‘Media Matters’ Fights Criminalizing Images of Black Youth


Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at an Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority luncheon in West Columbia, S.C., Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”-Hillary Clinton in 1994. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Images of young Black and Latino youth in the media, according to new research, have become ritualistically stereotypical, characterizing young non-Whites as violent, troubled, and in need of swift and harsh punishments. Media Matters for America, a non-profit that monitors conservative misinformation, recently held a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. to determine best practices for reigning in negative imagery and reshaping mass, public opinion.

The Rhetorical Impact, Real Consequences: How the Media Criminalizes Youth of Color panel, held Feb. 17, brought leading experts together to help alleviate what some called the ‘skepticism based on implicit bias,’ fostered by how everyday news stories are presented.

Mervyn Mercano, executive director of Blackbird, a strategic communications organization, said a shift is required in the narrative of how Americans talk about people of color and how those representations in the news foster public sentiments against Blacks as less than human.

“In the 1990s the term Super-Predators was coined to describe a generation of fatherless, godless, jobless, young Black kids who from elementary school on would be packing guns rather than lunches to take to school. And even though no such group developed, 45 states enacted tougher and more aggressive policies toward Black and Latino young people who they deemed incorrigible,” Mercano said. “Hilary Clinton [in 1996]used these terms. She said these Super Predators should be brought to heel, as if she was talking about dogs. The challenge is to get accurate and humane treatment in the media for Black young people because it erodes their citizenship and their access otherwise.”

“Negative associations are also exaggerated — particularly criminality, unemployment, and poverty. The idle Black male on the street corner is not the “true face” of poverty in America, but he is the dominant one in the world as depicted by media,” the report found. “Positive associations limited to sports, physical achievement in general, virility, and music offered a limited range of qualities to the exclusion of a variety of other everyday virtues and distorted the humanity of Blacks.”

While Mercano examined the manner in which Black victims often get maligned in news stories, with their backgrounds, clothing, and language scrutinized to produce less empathy in viewers, it also demonized Blacks and Latinos as the cause of their own victimization.

Christina Lopez, a researcher, with Media Matter for America told the AFRO that the loose association made by news editors and producers of Blacks as criminals and Latinos as gangbangers, disease carriers, and illegal residents, not only distorts the reality of the news, but also constitutes producing misinformation. “The media needs major improvements and this matters beyond being politically correct because there is a lasting impact on the lives of real people when policies are made using these distortions,” Lopez said. “Who news reporters place microphones in front of is important. There has to be Black and Latino participation on the political Sunday news shows where narratives get spun and become public policies – and they have to be given an opportunity to speak on things other than immigration, race, and protest issues.”

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