Sunday, March 26, 2006

No Way Out

There is an interesting post by Adrian Wing regarding how Black men are portrayed in the media. Basically, she argues that with a few exceptions (Barack Obama) and outside a few select categories (entertainers and athletes), there are very few positive portrayals of Black men getting out to society writ large. She admits that the media craves scandal and trouble (that's what's "newsworthy" after all), and thus has little incentive to give Black success stories page room. But she argues that this is having tremendous negative effects on the Black community--especially the "success stories" who are under tremendous pressure to be a "role model" for other young Black men. She claims that these men statistically die earlier than any other group in the population--a shocking claim if true--due to the stress and weight put upon them (strokes and heart attacks get to them more than street violence).

All well taken. But I wonder if newspapers and other media outlets are being put in a double bind. I recognize that the excessively negative portrayals of black men have ill effects (Beyond what Wing talks about, see the works of Jerry Kang). But in a way, I think the media fears that running stories on model minorities will yield just the same type of backlash. For example, it could perpetuate the stress of being everybody's token role model. Or alternatively, they could be accused of glossing over the problem, ignoring the plight of the inner-city and poorer Blacks who really need our assistance and letting White America pat itself on the back and tell themselves that being Black is not, in fact, a barrier to success. And even if they ask these successful Blacks to explicitly talk about how racism still affects them, it still might not solve for this. First, they might not be willing to articulate it, either because a) they really don't think they feel it or b) they don't want to seem whiny or piss off their white friends by seeming ungrateful. This is especially likely to occur because of the obsession with "balance" in journalism--the story almost definitely will include some successful black saying how racism is not a big player in his life to counter-act the one explaining how it does. But even if they do talk about it, White America will discount it, because they'll see all these trappings of wealth and refuse to believe that these people could seriously be facing marginalization. Whites tend to define racism out to its extreme, so if someone isn't being lynched or enslaved, racism isn't happening. That isn't true, of course, but nevertheless it remains the dominant perception and will be a prevailing response to such an article.

I want to clarify, I'm not really taking a position on whether or not the media should, in fact, pursue these stories to a higher degree than what they're doing now. In fact, while some of the above objections are reasonable, I think all in all it'd probably be better if such ads were run. Rather, what I'm arguing is that its at least plausible that a different branch of the Black left would critique them for running the articles based on the objections I made. At the point, newspapers would feel like they're in a no win situation on the topic. And if they indeed have that perception--that they're going to be slammed by some segment of the black community no matter what they do--that could explain the dearth of the articles Wing would like to see.

1 comment:

jack said...

"She claims that these men statistically die earlier than any other group in the population--a shocking claim if true--due to the stress and weight put upon them (strokes and heart attacks get to them more than street violence)."

Just remember that even if that statistic is true it doesn't mean that the media is causing those early deaths. In fact I think the more likely cause of those eary deaths is the success itself. Anyone who works their ass off at a high paying, high profile, important job is always going to be under more stress statistically. The CEO who works 11 hour days running a large firm is (no matter what his race) statistically more likely to have a heart attack than the guy working at the barber shop.

The "successful black man" might also experience more stress because he might feel that any mistake will be his downfall whereas the white CEO is probably less likely to feel threated by those around him.

There are a ton of other explanations for stress that might lower life expectancy other than pressure to be a role model.