereotypes have on African Americans, both directly and indirectly. How others perceive them is important to how they might view themselves. If the entire world only recognizes an individual based on unearned negative perception, then it is likely that the influence would be seen in a self-destructive behavior in the appropriate subjects. The literature validates this premise. Further, people exposed to stereotypes who had no live contact with African Americans were thereby limited and directed through very narrow lenses that the subjects have little control over.  Media representations play a powerful role in how African Americans are perceived, and this is negatively correlated with anti-social behavior. There is a socially relevant problem that entails educational responsibility. Constructive role models begin in the home. However, that does not mitigate the media’s responsibility for the negative affects brought about by stereotypes. The problem with stereotypes is that they are disproportionately negative with less counterbalances than white audiences. When the options are severely limited, then the polarizing effects of negative stereotyping on the African-American community becomes significantly more obvious, and the effects become more blatant. Therefore, the purpose of the paper is to demonstrate how stereotypes harm African Americans, and explore workable solutions associated with it.

Literature Review

African Americans must deal with indirect, and direct methods of oppression. The legal system is the most obvious, but there is another method that is subtler, and it succeeds in motivating the African American community to oppress themselves. The articles demonstrate strong relationships, and even some causal links between behavior and media archetypes. People who might not be exposed to African Americans are less likely to have positive impressions of African Americans they might encounter, and this has tangible effects. One article demonstrated that the more people were exposed to negative female stereotypes, the less charitable they are received in job interviews (Brown-Givens, & Monahan, 2009). Some might argue that a religiosity is an ideal protector; however, there is more evident success in education approaches that teach critical thinking applications to the media, as well as counter-stereotype exposure.

To deflect charges of racism, people often like to mention how many African American friends they have. It is widely assumed that increased exposure to African American individuals would be less affected by racial stereotypes or hostile thinking. That thought is why Fujioka (1999) investigates how African-American stereotypes in the media would affect people who had limited contact with African-Americans. She split them up into two study groups. One was Japanese, and the other was Caucasian. She discovered that Television has the potential to shape public attitudes about African-Americans via stereotypes. This affect was found to be significantly greater when the study group had limited exposure to African Americans. This demonstrates the harm that media stereotyping has caused to African-Americans. Although many Caucasians have also pointed out negative portrayals of white characters as a counterbalance to the charge of African-American stereotyping, this is mitigated by positive Caucasian portrayals in the media. Traditionally, African-American role models have been sparser, so there is not a significant counterweight to the negative portrayals of African Americans.

Many would protest that they are not influenced by media stereotyping. This study challenges this assumption. Brown-Givens and Monahan (2009) investigate the effects of specific stereotypical images, and how this might affect perception. The participants were alternately shown media portrayals that related to the Jezebel or Mammie stereotypes, or otherwise neutral stimuli. They were then shown job interviews where their responses were evaluated for varying degrees of prejudice. Those who were shown the stereotype conforming media demonstrated an increase in negative evaluation terms as opposed to positive word choices. The terms would shift depending on exposure to specific stereotypes between sexual or maternal terms, as opposed to neutral professional appraisals. This demonstrates specific potential harm caused by stereotyping. It is economic oppression in the form of social engineering. The authors concluded that more investigation was necessary, and further broadening of the scope was necessary.

People would ideally form their identity through experience; however, Ward (2004) explores how media stereotypes affect an African American teenager’s conception of self. The research gathered what media the subjects were exposed to, as well as gathering the correlate self-esteem data. Predictably, the subjects who viewed negative stereotypes more frequently had a positive correlated relationship with lower self-esteem.  It further demonstrated that subjects exposed to strong role models also had a positive correlated relationship with positive self-esteem. Strong identification with strong African-American role models are suggested as a possible protective solution to avoid lower self-esteem correlated to negative media portrayals of African-Americans. Greater religiosity was also a suggested solution.

Many would question the harm done by media stereotypes, and so Peterson et al. (2007)  investigate what the health consequences associated with sexual female Stereotypes in rap videos are on female adolescents. The research team surveyed the subject pool’s exposure to rap videos, their sex partners, and a drug screen was universally administered. It was found that there is a positive correlation between the amount of exposure to rap video female stereotypes and binge drinking, testing positive for marijuana, multiple sex partners, and a negative body image that have known links to eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia. The findings of the study may conclude that if the stereotypes influence the subject’s health choices then it is likely that subject’s health has been negatively affected. There is an adversely positive relationship between exposure to sexual stereotypes in rap videos and the subject’s health; however, the limit of the study is that it does not establish a causal relationship between the two events.

