When Seeing Shouldn't Be Believing

Attacking Media-Generated Negative Stereotypes of African-American Men

by Gretchen Kell

The negative stereotype that many people have of African-American men is caused to a significant degree by the media, according to William Drummond, a journalism professor and co-author of a report on the status of the African-American male in California.

"News media have taken the lead in equating young African-American males with aggressiveness, lawlessness and violence," said Drummond.

"Entertainment media have eagerly taken their cue from the journalists."

This false image not only affects race relations, he said, but "creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for African-American youngsters, whose limits of achievement can be predetermined for them by suggestions in the media."

Among Drummond's recommendations in the report is the implementation by school districts of a curriculum to teach children, beginning in middle school, how to cope with media.

"It should be on par with sex education," he said. "Youngsters should be as aware of the dangers of media as they are of the dangers of smoking and unsafe sex."

The 200-page report, "African-American Males: The Struggle for Equality," was prepared by the California Commission on the Status of African-American Males, a group set up five years ago by the Legislature.

Economic empowerment, education, health, criminal justice, social services and media were chosen as issues to address.

The commission assembled a professional staff to research these topics. Among staff was Drummond, chosen to write about race and media. A former LA Times reporter, he has written extensively on this issue and has taught a class about it since 1991.

In his chapter, Drummond said the media seem fixated on a controversial thesis that arose in the 1970s that there is a "black pathology," a fundamental weakness in African-American families.

"The concept came from social scientists, most of them white, that there is something wrong with the African-American family," he said, "that slavery broke families up, and that this weakness manifests itself in negative social behavior.

"Especially with television producers, there is a kind of assumption that anytime you deal with black people you will see some kind of profound problem. "

African-American youth "see a litany of people who've done things wrong," he said.

"It's a dangerous tendency for them to think the only way they can achieve or earn enough is to involve themselves in the illegal economy."



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