By Jean Mauzy Rushville Republican
---- — With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, many people think we can safely assume that we have overcome the worst problems associated with civil rights and/or equal rights of African Americans and other minority groups. Allegedly, the United States has created a place where anyone, with determination, can succeed.
How do we come to believe this equality is true? We see it on televised news reports and we read it in printed news articles. Media content convinces us through “effective frequency,” the number of times a person needs exposure to a message in order to remember, and to act upon, the message.
The recent trial of George Zimmerman created a lot of thoughtful dialog on the racial tensions still existent in the United States. When deemed not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., Zimmerman further becomes the media poster child for the discussion to continue. The frequency of the racially related messages connected to the news event is high, both pro and con.
Just as mediated-messages can have us believe we are all equal, ideas to reflect the opposite continue. In the Zimmerman/Martin reports, media content played-up the racial differences (history to skin color) of the victim and the shooter in order to glamorize the news reports and to ensure more reports will spin off the original.
Depending upon where you get your news, reports want us to sympathize with the unarmed Trayvon Martin who was walking along minding his own business until allegedly being stalked by George Zimmerman. Likewise, because Martin became confrontational and had a troubled past, news reports can portray him as the kind of thug/gangster we think about when we hear of random black-on-black shootings in cities like Chicago. Zimmerman is portrayed as a good man who is dedicated to keeping crime out of his neighborhood and who has mentored black kids in the past. He is also portrayed as a man of hate who stereotypes young black men to be punks or criminals.
What can we learn from the media content? We are a country of equal opportunity where any person has the chance to succeed if they so desire. We are also a country of individuals who do receive too many mediated messages that tell us young black men are dangerous. We have learned, or are conditioned to believe, that a person must live, behave, or dress in a certain way in order to be trusted. Yes, we can act equally to all minorities as long as they fit into a descriptive idea of what a good or honest person is. Media promotes that idea.
Where can we go from here? Sadly, there is a reason for the stereotypes to continue when we frequently hear or read about the senseless crime committed by gang members of any color, but more specifically in this case, young African American men. Black celebrities such as high-profile singers/rappers and preachers, who have the attention of the media and of the group that promotes the negative image, would do well do refrain from playing deeper into the racial divide. Instead of speaking directly to the perceived injustices, which further creates racial tensions on both sides, perhaps these celebrities should call out the “bad guys” (and their parents) and urge them to change the black stereotype image because they tarnish the entire race. Rappers refraining from glamorizing the “gangsta” life in rap songs might not solve the problem, but it may help stop the negative image of what being “cool” really means.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy where a person becomes what they think they are because of inside and outside influences reminding the person who they are or ought to be.
Media content is powerful, but we do not have to solely rely on the media giants to tell us what they - who are the gatekeepers of content - think we should know or believe. Through personal websites, blogs, and various other means, any person can be informed and help spread a message, both good and bad. Will the Zimmerman/Martin case allow the common people to make or set the new standards on how we view others to be? Time will tell if things change or stay the same.