Reality television has grown into an entire industry since the 1990s, and Tyree (2011) aims to demonstrate that the prevalence of African American stereotypes within reality television. The study demarcated 6 stereotypes perpetuated by reality television; the angry black woman, hoochie, hood rat, homo, thug, sambo, and coon. Much of reality television is now specifically marketed to African Americans, such as Love and Hip Hop, and Love and Basketball. Media stereotypes have a powerful adverse positive relationship between negative health, emotional and economic effects on the African American community. Therefore, the rise in popularity of a genre of popular media known for utilizing stereotypes to market to African Americans is a disturbing trend.

It is one thing to identify the problem, but it is equally, if not more important to identify an effective solution. Ramasubramanian (2007) researches two competing strategies for reducing the influence of negative racial media stereotypes. One approach is to teach the audience to be critical thinkers when engaged with the media, and the other was a message based approach that presented counter evidence challenging established stereotypes. Participants watched a control video before reading the stereotypical or counter-stereotypical news stories about African or Asian Americans. After the study, they took a survey of impressions of the stories that differentiated and emphasized sympathetic or stereotypically expected word choices. The results were that both were effective in diminishing the influence of media stereotypes, and that a combination of the solution-based approaches is suggested. Grade school would be the ideal time to initiate education-based responses, because by high school much of the damage has already been done.

The literature demonstrates that there are strong relationship trends that demonstrate the influence and harm done when the media perpetuates negative African-American stereotypes. Often this can result in economic repression, as well as poor choices with regard to health. When investigating solutions, there is some support for a multi-pronged education based solution. Some would argue that high school is the ideal age to instruct children on how to correctly interpret media social engineering. However, by this time, the damage has already been done. Therefore, grade school is the ideal time to initiate an education based intervention. One of the studies that strong African American role models in the media were a strong counter to the damage done by stereotyping, and that is where children have a greater number to identify with, such as Dora the Explorer.

Caveat: The studies demonstrated a relationship between attitudes and exposure to stereotypes. However, the Peterson et al. study does not determine conclusively that there is a causal relationship between negative health choices and exposure to stereotypes.

Research Methodology

The research relies on qualitative methods of observation. Much of the sources cited rely on small focus groups that utilize the traditional experimental methods that use controls and attempt to isolate the dependent variable.  The dependent variable is hypothesized to be the subject’s attitudes toward African-Americans. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that media portrayals of stereotypes have positive relationships with negative viewpoints that African-Americans have of themselves, as well as how others perceive African-Americans. Therefore, the research is advocating an action approach, and offers solutions to the problems. The data was provided in existing literature, and the approach taken by the researchers employs traditional experimental approaches that isolate causes and relationships between the subjects and media influence. In one study, the researcher isolated two groups and exposed them to stereotypes. One group however, had more exposure to African-Americans during normal routines, and the other group had none. The results were that those who were not exposed beyond media portrayals, were more likely to have their attitudes negatively affected. Some other research methods retrieved from archival literature could only draw weaker conclusions. For example, those African-American women exposed to sexual stereotypes in rap videos were more likely to have problems with sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancies, and drug abuse. However, it is not clear that the videos were the cause, or in relationship with the behavior. The nature of the study could not isolate the dependent variable. However, when the research is considered in context with the corresponding results of how media influence has influence in isolation, it could be argued that it is not that the rap videos had negative stereotypes, but that the women affected also had other isolating factors that limited the role models available.

We used a questionnaire which included ten questions to poll random individuals regarding their views on the African American culture, and social media’s influence on those views.  Of the ten random individuals who participated ranging in age from thirty-sixty.  50% were Caucasian, 40% African Americans, and 10% were Hispanic or Latino.  The overall perception of the participants felt that African Americans were feared more than any other ethnic group, they perceived African American women as being either Women who have a lot of children and received welfare, or ghetto women who are loose.  As it related to social media, 60% of the participants felt the media’s perception, along with the movie roles played by African Americans, had an accurate depiction.

Research Questions and Hypothesis

Questions

  1.  Are stereotypes and television’s biased portrayal contributing factors to why African            Americans are negatively viewed in society?
  2. Could the lack of knowledge of the African American culture from other races be the cause of their decisions to believe the stereotypes?

The reason why these questions should be examined is because of the way that television portrays African Americans. It is always within a negative scenario. African Americans are often viewed as the antagonist, and the families are seen as unstable.  In most films, there are no positive black role models.  They depict black women as being angry with an attitude and black men are always the one to leave their families. The media also believes that African Americans survive on welfare benefits such as SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps.  How did this stereotype arise? The only answer that one would be able to find would be the media, because in 2013, statistics show that the race of most recipients that received SNAP benefits were white.  So, why does the media choose to ridicule African Americans? This makes it hard for African Americans to be taken seriously in the work force. Jobs are less likely to be granted to an African American candidate because of an employer, that only notices race, may find it difficult to focus on someone’s worth ethic and their ability to effectively get a job done. The media can cause those who have never been around African Americans to take the knowledge that they have been exposed to on television, and judge an individual based on biased opinions that have previously been learned. These questions try to seek an understanding of why social media chooses to portray African Americans as nuisance of society, and what could possibly be the cause of the stereotypes that have been formed.

