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Panel talks racial stereotypes in media

Media experts discuss negative social implications of minority representation on TV

Contributing Writer
Friday, November 7, 2014

Cardboard cutouts of popular people of color in the media line the entrance of a panel discussion on representation Thursday night.

Gangsters, gardeners and gold-diggers were just some of the television tropes explored during “Scandal(ous) Realities: Black and Brown Images in TV and Hollywood,” a panel discussion presented by the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America on the misrepresentation of blacks, Latinos and women in the media. The panel presented before a sparsely filled the DeCiccio Family Auditorium in the Salomon Center Thursday evening.

Speakers Arisha Hatch, the campaign director for ColorofChange, Frances Negrón-Muntaner, director of the Center for Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia, and Jennifer L. Pozner, founder and executive director of Women in Media & News, chatted with each other on stage. They briefly swapped stories about feminism and took a selfie with panel mediator Tricia Rose, professor of Africana studies and director of the CSREA, who gave a brief introduction to the topic and the guests’ backgrounds.

Each of the speakers gave individual speeches about different aspects of diversity in media before assembling for a broader discussion about minority representation and a question-and-answer session with the audience.

Negrón-Muntaner, an award-winning filmmaker and author of “The Latino Media Gap: A Report on the State of Latinos in U.S. Media,” started off the discussion .

“If you’re a Latino on television, you’re going to be either a cop or a criminal, or you’re going to be a gardener or a maid,” she said, addressing her findings on the Latino media gap — the underrepresentation of Latinos on television and overall Latino invisibility in the media.

“There is a sense that companies don’t have to include Latinos because they aren’t discriminated against because they just got here,” she said.

The night’s second speaker, Hatch, said for blacks “it’s less about invisibility, and more about how the representations shape people’s implicit biases.”

“We live in a world that is oftentimes hostile towards black people,” she said, adding that blacks are fighting for equality in “a world where television is perpetuating that hostility.”

Television is “training people day in and day out on how to interact with black people and what to expect from them,” Hatch said. “Reality TV continues to be a ‘Wild Wild West’ for blacks,” she said, pointing to shows like “Basketball Wives,” “Love and Hip Hop” and “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” in which blacks are portrayed as financially irresponsible, loud, combative and uneducated, she said.

Pozner, the night’s final speaker, said misrepresentation is due largely to the fact that reality television producers only use 1 percent of recorded footage in the shows that air, referring to her studies “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV.”

“While our guilty pleasures in reality TV may be fun, they are actually socially toxic” due to the stereotypes they perpetuate, she said.

“The reality romance show frames women as having no ambition,” she said, referencing programs like “The Bachelor” and various spin-offs that teach viewers that “single women are desperate, pathetic women” and that “male dominance is both natural and inevitable.”

“Women of color face double burdens on reality TV,” she added, explaining that reality television simultaneously portrays black women as “hypersexual, undereducated and violent.”

In the discussion that followed the speeches, the three media experts responded to questions from Rose, as well as from audience members that explored the causes of media misrepresentation and methods for future improvement.

Citing producers, executives and board members, Rose asked the panelists whether they believed that having more diversity at higher levels of leadership within television networks would translate to changes for the shows themselves.

“It’s a matter of structural policy,” Pozner said, suggesting that networks implement requirements for representation from various demographics at all levels of television production.

An audience member asked the panelists if television remains a dominant media platform in the face of the Internet’s growing prevalence.

“What’s going on on television is still what is the most accessed in terms of media,” Pozner replied.

“The thing to remember about digital media is that the Internet as we know it is dying, and it is getting more and more commercialized,” Hatch said, continuing on to talk about the importance of net neutrality. Pozner agreed that preserving net neutrality is crucial to the future of media.

Rose sought to stimulate a “really interesting conversation to counter the idea that, as consumers, we are in control of these images,” she told The Herald.

“This whole idea that we’re in a post-race era is the operative assumption for some people,” Rose told The Herald. “If we’re going to diversify, we have to hope that producers will change some of these perceptions.”

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