African Americans

From Minstrelsy to Reality TV

Authored by: Rockell A. Brown

The Routledge Companion to Media and Race

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138020726
eBook ISBN: 9781315778228
Adobe ISBN: 9781317695837


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Historically, African Americans have had a tumultuous relationship with mass media. This history has been well documented by scholars (Bogle 2001a; Bogle 2001b; Campbell 1995; Campbell, LeDuff, Jenkins, and Brown 2012; Dates and Barlow 1993; Gray 1995; Haggins 2008; Hunt 2005; Jackson 2006). Many of the images that populated early popular culture were primitive and stereotypical. The images were found in books, newspapers, magazines, and cartoons, and they were prevalent during the nineteenth century in minstrel shows and vaudeville performances—two of the more common forms of popular entertainment of that era. These caricatures set the tone for how blacks were ultimately depicted in film, radio, advertising, and television news and entertainment programming, and can largely be characterized as negative. These portrayals have often reflected the attitudes held about blacks in American society (Nelson 2008). According to Campbell and Giannino, “The ruling class has a long history of using exaggerated media images to demean marginal groups and bolster its privileged status within the existing power structure” (2011: 110). In essence, the use of historical, controlling images reaffirms dominant ideology and maintains the status quo.

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