In the United States, many are blind and ignorant of the racial inequality that happens on a day to day basis. Many assume that there is racial equality world, however, that is not the case at all. African Americans are the most oppressed, misrepresented, and discriminated marginalized group just because of the color of their skin. African Americans have faced many hardships like segregation, injustice, police brutality and many other tribulations that have significantly bled into their lives today. Others can see this occurring by being aware of what is going on in popular culture.
In many American classics like the beloved sitcom, Friends, audiences can see the lack of representation of people of color in New York. New York is one of the most diverse places to live in the United States but that is clearly not shown in the show. As of 2010, New York is home to 800 different languages (Roberts, 2010). So, why were they not represented in one of the most popular shows in America? Furthermore, popular culture has shown ways in which America has continued to oppress African Americans through stereotypes and their continued battle with Civil Rights, which inevitably shapes their reality.
Popular entertainment goes hand and hand with the harmful and shameful stereotypes of African Americans. These characters have been mislabeled and misrepresented across many films, television shows, and even children books. In the 1900s black characters were often portrayed as lazy, buffoonish and joyous. However, that was not their true characteristics at all. In actuality, black people were slaves to owners that whipped and mistreated them if they did not obey.
Films wanted to show the cultural image of pre-civil war that slaves were happily obedient. Writers showed this through characters like, Manny she was a slave who was loyal, protective and most importantly she was not seen a sexual character. If Manny was perceived as a sexual character she would be a threat to white women. She was always portrayed as independent and ugly as opposed to the beautiful American white woman who was dependent (Ethnic Notions, 1986). Many can see characters like this still being depicted in popular films today. In the film titled, The Help, it is set in the 1960s in Mississippi, a Southern girl wants to become a writer, so she decides to interview black women who have served white families. The Association of Black Women Historians released a statement that the film, distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers (Valby, 2011). In other words, this film portrays black servers as happy to serve their white superior but in reality that was not the case. Additionally, these films once again falsely misrepresent and mislabeled black characters. Even though this film came out in 2011, it still uses stories that undermine the hardships that black people went through from the hands of white individuals.
Popular culture has impacted the images of how black Americans are viewed today. Black people are not only being mislabeled in popular culture by being portrayed as joyous like in the Help. On the other hand, they are also depicted as dangerous, violent and aggressive. Additionally, black people fall victims to hate crimes because of how they are stereotyped in popular culture. Moreover, the way that they are misrepresented has to lead to the hindrance of their Civil Rights. Many forget that segregation was not so long ago. In fact, Brown vs. Board of Education was passed in 1954, that was nearly sixty years ago. African Americans have always battled for their Civil Rights and continue to fight today. Slavery and segregation have helped create the views of how the black community was stereotyped in popular culture. Still today, black people are still seen as savages, animals, and less than. Baldwin (2016) said that he was terrified of how emotionless society was becoming, he believed that people have misled themselves to think that he was not human. Because of these hateful stereotypes of African Americans, it has lead to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, police brutality, hate crimes, and injustice. Because of this, the African American community has created a platform for themselves called the Black Lives Matter Movement to make sure that the world remembers that they are never going to stop fighting for their Civil Rights and they are never going to stop fighting against discrimination and injustice. In addition, because popular culture stereotypes blacks as less than, it has become their reality where they are treated unethically.
African Americans are targeted more often than any other race (Brown & Capps, 2018). Likewise, their gender identity and their sexual orientation play a significant role in how these hate crime rates impact their lives. On average, LGBTQ people of color interpret their violent experiences as attempts to punish them for not appropriately representing their racial communities (Doug Meyer, 2012). Jayvyn, a Black gay man, believed that he has been harassed by black heterosexual men because his community feels like he has let down black men by being gay (Doug Meyer, 2012). He continued to say that the way that he identifies is seen as a weakness and that it was unnatural to be gay (Doug Meyer, 2012). Additionally, Latoya, a Black lesbian, described her hate crime experience. She was holding hands with her girlfriend when a stranger said: take that white shit home (Doug Meyer, 2012). Then the man became physically violent by punching Latoya (Doug Meyer, 2012). On the other hand, white gay men also perceive their violent experiences as attempts to label them as weak, however, whites do not see strength in the same way blacks do. In other words, white gay men did not perceive the meaning of weakness to have any racial implications because of their white privilege (Doug Meyer, 2012).
The way that blacks are viewed in their society definitely shapes their perception of themselves to a certain extent. In todays society, it is important for black families to racially socialize their children to emphasize their pride in being black. This is crucial in a world where blacks are treated unfairly. However, even though racial socialization is being taught in families it is inevitable for blacks to fall a victim to the injustice. Many can see this through racial profiling. The basis of racial profiling is that the perception of others is enough to target them. In other words, they are guilty until they are proven innocent (Coates, Ferber, Brunsma, 2017, p. 235). Racial profiling is used in law enforcement as well. This can be seen in the, stop and frisk policy, predominantly poor black neighborhoods are victims of stop and frisk. Mostly, African Americans are targeted however black men are more likely to be stopped as opposed to black women. Frighteningly, enough black men are 21 times more likely to die at the hands of the law as opposed to white men (Coates, Ferber, Brunsma, 2017, p.245 ). Because blacks are linked more to poverty, racial isolation and unemployment as opposed to any other race they suffer at the hands of their superiors. Furthermore, these acts of racism continue to marginalize black communities.
Destroying images that are hindrances to the black community will not be easy. However, it is doable with open-mindedness, love, teamwork, and acceptance. Because, of all the separation- not only between blacks and whites but also other marginalized groups, it is important to bring light to the fact that, underneath our skin colors we are the one race; the human race. In order to make a step towards change, it is important to educate one another on the privileges that whites may have so that these individuals can use their platform to help marginalized groups. Additionally, to create a safe place for black people in every environment it is important to boycott all popular culture films, music, or even books that stereotypes and oppress the black community. When this is done, movie producers like, Warner Bros, Picture Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment, or even Walt Disney Studios needs to ensure that they will not produce films that subconsciously or consciously demoralize the black communities or distorts the images of their history. Furthermore, until we are able to come together cohesively to educate one another, to ensure changes in how African Americans are depicted in popular culture, then we can eradicate change.
History plays a significant role in how African American people are viewed in todays society. Popular culture has shown ways that America has continued to oppress African Americans through stereotypes and their Civil Rights struggle which inevitably shapes their reality. Many can see this throughout history. Slavery plays a significant role in how society views black people because it labeled them as less than. In addition, through the Jim Crow laws that were established in the late 1800 s lead to the legalization of segregation that inevitably continues to oppress the black community. Furthermore, their historical struggles have become a hindrance in their lives today. In many ways, popular culture continues to undermine their experiences, undermine their character and undermine who they are as a community. Additionally, black Americans have continuously been misrepresented in popular culture which has become their reality. We see this through racial profiling and the high rates of police brutality against blacks. As a society, we need to come together to ensure that history is not repeated or erased. We need to ensure that their stories will be told and remembered so that we learn to become open-minded and we learn that it is important to have open hearts for one another.