View Full Version : Interesting editorial from Znet.... on stereotyping

Good Doctor HST
06-11-2005, 08:55 AM
Written by Derrick Z. Jackson, a writer for the Boston Globe:

Stereotyping Black Men

May 28, 2005

"HERE I AM, fresh off columns condemning the common use of the n-word, and discussing this issue until I'm hoarse with my 14-year-old son, my Boy Scouts, school students, and youth in the streets. Then my own profession makes my job tougher.

Last Sunday the Globe's City Weekly section had a photo essay where it asked seven people to describe what their clothes say about their "politics, their personae, and the places they live."

There were two white men -- a 19-year-old punk rock musician with an orange mohawk and a 21-year-old college senior marketing major in an ordinary T-shirt. There were three white females -- a 20-year-old college junior, who is an aide for Governor Romney, dressed in a loud green top and frayed denim miniskirt, a 28-year-old director of a nonprofit artists institute wearing a bunched up T-shirt, and a 46-year-old hospital patient transporter wearing a Mao T-shirt. There was a 29-year- old woman of color, an administrative assistant, in a tie-dyed sarong.

The only male of color was a 15-year-old black boy. He wore a white do-rag topped by a cocked, backward baseball cap. While all the white subjects smiled, the black boy had no smile. His cold stare matched the nickname for his fashion: "Sophisticated thug."

This was a bad do-rag day at the office. Though explained to me as clearly not the intention, it came across as a monolithic look at a black male when white men and white women were depicted with balance. It promoted an aura of criminality while all the other subjects were pursuing crafts, careers, or college.

It promoted an image of irresponsibility. The 15-year- old black boy, too young to hold down a full-time job or college internship, is depicted as matching his white do-rag with his "white Nike Force sneakers he keeps immaculately clean with toothpaste and dish detergent." He dances to a rap ring tone on his cellphone. Despite being only in 10th grade, the 15-year-old is the second- highest spender on his wardrobe, $368. The five people under him spent between $55 and $150.

Having a 15-year-old "sophisticated thug" represent black males among a variety of white adults played into what John Edgar Wideman wrote in a 2003 essay in Essence magazine. He said, "Black boys are forced to remain boys or grow up too soon or never get a chance to grow up. They experience arrested development."

The stereotype of the "sophisticated thug" is still too commonplace in America's newspapers and television stations, according to researchers who study media stereotypes. The award-winning 2000 book, "The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America," by Robert Entman and Andrew Rojecki, found that black people are still disproportionately depicted as criminals and "ghettoized" into crime, sports, and entertainment coverage.

"These images are corrosive," said UCLA political scientist Franklin Gilliam, who is conducting a national focus group study on racial attitudes. "It's not just about keeping black males infantile; what it does is keep a focus on the 'misanthropic nature' of black men. If everyone else depicted is 'in the system' and this young black man is perceived as not, the common response of society is that he's the problem and we need to remove him from the system."

Lori Dorfman, director of the Berkeley Media Studies Group, which has published several studies of how youth are depicted as violent in newspapers and television, said: "All by itself, the picture or what the young man is wearing isn't a problem. It's a problem in the absence of other images. If that's the only image they get of a black male teenager, it's a highly distorted picture."

It is so overdone that newspapers and television stations need to be extra vigilant not to reflexively fall for the colorful nature of "sophisticated thugs" and to provide what Gilliam calls "countervailing images" to provide a more complex picture of black males. "I'm the highest-ranking black man at UCLA," said Gilliam, who is an associate vice chancellor. "When I wear my suit in the campus parking lot, everyone is polite to me and knows me. When I change into workout clothes and go out for exercise, the same people I just walked past don't recognize me and don't speak to me. When I go out of context, I become invisible.""