By Amber L. Vernon, Journalism Major
Graduate students kicked off the fourth day of Texas Southern University’s School of Communication’s Intercultural Communication conference with a morning discussion on the influential power of images and language.
The panel focused on how the media fueled negative portrayals of African-Americans and how dialect affects choices in the dating world. Graduate student Brittney Paul spoke about the role reality TV shows play in shaping the way society views black women.
“Many of the shows that are popular with our people, such as ‘Love and Hip Hop’ and ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’, that feature black women in the cast don’t show them in a positive light,” said Paul. “They portray negative stereotypes that affect how we, as black women, view ourselves and how other races view us as well.”
The outcome of a study Paul did on the relationship between negative stereotypes shown on urban reality TV shows and how black women viewed themselves revealed proportional results. Personal interviews conducted for the study showed that black women felt as though other races viewed them all as single mothers, ghetto, uneducated and unattractive.
Graduate student Brandon Hamilton found the common images associated with black males as influenced by the media were incarceration, death by police, harassment, anger, and gang-related activities.
“A lot of times we use media to try to figure out who we are and understand other cultures that we may not be exposed to everyday,” Hamilton said. “Having worked in the newsroom before, I’ve seen examples of how this stuff has an effect on viewership.”
Hamilton shared a clip showing KTSP-5’s coverage of Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges who posed for a photo with a black male who had just been released from jail. He said because of the negative portrayals centered on black males, the story got spun into the mayor throwing up gang signs and putting the police in danger.
Hamilton gave some insight for the future.
“A way to get rid of [negative portrayals in the media] is to have minorities in a position of power so they can make that change,” said Hamilton. “Most of the time, the decision makers in the media like your editors, producers, and CEO’s are not of us and don’t understand our culture.”
Later in the panel discussion, graduate student Andrea Boronell took a step away from the previous topics to talk about how dialect influences choices in the dating world of African-American adults.
She said she began pondering the topic after remembering a date she had with a chemist. She said the guy was smart but, she passed him over because of the way he talked.
“I realized as I was getting ready that I was about to dismiss a person who might be perfect for me simply because he spoke differently,” said Boronell.
She said while all of her participants that she interviewed for a survey agreed that speaking standard English is a sign of higher intelligence, only one said it was a sign of higher education. She discovered that many people associated the use of informal speech with low intelligence.
When the question and answer period brought the conversation back to the media and negative stereotypes, Boronell closed the panel with “yes, it is the upper echelon people who are in control, but we ourselves are doing it and Tyler Perry is one of them. As a black man, he is perpetuating the stereotypes so it’s not just the news”.