It is hypothesized that there is a strong correlation between negative stereotypes and adverse consequences to the people exposed to them. This is a socially engineer’s society in a negative way to the detriment of African Americans.  There are disproportionate stereotypes on television that portray African Americans both economically and emotionally. When potential employers are overly exposed to stereotypes, they are then more likely to frame their impressions within the contexts of those stereotypes. The independent variables are the stereotypes that the subjects were exposed to, and the dependent variables are their impressions of women who might vaguely resemble what they would expect from certain stereotypes. It was found that opinions would polarize within the contexts of what they were exposed to. Confounding variables include the fact that it does not account for those who have regular interactions with African Americans. If one were to dismiss media portrayals of stereotypes, then important connections would be overlooked. Further, African Americans who were exposed to oversexualized stereotypes were likely to have problems with school, drug abuse, and have multiple sex partners. It is therefore expected that whoever young teens identity with, plays a significant role in their operative life decisions. It has been hypothesized in the literature that if there are more positive role models available, healthy behavior can then be expected within a statistically sizeable proportion of the population. If rap videos cause teenagers to act in accordance with an oversexualized stereotype, then more exposure to role models interested in life goals could be pivotal for socially rewarded behavior. Parental involvement could also be a confounding factor in reaching conclusions. Young women exposed to rap videos might have other confounding variables that might influence the outcome. The explicit connection is weak, as parental involvement and peer culture also play significant roles in shaping behavior. For example, rebellious children in abusive homes may not have positive role models in the home to compensate for the lack of options from traditional media.

Worldview

If there are social influences that might be detrimental to the construct of an African American identity, then there is a social responsibility for the community to build itself via education. It is unlikely that one can expect the general media to reform itself, and therefore it is incumbent upon the community to understand the problem. Self-awareness is the first step toward problem resolution. Constructivism is the worldview that best applies. There are problems that raise questions about the correlations between healthy behavior and media diets. If parents would be more involved with their children, then they are less likely to fall into self-destructive behaviors. Positive female role models can first and foremost be found in the home. If they do not witness a sister or mother succeed, then it would not be surprising that the subject would be hard pressed to choose an appropriate role model for themselves when they have not gained balance within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Hutchison, E.D., & Contributors, 2015). However, they are even less likely to succeed if there is scarce media portrayal that may give examples of successful African American men or women. African Americans are also adversely affected by Caucasian stereotype exposure. For example, if they are in a position that requires them to seek employment from people under the influence of stereotypes, then they are less likely to be hired. The best method would be for African Americans to advance its own media.  If there is a perceived problem, then there is a problem. The studies validate that perception can influence behavior, instead of behavior influencing perception. When a person is focused on a world outside of itself, then personal responsibility is not intuitive. One does not self-evaluate the consequences to one’s behavior, but rather if their behavior conforms to media-based expectations. Television is designed to market truth to consumers, and it is in other interests that people oppress themselves, rather than be physically forced to do so. There are different kinds of role models that people gravitate toward. There are those that gratify emotional needs, and those that resolve conflicts, and mitigate negative consequences. The ideal archetype would allow them to see the value in action, as opposed to identifying with tragic weakness.

Discussion

People are influenced by what they watch, and this is demonstrated first by analyzing an individual’s predilections for insular thinking. There is an implicit bias for the familiar. The evidence has been shown. If one is not exposed to any diverse elements beyond what is familiar to the subject, then that polarizes the subject further. Exposure to other races is crucial to combating implicit bias and tribal instincts. Some might argue that some of the responsibility belongs to African Americans. The theory is that instead of attempting to reform white forms of media that the African-American community ought to build their own programs separate and independent of white supremacy. Stereotypes have also been demonstrated to play a potential factor in economic depression. Employer’s judge applicants based on stereotypes they see in the media, and simultaneously influences some African Americans to internalize stereotypes they see, and behave as they have been influenced. The media represents an ideology that influences African Americans to be complicit in their own oppression.

Conclusion

It is a fact that stereotypes inflict a significant amount of damage on the African American community. Homo Sapiens instinctually prefer familiar people and patterns of speech. When people have limited exposure to those who are different from themselves this instinct is magnified. Although the civil rights movement made much progress, it also made racism a shameful label. This did not encourage people to grow as individuals, but rather repress awareness of what defines racism. This implies responsibility to many in both group and individualistic settings. The media needs to be held accountable, and African Americans should continue to build African-American media role models that serve to counter-balance negative media portrayals.

