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Identity of African American Men Essay

“No metaphor can capture completely the complexity of ethnic dynamics in the U. S. ‘Melting pot’ ignores the persistence and reconfiguration of the ethnicity over the generations. ‘Mosaic,’ much more apt for pluralistic societies such as Kenya or India, is too static a metaphor; it fails to take in to account the easy penetration of many ethnic boundaries. Nor is ‘salad bowl’ appropriate; the ingredients of a salad bowl are mixed but do not change. ‘Rainbow’ is a tantalizing metaphor, but rainbows disappear.

‘Symphony,’ like ‘rainbow,’ implies near perfect harmony; both fail to take into account the variety and range of ethnic conflict in the United States. The most accurately descriptive metaphor, the one that best explains the dynamics of ethnicity, is ‘kaleidoscope. ’ American ethnicity is kaleidoscopic, i. e. ‘complex and varied, changing form, pattern, color… continually shifting from one set of relations to another; rapidly changing. ’ When a kaleidoscope is in motion, the parts give the appearance of relationships.

The viewer sees and endless variety of variegated patterns, just as takes place on the American ethnic landscape. ”- Lawrence Fuchs (Literature for Composition 1032) “Identity in America” was the theme chosen by my English 201 study group. This theme was taken from chapter twenty two of the Literature for composition: Reading and Writing Argument text book. However, I focused the broad theme of “Identity in America” to the more narrowed theme of “The Display of African American men in the media.

” I chose this theme or topic because I felt that I can relate to it and as a matter of fact, it was also interesting to me. But in order to conduct my research on the particular topic, I came up with the following question, “How has the identity of African American men been displayed by the media: negatively or positively? ” This question was chosen in order to provoke an argument for discussion. I conducted several interviews in order to acquire information about my selected topic.

The media’s display of the identity of African American men can be discussed or looked at from two angles: negatively or positively. First, from my experience I can say that the media displays African American men in both lights, negatively and positively. But after conducting interviews with several individuals, my opinion has somewhat changed. I was always aware of the negative images of African/black men in the media. But I was not aware that this display had evolved overtime. My first interview was conducted with April T.

Glasgow, a communications major at the University of the Virgin Islands on Wednesday 20th February 2008, at approximately ten o’clock in the morning. We conducted the interview at her dorm’s lobby. I had explained the topic prior to meeting with her, so she already had an idea about what issue the discussion would be addressing. Generally, her opinion was that black men were being exploited and portrayed negatively by the media. She also stated strongly that black men were too often portrayed or given the roles of thugs, gangsters, and pimps in films and magazines.

In addition, a suggestion she made on how we could resolve this stereotype was that black people must unite and stand up against these negative portrayals especially those in rap music videos. The second interview was carried out that same day with Professor Alex Randall. His general statements were that the media has changed over the years. “The negative portrayals of the 1960’s and 1970’s have changed,” Randall stated. Randall felt that in modern times, people of color were treated more fairly and given a more positive portrayal in the media.

Randall stated that there were many positive images in the media of African Americans, such as Denzel Washington, Barack Obama, Michael Jordan, and Bill Cosby. In addition, Randall said that in previous years no such image could have been seen in the media. “We are rational human beings and it’s our choice to choose what part of the spectrum of negative and positive images we would want to emulate,” said Randall. This statement impacted me and slightly changed my opinion on the topic. At that point in conducting my primary research for the paper, my position on the topic has somewhat been altered.

After conducting the interviews with April T. Glasgow and Professor Alexander Randall I have become more open minded to the issue. I would admit that I was initially a bit biased and reserved on the topic prior to evaluating the topic from both sides; negatively and positively. In order to decide which position I was going to take I would have to do more secondary research on the topic. Since I started this research paper my observation and assessment of the media have taken a different turn.

I now compare and contrast men of other races in the media to African American men. My secondary research was, for the most part, completed using internet sources. The articles that I discovered on the web were very useful and contributed greatly to my research. Three internet articles were analyzed to achieve the secondary data for my paper. The first article I examined was “The Media’s Bias against black men in America. ” The article was basically a discussion of a piece written in the New York Times about the plight of American black men.

The author, Armstrong Williams, stated that the New York Times article was another example of major media outlets using negative statistics to consistently cast black men as the scourge of this country. Williams made several strong and interesting statements throughout the article that I thought was beneficial to this research paper. For example, according to Williams, “The continual coverage of the black man’s plight instead of his progress only hinders his growth, holds back our country from true equality, and hides the truth about the opportunities and challenges that we all face”(Williams ¶4).

Williams also suggested that the American public should challenge the lack of coverage of American black progress in this country (Williams ¶5). “In the last century black men have literally gone from being slaves to business owners, government leaders, lawyers, doctors, firemen, generals, entertainers, and educators. No other oppressed class of people anywhere else in the world has advanced its standing in a society this quickly” (Williams ¶6). I was really impressed by the way Armstrong used this statement to present his argument.

In addition, Williams stated that the incidence of drug use, crime, scandal, divorce, and other social ills have increased dramatically for white men, but these statistics are not reported as problems about ‘white men’ in America (Williams ¶6). “Approximately 9 out of 10 serial killers are white males between the ages of twenty and thirty five. Yet we never hear these statistics repeated over and over again in the mainstream press, making these crimes synonymous with one particular race as in this case with blacks” (Williams ¶9). Later in the article Williams explained the image the media is creating internationally.

