Influence Of Tv Media On Racial Prejudice Issue In The U.s.
From 1950 to 2017, the percentage of minorities in America has grown by almost 27%(Poston & Sáenz). While it is recognized as the melting pot of all cultures with its longstanding diverse immigration history, race-based differences, attitudes, and narratives, the United States is no stranger to racial prejudice. Despite progress such as the emancipation of slaves, the equal right to vote regardless of color, and the desegregation of public resources, racial bias persists in other aspects of America today.
With the rise of the television, it is easier than ever for outside content to mold the minds of individuals, in particular children. Without regulations on racial representation in TV, they can be easily influenced to believe the prejudiced content and can also be led astray from a realistic understanding of the diverse world we live in today. To prevent this, standards regarding pro-diversity and anti-prejudice should be implemented into the current voluntary TV ratings guide.
Before discussing the influence of TV on the racial prejudice of children, it should be made clear what racial prejudice is. It is not the recognition of different cultures and differences, but rather discrimination based on racial stereotypes. Recognizing different types of cuisines is different from discriminating against a potential hire based on assumptions about their race. Among children, prejudice could be expressed by the refusal to interact with children of other races out of fear or disdain because of their skin color.
History of Race on TV
Although television may be considered relatively new technology, the effects of television content can be long-lasting and influential. In the past, television has been used as propaganda to promote racial barriers, with films like Birth of a Nation, which included many negative connotations surrounding the emancipation of slaves. This film was popular in the US in the 1960s, with “millions of people happily [paying] to witness the spectacle of Birth of a Nation” (“Glorifying the KKK”). Although its purpose was to entertain rather than advertise for the Ku Klux Klan, the group experienced a surge in membership after the film’s release and was continually used for recruitment for decades (“Legacy of Birth of a Nation”). Another example of the influence of Birth of a Nation is the burning of crosses. After the film depicted Klan members burning a cross as a symbol of hate, fifteen KKK members were inspired to do the same; afterward, many followed suit and the burning cross is now almost synonymous with the KKK (Dundon).
Although children were not this film’s intended audience, it shows the extent to which television can be influential in pushing certain views. This kind of television can have a large impact on the way adults, not just children, view racial categories and can in the long term build racist stereotypes. Television has also historically underrepresented racial minorities. In a 1983 study, researches found that in over 1,100 characters in 20 children’s television programs “just 47 others belonged to some group other than white” which is less than 1% (Dobrow). This misrepresentation misleads children from the diversity of America today.
Racial Representation on TV
Compared to previous studies of minority races on television in the 1900s, there is more racial diversity today. Now, “Black characters account for 5.6 percent of [their] total sample of 1,500 characters” (Dobrow). However, minorities are still far from being accurately represented; while Hispanics and Latinos make up 17.8% of the United States population, only 1.4% of characters on television are Hispanics or Latino (Dobrow). Over 60 percent of TV shows have no minority characters at all (Dobrow). This misrepresentation leads to the persistence of stereotypes and ignorance as a result of a limited understanding and exposure to other cultures and races. Worse off, not only do minority characters rarely appear on television, the characters that are depicted are commonly based on inaccurate stereotypes.
For example, minority characters on screen are more likely, compared to their white counterparts, to hold low-income jobs, be aggressive, or engage in criminal activity (Vittrup and Holden 195). However, producing TV shows separated by race such as having only all Black, all Asian, all White, or all Hispanic casts can also create negative prejudice. When children see TV shows separating different races, it sends the message that segregation is acceptable and that interracial interactions are not important (Vittrup and Holden). This means that television productions, from TV series to cartoon networks, must hire a diverse cast and create realistic, well-rounded characters as well as provide storylines where different groups interact children are exposed to a realistic look at diverse cultures that exist in the US.
Television Screen Time and Construction of Reality
Although exposure to accurate information about minority races and cultures is limited, the screen time the average American child is exposed to is not. According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, children under the age of 11 spend 28-32 hours in front of a TV screen (Boyse). Children are highly susceptible to following behavioral patterns they see daily as the primary way children learn how to behave, both socially and emotionally, is by imitating the behavior of people around them, whether that be in real life from their parents, or by media influences such as television (Heflick). For example, in a study led by Albert Bandura, results showed that children played with dolls similarly to the way their parents did. However, because the average child watches three to five hours of TV per day, it becomes a “window of the world” thereby a medium through which children learn about societal customs, values, morals, and expectations, as well as information about other ethnic and racial groups (Vittrup and Holden 195).
This means that children are extremely impressionable, and when this is combined with the amount of subjective input that television delivers, TV becomes an important player in shaping their minds and lives. While some programs may be educational and help give insight to things they have never encountered, when it comes to race there is generally not enough diverse content (Heflick). The limited exposure to positive connotations about minority races combined with the weighty daily influence of television results in children being closed-minded and ignorant of other cultures or backgrounds. Without diverse racial representation in media content, children do not have the proper role models for interracial interactions.
Psychology of Race
The disproportionate amount of input children receive from television can have detrimental effects such as bullying or non-inclusion, but even worse children’s views on race can solidify. Without parents explicitly expressing their views on race, children were “more likely to form attitudes based on information from other sources, such as peers and media” (Vittrup and Holden 194). By leaving the TV on, children can learn biases from it gradually, and may even have views that differ from the parents’ personal beliefs. The stereotypes formed will be impervious to change because of a mechanism in the brain called schema, which is what people use to interpret and predict how a person, object, or event is going be like based on common characteristics (Michalak).
