Black Male Images In The Media
The Media's Portrayal of Trayvon Martin
Following the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Fox and Friends invited Geraldo Rivera to the show to have his comments on the case. Rivera claims that Martin was responsible for his own death by wearing a hoodie the night he was killed.
"You dress like a thug, people are going to treat you like a thug," he said. "
"I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was."
From my perspective, his comments were not all that shocking, considering how Fox News and other right-wing media outlets have attempted to smear Trayvon's legacy.
Several of us remember when a photo of Martin from his alleged Twitter account was leaked (see below).
For the record, no. This is not Trayvon Martin. But the photo was used by conservatives in an attempt to portray Martin as a "thug" and therefore justify Zimmerman's "fear" and his right to defend himself.
To make matters worse, Fox correspondent Ten Nugent accused Martin of being a "dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe" who was "responsible" for his own death.
The smear campaign continued even in pre-trial motions by the defense team! Attorneys for George Zimmerman released photos of Martin taken from his cell phone with him in a gold grill, flipping the bird, pictures of weed plants, guns, and a video of homeless men fighting over a bike.
As Eric Boehlert wrote in his commentary for the Huffington Post, "the attacks were an ugly attempt to justify Martin's death, to shift the blame away from the gunman, Zimmerman, and to cloud the debate about Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law."
Moreover, Boehlert noted that coverage of Martin's story by conservative media was slow at first, possibly because there was no way for "gun proponents" to spin the death of an unarmed teen. Boehlert goes so far to say: "The Martin killing didn't fit the far right's usual narrative about violence and minorities and how white America is allegedly under physical assault from Obama's violent African-American base."
I think it's interesting how the media--especially in cases where a young Black male is a victim--tries to blame the victim for his own downfall. We saw this attempt not only in the Trayvon Martin case, but also in the Jordan Davis' case, where the shooter, Michael Dunn, retaliated because Davis' "thug music" was too loud.
Personally, it is absolutely frustrating to see the media play up the violent, "Black thug" male stereotype time and time again in order to justify their "right" to protect themselves.
For a more in-depth look at Martin's portrayal in the media, take a look at this video clip.
Stereotypes of the Black Male in the Media
How do negative depictions of African American males affect how Blacks and Whites, as individuals and as group members, interact with each other? What kind of stereotypical depictions of Black males are there?
The Criminal Black Male
In most of this ethnography, two males I have primarily focused on--Trayvon Martin and Troy Davis--have been depicted in court, in public, and in the media as criminals.
Kelly Welch, author of Black Criminal Stereotypes and Racial Profiling, notes that African American males are involved in a disproportional amount of crime, violent crimes in particular. However, the media aids in shaping our perspective by profiling criminals as young Black males. For example, Welch cites a study examining the racial content of televised news broadcasts in Chicago. The study found that Black criminals were portrayed in "scowling mug shots" of in video clips being led in handcuffs by White police officers.
Welch also cites a study that proves that media coverage of Black males who have committed violent crimes receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage, therefore, "the image of violent criminals as young Black males is routinely reinforced."
Kelly Welch article
The Black Brute Stereotype
Similar to the Black male criminal stereotype is the "Black brute" stereotype. Ferris State University's Jim Crow Museum defines the brute caricature as "a fiend, a sociopath, an anti-social menace. Black brutes are depicted as hideous, terrifying predators who target helpless victims, especially White women."
The Brute caricature emerged during the Reconstruction Era (1867-1877), when Whites began to argues that without slavery, Blacks would revert to "criminal savagery." In scientific journals, newspapers, crime novels, and other forms of literature, White writers frequently inserted a Black rapist into the plot, who would try to rape a White woman and was later lynched for "a terrible crime." This stereotype of the Black rapist was so rampant, that the claim that Black men were targeting and raping White women became general justification for the lynching of Blacks. Even simply looking a White woman was could be a death sentence--as was the case in the Emmit Till murder.
In the early 1900s, the film industry became infamous in its portrayal of Black brutes, for example, in D.W. Griffith's film Birth of a Nation; a White actor in Black face portrayed a Black Brute as a sexual predator that attempted to rape a young White girl, who chose to jump off a cliff and kill herself rather than be raped by him. Ironically, the Ku Klux Klan were portrayed as the heroes that rode into the South to save the day and protect White woman from Black brutes.
In modern-day media, the Black brute can be seen in several forms. For example, Clubber Lang in Rocky III (1982). Similarly, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson was also portrayed in the media as a brutish character, after the rape of a beauty pageant contestant, the assault against two motorists, his failed marriage to actress Robin Givens, biting off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear, and more.
Or George Bush's "Willie Horton" campaign ad during the 1988 presidential campaign. In an attempt to depict his opponent, Michael Dukakus, as weak on crime, Bush's election committee brought up the case of Willie Horton, who while out of prison on a 48-house furlough--in Dukakasis' state of Massachusetts, kidnapped a young White couple, stabbing the man repeatedly and raped the woman.
Or even the above magazine cover of LeBron James with model Gisele Bundchen. James, poses on the cover of Vogue, in "a gorilla-like pose, baring his teeth". Damion Thomas, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland commented on the magazine cover in USA Today, saying similar images of Black male athletes as aggressive and threatening only help to "reinforce the criminalization of Black men".
USA Today Article
Farris State University Article