The overseas media continuously places black men in negative positions such as school dropouts, irresponsible fathers, and victims of perpetual racism. The manner in which these stories are constructed and then, displayed to listeners and readers eliminates the possibility of believing that black men do not have positive roles (Williams ¶10). Therefore, I agree with Williams that the repetitive negative articles can create a vicious cycle of harmful images and low expectations of black men. “The Black Image in the White Mind” is the title of the second internet article that I examined.

The article was useful in constructing my opinion on the topic of how African American men are displayed in the media whether negatively or positively. The article presented some useful statistical data that was quite interesting and yet shocking to me. In this article by Robert M. Entman, he stated that a mug shot of a Black defendant is four times more likely to appear in a local television news report than of a White defendant (Entman ¶2). He went on to say that the accused is two times more likely to be shown physically restrained in a local television news report than when the accused is a white man (Entman ¶2).

According to Entman, “The name of the accused is two times more likely to be shown on screen in a local TV news report if the defendant is black, rather than white” (Entman ¶2). In addition, he stated that while black actors are now more visible in media, it is an open question as to how well they are being represented (Entman ¶2). The Third article that I examined was “Black youth and mass media: current research and emerging questions” and I found it to be the most interesting of the three.

This article was written by Craig Watkins, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Radio-Television- Film at the University of Texas at Austin. The article was basically an outline of some of the important research findings and emergent issues that examine the changing relationship between black American youth and the mass media industry (Watkins ¶5). Watkins stated that for most of its history the mass media industry has produced images that distort and misrepresent the complexities of the African American experience (Watkins ¶9).

He stated that contemporary media representations of African Americans can be best described as paradoxical because blacks are simultaneously underrepresented and overrepresented in American media culture (Watkins ¶9). According to Watkins, “blacks are underrepresented in many areas of mass media they are over represented in television sports broadcasts and crime and violence related portrayals” (Watkins ¶13). Watkins said that images of blacks in magazines have increased but they are predominantly portrayed in athletic roles. According to Watkins, African American men are more likely to appear as athletes or musicians (Watkins ¶14).

The strongest statement throughout the article was when Watkins stated that the ‘athleticization’ of the black men in the media reproduces and popularizes long-standing myths about biological and intellectual differences between blacks and whites (Watkins ¶15). Further analysis of Watkins’ article indicated that when African Americans are portrayed in television news it is generally in aggressive, violent, or criminal roles. Also, a recent analysis of the film industry asserts that blacks tend to be restricted to low budget features that focus disproportionately on crime, violence, and youth delinquency.

The repetitious display of blacks in athletic roles creates a limited range of adult and professional role models for young black males being that they are faced with only few media images of successful African American men. The internet articles that I examined clearly showed that there is strong evidence to prove that African American men are negatively and unfairly displayed in the media. After examining these internet articles, I felt that even though they were some positive images of African American men in the media the majority of images are in some way biased or negative.

After evaluating and examining my internet sources, I turned back my attention to my English 201 text book, Literature for Composition: Reading and Writing Arguments to get some more insight on the matter. While reading through chapter twenty-three, I came up on a quote from Lawrence Fuchs that I found to be tied in well with my overall all theme of identity in America. I decided to place this quote at the beginning of the research paper a sort of introduction to the overall theme. I chose this quote because it describes the complexity and internal conflicts of identity in America.

Speaking of conflicts between identities, Hotel Rwanda is a film that displays such conflict to the extreme. This film was shown in class by my English professor because she said that it was in some way related to our theme and that it could also be used as a part of our secondary research. I did not really understand the connection with our theme until I saw the film. Hotel Rwanda is a historical drama about the hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina played by Don Cheadle during the Rwandan genocide and was directed by Terry George in 2004.

The movie is actually based on the Rwandan genocide that occurred in 1994 where almost one million of both Tutsi and Hutu individuals were killed. In the movie which is a reflection of what actually took place, the media was used to instigate conflicts between the Tutsi and Hutu. Throughout the actual conflict the media was used as a tool to falsely display Tutsi’s as the scourge of Rwanda. For example, the radio station, RTLM was used to spread negative and hate messages about the Tutsis such as “Why do we hate the Tutsis? They are cockroaches…Rwanda is Hutu land. ”(United Arts. Dir.

Terry George. United States, 2004) All in all, it is quite evident from the primary and secondary research that there are both negative and positive displays of African American men in the media. Since the interviews I am more aware that the display of African Americans has changed over time for the better. However, from the Internet articles I have discovered that there are still a lot of negative images of African American men in the media. In addition, I learned that there are still many biases when presenting African American men in media whether on radio, television, or magazines.

Overall, the research was very interesting and informative. April T. Glasgow and Professor Alexander Randall were very helpful in making my research paper a success. From carrying out this research paper I was able to conduct some interesting interviews, especially with Professor Randall. I was truly able to critically interpret and analyze the investigation in addition to improving my overall research skills. The research process was a learning experience that I will never forget. Works Cited Barnet, Sylvan, Burto William and Cain E. William. Literature for Composition.

New York: Longman, 2007. Entman, Robert and Rojecki, Andrew. “Media and its Portrayal of Black Americans. ” racerelations. about. com. New York. 2008. . Glasgow, April T. Personal Interview. 20 Feb. 2008. Hotel Rwanda. Dir. Terry George. Lions Gate Films and United Artists, 2004. Randall, Alexander. Personal Interview. 20 Feb. 2008. Watkins, S. Craig, “Black Youth and Mass Media: Current Research and Emerging Questions. ” < http://www. rcgd. isr. umich. edu/prba/perspectives/winter2000/cwatkins. pdf>. Williams, Armstrong. “The Media’s Bias Against Black Men in America. ” 31 March 2006. .

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