What is the effect of negative stereotypes to which people are exposed through the media?
Blatant racial stereotyping, particularly of African-Americans, is far less common today than it was 30 years ago. The proliferation of broadcasting networks and the increased consumer power of the African-American community have seriously changed the way ethnic groups are portrayed. The early days of radio and television were replete with examples of racial stereotypes that contributed to negative attitudes towards African-Americans. From minstrel shows to "Amos and Andy" radio and later television broadcasts, to the character of Step'n Fetchit, blacks were for many years depicted in the media in a negative light, emphasizing ignorance, laziness, dishonesty, and extreme levels of virility, with the "Mammy" image dominating portrayals of African-American women, for example in the film "Gone With The Wind" and the advertising logo for Aunt Jemima syrup. With advances in the civil rights struggle and the social and cultural transformations of the 1960s and 1970s, portrayals of blacks in the media became increasingly less-stereotypical. Major influences included the comedian and actor Bill Cosby, whose television shows, including "I-Spy" and "The Cosby Show" presented a positive images of blacks, and the Diahann Caroll show "Julia," which ran from 1968 to 1971 and featured an attractive, intelligent African-American woman in a typical American setting.
Negative images continued to appear in both the news and in popular entertainment. Only within the past 20 years has the African-American community emerged as a major force in popular culture on radio and television (music has always been a different situation, with black musical groups long-enjoying popular success). To the extent negative stereotypes continue to appear in the media, it is often in the context of coverage of drug abuse and gang warfare, as well as of black youth sporting unconventional choices in apparel. Nowhere was this more evident in the media frenzy that accompanied the shooting death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watchman who judged Martin on the basis of appearance and stalked him until a deadly confrontation resulted.
While the death of Trayvon Martin was certainly tragic and unnecessary, media images showing Martin in stereotypical attire and gesturing in a defiant manner contributed to the stereotype of blacks as violent, anti-social and confrontational -- despite the fact that the teen was, by all accounts, doing nothing wrong at the time of the incident that resulted in his death.
Another example of media images contributing to racial stereotyping was the 2009 photograph of singer Beyonce used in an advertisement for the L'Oreal cosmetics company. The image used in the ad was clearly lightened in apparent accordance with the stereotype that exists even among many African-Americans regarding skin tone. The lightening of her skin and straightening of her hair were so obvious that the photograph highlighted the continued survival of the notion of lighter skin African-Americans being racially superior to darker skin people. Another example involved the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) company's use of an advertisement that ran in Australia and suggested that angy blacks could be mollified with a bucket of fried chicken -- a very blatant resurrrection of the old stereotype of blacks loving fried chicken. Ads like the KFC one contribute to negative images of blacks and degrade their positive contributions to society.