The Importance of African American Media: When the Man’s Image Really Counts
By Meta J. Mereday
African American media is more important than ever to address not only the many stereotypes about African Americans, but also to highlight many of the issues that impact the African American community and other communities of color.
With the decreasing numbers in media diversity, the voices disseminating the messages to the viewing and listening public are sadly causing a rise in many misperceptions that exist in society as it pertains to people of color.
From Assistant Professor Angie Chuang discussing how the media emasculates Asian and Black men in The Root to commentator John Ridley on National Public Radio (NPR) addressing the media’s negative portrayal of Blacks primarily as “thugs” despite so many positive role models, Black or African American men deserve better imaging.
“If your voice is not included in the national conversation, then your reality can remain invisible. It becomes problematic when others are then defining their reality AND your reality,” comments Loretta Rucker, Executive Director, African American Public Radio Consortium (AAPRC), an umbrella organization of 20 African American stations in public radio. “But everything has its ‘time’ and this could be the age when a greater number of African American men increasingly and authentically inject their truth into the national discourse. Let’s face it…this last decade has destroyed the myth that African American men are the angriest group on earth, as we have been shown what real rage is.”
This situation makes it clear regarding the important role that the African American media plays in projecting the more positive and proactive images of African Americans, especially African American men, and the added value of this well-rounded coverage in the societal mainstream.
Currently, the African American media forecast has not been positive. National Public Radio canceled its African American news show “News & Notes” calling an end to a top-notch, national radio newscast dedicated to African American news and viewpoints and leading African American magazine Ebony is looking for prospective buyers to help address its budget deficit.
AAPRC has been very proactive in providing the voices and addressing the issues that impact the African American community, case in point “Upfront with Tony Cox,” a daily news/talk program featuring an award-winning journalist and role model. Meanwhile, African American men continue to feel the full brunt of the negative stereotypes and limited or nonexistent, positive voices and faces.
In the report, Young Men of Color in the Media: Images and Impacts by Robert M. Entman for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the negative stereotypes of African American and Hispanic men are “varied and subtle.” The report further states that, “Media stereotypes are recurring messages that associate persons of color with traits, behaviors, and values generally considered undesirable, inferior, or dangerous…. Both print and electronic journalism frequently connect the following concepts with YMC (Young Men of Color): crime, violence, hyper-sexuality, poverty (especially undeserving poverty—that is, poverty due to character flaws of the individual)—and welfare.”
Unfortunately, these stereotypes are experienced by African American men – both young and old – and reinforces the need for African American media to provide the diverse outlet to address these images and correct the misinformation, if not just for the mainstream market, but for the protection of the cultural legacy.
Portraying African American men only as impoverished and desperate criminals harms the emotional psyche of the whole community as well as the social balance. Furthermore, just relegating African American males to the sports and entertainment assignments limits their full capacity as journalists.
African American media provides opportunities to broaden the range and expertise of African American men, in particular, and to showcase the intelligent and polished images that young African American males need to see more of to emulate.
“The African American man has had a complex and unique row to hoe, and their experience is a profoundly American experience,” adds Rucker. “Engaging and voicing their perspectives will ultimately enrich their communities.” This enrichment begins, as with charity, at the home front which is within African American media.
Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.