Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Impact of Imagery on Racial Preferences and Biases

      This video speaks volumes about the impact of imagery we see daily on our subconscious minds regarding race and bias. It reminds me so much of a story my mother has more than once recounted to me, of my oldest brother in the early 70s when the other two of us were mere infants. It was time to go to church or some other function that called for dress slacks and a button down shirt with a tie. My brother, who as a toddler had learned to dress himself, had properly dressed himself with the exception of the white tube socks with a bold blue stripe that he had donned with his dress shoes.
   Mother praised him for the bulk of his ensemble, then explained that he needed a pair of dark socks, either black or brown, and sent him back to his dresser to retrieve and put on the correct socks. My brother returned with different socks as instructed, but this time they were white with a red stripe. Mother was busy putting the finishing touches on her own outfit, so again, explained his error and sent him back to his room for the correct socks.
   When my brother returned for the third time with white socks, Mother was perplexed. She began to think that perhaps my brother was color-blind or had some other disorder that prevented him from getting the correct socks. She picked up various items —a comb, a lipstick, a scarf, etc.—and asked him to name each item and its color, which he did without problem or error. Mother then asked my brother to point out something brown and something black in the room, and again, he was able to do both.
   Finally, Mother asked him, "If you know what brown looks like and what black looks like, why won't you put on a pair of dark socks?" Without hesitation my brother replied, "I don't like black or brown! They are ugly!" My brother went on to explain that he didn't like black people and he, himself was not black, but white. He had arrived at his disdain for all things black by watching his favorite television show, Starsky & Hutch and noting that all of the "good guys" were white and all of the pimps, thugs, pushers and other sundry "bad guys" were black or brown.
   What makes this incident even more profound is that this was during the whole "black is beautiful" movement and that our parents were both well-educated professionals who sent us to private schools and took us to Fire Island or The Hamptons for the summer. Regardless of what my brother saw and experienced in his world, the imagery from the television permeated his mind and changed his perception regarding race and racial stereotypes.
   I think about that story and then look at what images persist in the media today and sincerely shudder to think about the effect that imagery has on children today of all races. Studies have proven that "the doll test" still garners the same results more than 60 years later of children (both black and white) showing a preference for white dolls. Recent studies show that law enforcement officers are more likely to shoot a black suspect than a white suspect, and recent "conservative" and "real American" commentary shows an alarming and disturbing resurgence of racist speech and imagery in our country. Couple that with the ridiculous songs and music videos by too many African American artists that glorify violence, materialism and ignorance, and it s no wonder that so many people (both black and white) have a generally negative opinion of black people and culture. If they are never exposed to anything else, can you honestly blame them?
   This is where you and I come into play... We know that all things black are not bad nor are all things white wonderful. We know that each person is an individual and that judging someone's abilities, experiences or values based upon their ethnicity is just plain wrong. We all know or have encountered at least one white person in life who was an absolute pain and an annoyance to tolerate. We also each know at least one intelligent, friendly, hard-working, family-oriented, educated, well-spoken black person. When next you are confronted with stereotypical imagery or have the racist views of an ignoramus inflicted upon you, please, please remember that one great person. Or hopefully, remember the several great and non-stereotypical people you know and make sure that your children, friends and relatives know at least one too. Combat the ignorance with whatever you can, but preferrably with love.

1 comment:

  1. I noticed this when I was a kid, during the same time in the 70's. Good points. Thanks for writing this.