Race Relations and How They are Portrayed in Present Day Media Essay
If someone who had never been to the US nor were aware of what was the history of the country were to take a look at our present situation in this country in regards to race relations and then watch television they would not understand why to media says one thing and the situation in the public is completely different. The media makes our world look like a perfectly balanced society. Our world is not a perfect place and the illusions that the media show us on a daily basis brainwashes today’s people into believing things are better than they are. The influx of interracial relationships portrayed in the mass media are unrealistic and have inadvertently distracted the American public from the need to improve our race relations.
Racial conflict in this country is grounded in violence. It began as far back as the European colonists clashing with the Native Americans. The importation of African slaves to work the lands that the Europeans conquered soon followed. The dehumanization of the African people continued in the United States for decades.
By the end of the 20th century however, it was not supposed to be this way. The civil rights movement of the 1960’s and multicultural initiatives of the 1980’s were supposed to end the racial tensions of the past. The resolution, no matter what some
might want to believe, never occurred. The racial division remained and even worsened. There was too much pain, too much violence, and too much emotion to resolve the racial conflicts in this country.
If conflict resolution was measured by the television and movies presented in this country, people may actually believe there are no serious race relation difficulties in America. “Television could influence viewers by providing examples of people with or without prejudice, diverse social groups that stimulate positive or negative affect, and settings in which racial discrimination is endorsed or rejected.”(Woods 35) One example of this is the show that is on the FOX network called Ally McBeal. In the show Ally, who is the center of the show, dated a black man and was very public with it. She and her boyfriend had no difficulties. They were not looked at negatively by others in public, there was no name calling, no judgments. Their families did not have difficulty with the relationship. Now this made for a nice entertainment piece, but it had nothing to do with the reality of an interracial dating relationship in America today. Chapter Seven in Signs of Life discusses this very example and called it “unrealistic” (577). That is exactly what it is. People I know and have seen in interracial relationships have to deal with people staring and whispering whether they are at the mall, a restaurant, or walking on campus. Their families rarely approve, whether black or white, and it causes a lot of tension. None of this was explored or even suggested in the television show.
As for people in their private lives I cannot speak from first person about this but I did speak with a teammate of mine who is a good friend who is a black male. I asked him about his relationships with white women in the college setting and he said that he
was used to it by now but in the beginning all of the people that looked at him weird bothered him a lot and he let it get to him. He also said when people who are his friends talk about who he is dating the question always comes up if she is white or not. My question is if we live in an equal society why does it matter. He believes it matters because people hold onto the past and history can’t just be forgotten.
Another example that illustrates the unrealistic race interactions is one Benjamin Demott uses in his article “Put on a Happy Face.” He discusses the movie Pulp Fiction, which was released in 1995. The reference point in this film is at the conclusion when the character played by Samuel L. Jackson, a black man, is in a tight spot with the character played by Tim Roth, a white man. The two are at a crossroads and both have guns drawn, which symbolize the conflict of today’s society between white and black. Now instead of the violence that realistically could have been predicted to come next, the two men put their weapons down and talk. Demott feels this action was completely false in the America we live in today. “It is one in a series of films suggesting the beast of American racism is tamed and harmless”(539).
These are just two examples from media that is completely plagued with inaccuracies of real life. Although real life is not constantly malicious, one cannot claim that animosity does not exist between the two primary races of our country. I mean people may not be burning crosses in the front yard of African American families anymore, but there is still that separation that exists in our society today. I think that the mirror for everything sometimes can be seen in a large group of people who have choices about how they inter mix with people of their own age. For example, lets take a look at
high school cafeterias. How often do you see all of the white students sitting together and all of the black students sitting together? If you step back and look you will see that there is an imaginary line drawn straight down the middle. How often do students walk into a class a sit with people of a different race? If you step back and look again, they feel this is a safety area for them. Now there is usually no blatant racial hostility or violence in these places, but segregation still exists, whether or not the public and the media are willing to accept it.
These typical scenes from any high school in America are not something that you see on television. The television show Boston Public, a drama about a large high school in Boston misses great opportunities to portray the real side of high school life when it comes to race relations. They really don’t deal with interracial relationships at all. Race is not an issue at the multicultural urban school. How realistic is that? The show focuses on the students’ problems and issues individually, rather than looking at real life conflicts. People who have not been to a public high school and watch Boston Public might just believe that race is not still an issue in our schools.
Not everyone believes the media portrayals to be inaccurate. According to Deroy Murdock in “The Greatest Story Never Told: Everyday America’s Racial Harmony,” American race relations have improved since 1960 more than many journalists, public figures and politicians are willing to admit. Intermarriages have increased and the number of racially harmonious social relationships greatly out number racially troubled relationships (24). Murdock and others agree that the atrocities of James Byrd Jr. and Ennis Cosby overshadow cases of racial harmony. Multiracial residents in Jasper, Texas,
rallied together in support after a racist murder occurred. African Americans have risen in corporations and governments. Murdock believes television shows like The Fresh Prince of Bell-Air and The Cosby Show accurately reflect the improvement in race relations in our country today.
“Televised role portrayals and interracial interactions, as sources of vicarious experience, contribute to the development of misperceptions by the viewer” (Browne Graves, 707). Throughout time things have evolved to the point were they need to be for society to exist. From the invention of the wheel to the desegregation of schools our world has changed. The media is in a hurry to create a perfect society for us in our heads while the truth is right in front of our face. Our society is not perfect, racial difficulties are apparent to anyone who is willing to take a look at them, and things have to change. If television had its way we would already be living the perfect lives. Television needs to face the facts and start portraying race relationships in this country as they are, not as they want them to be, or we will never be forced to confront the problems and work on solving them.