Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Racial Chameleon

In chapter one, entitled The Racial Chameleon in the book, The Black Image in the White Mind, Media and Race in America, written by Robert M. Entman and Andrew Rojecki, the two authors basically give an introduction or overview of their entire book. It seems that their writings are based solely on the relationship between media and white society and how media’s portrayal of African Americans, or lack thereof, has influenced the gap between African Americans and White individuals in the United States.

The two authors argue that matters or race and forms of racism are still extremely evident in American society, but have been cloaked “in a chameleon-like form” (1). Entman and Rojecki argue that “the unresolved conflicts over facts and their interpretation” regarding race, has contributed to an ambivalent state of mind for many white Americans (1). This ambivalent attitude towards African Americans is reinforced by what the authors refer to as a “paradox of racial progress” (3). While excited about African American progress in society, White Americans are still faced with anxiety towards the African American race because of “Blacks’ new assertiveness and power after World War II” (3). The authors write on page 4, “Deferential behavior on the part of members of the out-group stimulates affectionate condescension among the in-group; assertiveness does not”.

The authors suggest that media content has played a large role in the existing negative White American view of African Americans. Along with personal experience, “…audiences interpret a narrative or image through filters shaped by other media content…” (4). The authors argue that media portrays Blacks and Whites as completely different groups of people and from totally different “moral universes” (4). Media also enforces Whites’ abilities and tendencies to create, embellish and therefore misinterpret differences among Black individuals. The authors also suggest that in the minds of White America, “Blacks now occupy a kind of limbo status…neither fully accepted nor wholly rejected by the dominant culture” (7).

Throughout the rest of this chapter, the authors continue to discuss basically what they will reveal throughout the rest of their book. This chapter is apparently more useful as an introduction to the book itself. However, the authors present an interesting solution to “the racial chameleon”. On page 11, the authors state that their “normative ideal” is that of brotherhood. However, they use the term “racial comity” defining it in terms of the Oxford English Dictionary as “courtesy, civility; kindly and considerate behavior towards others”. They suggest that comity “would allow Whites and Blacks to see common interests and values more readily and thus to cooperate in good faith to achieve mutually beneficial objectives” and that “they act kindly and empathetically enough to see beyond skin color to their own shared interests in a more effective and harmonious society” (12). I would argue, and based on this introduction, Entman and Rojecki would probably agree that media plays a huge role in supporting this or negating this “comity” in the minds of White and Black Americans. Because media plays such a large role in the lives of Americans, it is crucial that either media changes its content to sustain the idea of comity, or Black and White Americans learn to analyze what they are receiving from media so that they are able to discern what are true and false representations of race.

Image from: http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlLA/original/060922_BarackObama_Xtrawide.jpg

I chose this image of Barack Obama because of what is happening today in American society. Entman and Rojecki wrote on page 8, “…Blacks are rarely consulted for their considered opinions. On these dimensions the news rarely publicize Blacks’ contributions to America’s serious business, making the images that do appear all the more suggestive of a generally irresponsible clan seizing more than their share of generosity’s bounty”.

I wonder with the popularity of Obama and his presence in American society today, if Entman and Rojecki would write anything different? If Barack is elected as President of the United States, will his presence begin to chip away at this “Racial Chameleon”? Since Obama would be more prevalent especially in media, will the opinions of African Americans be more substantial and influential in society?

1 comment:

Kevin Maness said...

That's what's so exciting about this election--no one knows for sure what an Obama victory (or loss!) would really say about race in America. I mean, clearly, something's better now than it was in 1960, but what is the improvement, exactly, and how extensive is it? I mean, as recently as the Democratic primaries, there were some attempts by the Clinton camp to cast Obama as a "black leader" rather than a national leader, with the subtle implications that the needs of the black community are different from (and perhaps even counter to) the needs of the rest of the nation. Isn't that racism? Albeit of a new and less obvious sort.