The media”s portrayal of race and identification was the topic of the weekend-long “Race and Media: Persistence of Stereotypes, Prospects for Change” symposium, brought to campus by the Communication Studies department.
Professors and researchers from around the country including the University of California at Los Angeles, Penn State University and the University of Arizona visited Ann Arbor for the event and contributed to the diversity of lectures presented throughout the weekend.
Prof. Mike Traugott, chairman of the communication studies department, began the conference with the introduction of the first speakers for the event.
“As we begin the 21st century, the United States remains a highly segregated society,” Traugott said. “We work together but do not live together.”
Traugott said the media”s representations of minorities promotes misunderstandings.
“The media plays a very important role in perpetuating stereotypes and in inventing stereotypes,” said James Jackson, the director for African American and African Studies at the University.
Jackson added that the stereotypes and racial divisions are changing. “Its not clear what will happen in the past, it was a very black-and-white world.”
Oscar Gandy, a communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania, addressed several problems found in television, the dot-com revolution and advertising.
“The new media is supposed to be something special, something different,” he said, while speaking about the lack of valuable programming. “But the media system is focused primarily on shaping of consumers. Talk about politics does not put it in people”s minds to consume.”
Bradley Greenberg, a professor at Michigan State University, later lectured on minorities representation in television.
Greenberg said the misrepresentation of minorities affects minorities more than it affects whites because minorities spend 30 percent more time watching television than the 20-30 hours white Americans spend every week in front of the television. He added that while blacks are misrepresented, they are not underrepresented.
“It”s almost apparent that someone at the networks is doing a head count, or face count, to avoid criticism,” he said, addressing the fact that the percentage of black faces on TV represents the percent of black faces seen in the actual population.
Greenberg added that Latinos have been shown as the least articulate, laziest, most intense and least spontaneous race, while blacks are shown as the least aggressive, least respected, least professional, happiest, most relaxed and most spontaneous group of people.
The “Brown Out” of 1999, in which minorities boycotted TV because of the low number of minority characters only 9 percent were black was also discussed. In the 2000 season, 20 percent of the characters were black. The increase of black characters caused a decrease in white female characters.
Greenberg said that in order for Latinos to be represented fairly on television, they would need to play characters who would have an impact on society.
“We need a Latino Cosby,” he said.
Asian Americans, he said, citing Lucy Liu”s character on Ally McBeal, are represented as the “traditional dragon lady.”
Other topics discussed throughout the weekend were the overrepresentation of minorities in the news, political advertising, stereotypes of blacks as dangerous and criminal, the effect of rap music on different races and the 2000 Census.