COLUMN: Media image influences stereotypes

On the advice of a friend, I decided to take COMM 290, which is "Intercultural Communication." The class is tag-team taught, meaning there are two teachers leading the class, which is good because you get two minds and perspectives on the same subject material.

Last week we had a discussion on Native American named sports teams, those teams' mascots and finally on stereotypes. Stereotypes are something I know about (along with the disrespect to Native Americans) because I've been stereotyped myself and have had to battle against them.

The teacher, Rev. Karen Lang, made a good point as she taught. She was explaining how she had just settled into Muncie and noticed something in the paper. Lang recalled how she saw on the front page there were pictures of African American males after they had committed a crime. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Of course not, but a few days later, there was another front-page headline of another crime, this time with no pictures. As Marvin Gaye once sang, "What's goin' on?"

I remembered a lot about the past year's events. For example, there was the drug bust over in one of the apartment complexes. All the offenders in the crime were African American males. Some even claimed to "just be there." While others were there doing "illegal activities" according to the paper.

Fast forward to later that academic year. Later on, there was a drug bust, but this time it involved members of a fraternity on campus. I remember that day especially because a good friend of mine was the one who covered that story and got some negative feedback about it. The one thing I noticed is that there were no pictures of the offenders in the paper.

I'm not a journalism major; I'm an English teaching major. I'm an average student, but I happened to notice something. I even noticed that no matter what the crime was, there seemed to be pictures of offenders that were African Americans and not many other ethnic groups in the paper. A perfect example is the front page of the Jan. 17 Daily News. The headline read, "Task force seizes $50,000 in cocaine." Cool, I have no problem with it, but there was only a map shown on the right hand side and no picture.

I noticed that when the there was an off-campus shooting two years ago, the pictures of all the offenders were on the front page. As the investigation went on, there were more pictures.

I'm sure there is a reasonable explanation; I just don't know what it is. I once read that there is always "more than one answer. It might not be the answer you like, but there is always more than one answer." Maybe those pictures were provided to the press while others weren't. Maybe a dark face on the front-page makes stereotypes stand out more in the reader's mind.

Maybe that's a classic journalism trick. Maybe I'm looking too close to something that's not there. Maybe it's racism. Maybe the media doesn't know it's being biased until it's told so. After all, I didn't realize until someone told me. What do you think? Is it "just another angry black guy" or is this something others have noticed?

Write to Moses at moses_41@hotmail.com


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