Media’s Critical Role in Helping to Break Systemic Racism

Earned media plays a powerful role in helping to shape public opinion, break down stereotypes and get voices and stories heard. But Black stories and perspectives are vastly underrepresented, and mostly singular and skewed when they are presented, say Black PR pros.

That has to change for the U.S. to move forward from racist deadly attacks against African Americans over the past few months.

Alexis Davis Smith, president and CEO of PRecise Communications, says “newsrooms are still more likely to show Black mugshots than white” – reinforcing the stereotype that Black people engage in criminal acts and should be feared – “or tell stories from a white perspective. The problem is, just as it is in every industry, they don’t have enough diversity in the newsrooms.”

Plenty of studies highlight the extent of the problem. One from Pew Research Center analyzed 2012-2016 American Community Survey data and found more than three-quarters (77%) of newspaper, broadcast and online newsroom staff – including reporters, photographers, videographers and editors – are white.

“Media essentially fuels the machine of systemic racism,” says Claudine Moore, managing director and founder of C. Moore Media and adjunct professor at New York University. “Nowhere is this more apparent than in the media representation of Africa and Black Africans.”

She points to the results of The Africa Narrative, a project from the University of Southern California’s Norman Lear Center, which analyzed almost 700,000 hours of U.S. TV on more than 900 TV stations and found an overwhelming lack of visibility of Africa and Africans. “Juxtapose this against news headlines about Africa that show only war, famine, disease, corruption, terrorism — your perception is skewed creating space for mystery, distrust, suspicion, etc., all the results of a single story/theme,” says Moore.

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