References

Brown-Givens, S. M., & Monahan, J. L. (2009) Priming Mammies, Jezebels, and Other Controlling Images: An Examination of the Influence of Mediated Stereotypes on Perceptions of an African American Woman. Media Psychology. 7(1) 87-106.

Delaney A., Scheller, A. (2015).  Who gets food stamps? White people, mostly.  Huffpost Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/28/food-stamp-demographics_n_6771938.html.

Donaldson, L. (2015).  Race issues:  When the media misrepresents black men, the effects are felt in the real world. The Guardian.  Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/12/media-misrepresents-black-men-effects-felt-real-world

Fujioka, Y. (1999). Television Portrayals and African-American Stereotypes: Examination of Television Effects when Direct Contact is Lacking. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. 76(1), 52-75.

Hutchison, E. D. & Contributors (2015).  Dimensions of Human Behavior:  Person and Environment (5th Ed.).  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications, Inc.

Peterson, S. H., Wingood, G. M., DiClemente, R. J., Harrington, K., & Davis, S (2007). Images of Sexual Stereotypes in Rap Videos and the Health of African American Female Adolescents. Journal of Women’s Health, 16(8), 1157-1164.

Ramasubramanian, S. (2007). Media-based strategies to reduce racial stereotypes activated by news stories. Journalism & Mass Communication, 84(2), 249. 

Rubin, A., & Babbie, E.R. (2017). Research methods for social work (9th Ed.).  Belmont, CA:  Brooks/Cole.

Savali, K.W. (2015).  Throw away the script:  How media bias is killing black America. The Root. Retrieved from https://www.theroot.com/throw-away-the-script-how-media-bias-is-killing-black-1790860024.

Tyree, T. (2011). African American stereotypes in reality television. Howard Journal of Communications, 22(4), 394-413.

Ward, L. M. (2004).Wading through the stereotypes: Positive and negative associations between media use and black adolescents’ conceptions of self. Developmental Psychology, 40(2), 284-294.

Appendix

Sample Questionnaire

  1. What is your age?

30-40

41-50

51-60

60+

2. Please specify your ethnicity (race)

White

Hispanic or Latino

Black or African American

Native American or American Indian

Asian/Pacific Islander

Other (please specify)

3. Based on your perceptions of African Americans, would you say that you are:

More afraid of them than any other ethnic group?

Not afraid of them, but more cautious of their actions than any other ethnic group?

All of the above

No more afraid of them than you are any other ethnic group.

4. How do you perceive MOST African American women as?

Being lazy workers

Ghetto women who are loose

Uneducated

Women who have a lot of children and receive welfare

None of the above

5.  A lot of movies, and mainstream media outlets depict African Americans as being thugs, gang bangers, drug dealers, robbers, drug users, lazy, and insubordinate towards authority, including law enforcement.  Do you agree with this depiction?

Yes

No

Unsure

6.  Are you knowledgeable of the cultures most exhibited in the African American community?

Yes

No

Not interested

7.  Do you feel all African Americans are ultimately all the same?

Yes

No

Unsure

8.  If you were in a parking lot alone at night and had to choose either to walk past an African American male casually dressed, and a Caucasian male casually dressed in a hoodie, which would you feel most comfortable walking past?

The African American Male

The Caucasian Male

I would wait until they were both out of sight

9.  How likely is it that those African-American women, who act out as sex symbols in rap videos, will have problems with sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancies, and drug abuse?

Strongly Agree

Agree

Neither Agree or Disagree

Disagree

Strongly Disagree

10. If the movies, and media portrayed African Americans in a more positive way, would you change your perception to that of a more positive one also?

Yes, I would

No, I wouldn’t

Maybe, I’m not sure

Informed Consent

Dear Participant:

We are currently students in Research Methods I. We are conducting a research study to evaluate how the media has had a negative impact, and have led to stereotypes that harm African Americans, and explore workable solutions.

We are requesting your participation, which will involve the completion of a questionnaire that will take 5-10 minutes to complete.  Your participation is completely voluntary, and you may choose not to participate, or answer any of the questions within the questionnaire.  You must be 18 years or older to complete this questionnaire.  There will be no penalty or repercussions should you decide to decline, or withdraw from this questionnaire.  This questionnaire will be completely confidential, and you will not be asked any identifying information such as your name, address, phone number, etc.  The questionnaire will be locked in a file cabinet with limited access, and the research reviewers only on an as need basis, for three years, then it will be properly discarded.  There are no risks involved in this study.  However, this study may benefit the examinations of media influence and the harm imposed upon African Americans, in hopes of eliminating stereotyping. 

If you have any questions or concerns regarding this questionnaire, please call either researchers.  You may also email, and one of the researchers will contact you.

If you complete this questionnaire, it will be considered you consent to participate in this study. 

This research has been authorized and approved by the Institutional Review Board.  If you feel you have been violated, or you have any questions, please contact.

Thanking you in advance,

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