For example, if a boy constantly sees his father being aggressive towards his mother, it is likely he will develop similar behavior towards women. His schema is telling him that this behavior is the norm. With repeated negative connotations towards minority races on television, children will develop a schema of how interactions with and understandings of other races are supposed to be like. This is how prejudice is built. Once the schema is already set, changing it is a complex, difficult process, and becomes increasingly difficult to modify as people grow older (Cherry). This means that as children grow up watching television with inappropriate racial degradation, their views on race will gradually solidify.
Racial Bias in Children
It has been demonstrated that the majority of children are racially biased as early as being a toddler, despite most parents not discussing race until years later. Famous studies such as the Doll Test in the 1940s have found that children have biases against people of a different race. They discovered that the “majority of children preferred the white dolls and assigned positive characteristics to it” (“Significance of the ‘Doll Test’”). More than half a century later, the test was repeated by a team at CNN. The study also reported that 59% of African Americans viewed cross-racial friendships as possible while only 38% of European Americans thought it was possible (Hadad). This demonstrates that racial discrimination does exist among children. With increased exposure to media forms like television that create racially inaccurate content, it is very possible for television to be propelling racial prejudice.
There have been attempts at using temporary, short, prejudice prevention television to counter the effects of detrimental racially biased TV, however, they did not bear fruit. Anna Persson and Dara R. Musher-Eizenman, professors of the Department of Psychology, conducted two studies to analyze the effects of prejudice prevention television. They tested the reaction of White children to all races after being exposed to stimuli. One group was tested immediately after watching the prejudice prevention television piece once, while the other was conducted with the children watching the piece four times in a period of 3 weeks. Both studies show that there was no significant change. However, a possible explanation for these results is that the media “feeds the audience with a continuous stream of mainstream views” and since children have already been watching a large volume of TV over time, “children have been absorbing pro-prejudice information for many years” (Persson and Musher-Einzenman 532). What this means is that it is difficult to change the stereotypes of racial categories enhanced by children’s existing schemas with a quick solution. Many years of pro-prejudice input cannot be changed by a three-week interval. A solution to the problem at hand must be long term to root out the problem entirely.
One long term solution is to start with the shows children are watching every day, not just a few times in a short interval. Currently, with the television system that is in place, children are not exposed to the real representation of different cultural minorities. Even though the number of racial minorities in the US is higher than ever, most children are still under-prepared in regard to facing different ethnic and cultural groups. However, several children’s television series have been able to fight this problem through racial diversification. Dora the Explorer is a children’s show on a Latinx ambiguous character, who engages the audience by teaching them Spanish and some cultural aspects such as dance. By including this interaction with a different culture, this show was able to demonstrate the positive and fun effect of having “diverse friends to work together” and interact (Fuller). Using Dora and her friends as a role model, children were able to learn from and imitate this behavior. This illustrates that positive and negative shows do have a real impact on the way children interact in real life.
Another solution is a “media diet.” In a study conducted by the University of Washington, 500 families with children ages three to five were split into two groups, with one control group that continued their cartoon watching habits, and one group that watched pro-social, non-violent, and educational cartoons such as Dora the Explorer and Curious George. Each group kept to these media diets for six months and using the Social Competence and Behavioral Evaluation tool, parents answered questions surrounding the child’s behavior. Positive behaviors like sharing and being sensitive to others’ problems were tracked while negative behaviors such as yelling and bullying were tracked as well.
Results showed that children immersed in pro-social and non-violent cartoons were more sociable while the kids left to watch violent cartoons manifested more often with early signs of aggression (Drinka). Blocking out violent cartoons while displaying pro-social ones decreased violent behavior and improved their social skills. This reveals that children are affected by what is on TV. By giving children a positive media diet and tracking their changes, children’s behavior improved drastically.
The most effective solution is one that incorporates both a media diet and pro-diversity shows. To have only diverse shows is a problem because many other children’s shows exist and the production and marketing of one diverse show is not enough. To have only a media diet for parents to volunteer for may also be difficult to sustain. A more suitable, realistic, long term solution is to have pro-diversity and anti-prejudice standards. This way, it is easier for parents to find and choose appropriate shows like Dora the Explorer for their children. By implementing these standards, producers will also be more motivated to make pro-diversity shows. As an incentive, these types of shows also have the potential to generate large revenue, with Dora the Explorer grossing over one billion dollars annually for Viacom, the entertainment company that owns the show (Fuller). To bring these pro-diversity shows to the attention of children and parents, new standards regarding racial representation and diversity need to be implemented.
A way to incorporate new standards is a TV rating system, which could limit the dominant influence of TV on shaping children’s perceptions around race. Designed to protect children from harmful content, TV ratings have existed since the beginning of the television industry. Initially, the rating system was a mandatory legal system, however, because many Americans felt it infringed their right of Freedom of Speech, it was changed to voluntary so that people would be more willing and accepting of the standards (Blitz). To help children avoid programs that promote racial prejudice, a television guideline must also be put in place.
A new program would be more difficult to implement, due to time constraints and the nature of adoption resistance for new policies. A better solution would be simply to add new standards regarding race onto the current program in place. Although realistic race representation may be complex to assess and few existing diversity guidelines are currently popular enough for standardization, similar methods and approaches have been successful for violence and over-sexualization on TV screens. This solution is at least worth trying for the future generation.
The current content on television displays a colorblind world that misrepresents the realities of the growing minority population in America, leading to persisting racial prejudices that ultimately result in real-life discrimination against racial minorities. With the current easy access to biased narratives on television, children will continue to be misinformed, develop schemas, and build prejudices against other races unless changes are made. Thus, in order to protect the minds of the future generations, a TV rating system or guideline including the standards for anti-prejudice and pro-diversity are needed. By doing so, more content that furthers the accepting and loving mindset of children will be produced, thereby creating a positive cycle promoting diversity and inclusion.
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