Representation of Ethnicity #1


The fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition.

Despite some progress, ethnic minorities are generally under-represented or are represented in stereotyped and negative ways across a range of media content. In particular, newspapers and television news have a tendency to present ethnic minorities as a problem or to associate Black people with physical rather than intellectual activities and to neglect, and even ignore, racism and the inequalities that result from it.

Stereotypical representations

Akinti (2003) argues that television coverage of ethnic minorities over focuses on
crime, AIDS in Africa and Black children’s under-achievement in schools, whilst
ignoring the culture and interests of a huge Black audience and their rich
contribution to British society. Akinti claims that news about Black communities
always seems to be ‘bad news’. Van Dijk’s (1991) content analysis of tens of
thousands of news items across the world over several decades confirms that
news representations of Black people can be categorised into several types of
stereotypically negative news.

  • Ethnic minorities as criminals – Black crime is the most frequent issue found in media news coverage of ethnic minorities. Van Dijk found that Black people, particularly African-Caribbeans, tend to be portrayed as criminals, especially in the tabloid press and more recently as members of organised gangs that push drugs and violently defend urban territories.
  • Ethnic minorities and moral panics Watson (2008) notes that moral panics often result from media stereotyping of Black people as potentially criminal. This effect was first brought to sociological attention by Hall’s classic study of a 1970s moral panic that was constructed around the folk devil of the ‘Black mugger’. Further moral panics have developed around rap music, e.g. in 2003, ‘gangsta rap’ lyrics came under attack for contributing to an increase in gun crime.
  • Ethnic minorities as a threat – ethnic minorities are often portrayed as a threat to the majority White culture. It is suggested by some media that immigrants and asylum seekers are only interested in living in Britain because they wish to take fraudulent advantage of Britain’s ‘generous’ welfare state. Poole (2000), pre 9/11, argued that Islam has always been demonised and distorted by the Western media. It has traditionally been portrayed as a threat to Western interests. Representations of Islam have been predominantly negative and Muslims have been stereotyped as backward, extremist, fundamentalist and misogynist.
  • Ethnic minorities as dependent – news stories about less developed countries tend to focus on a ‘coup-war-famine-starvation syndrome’. Often such stories imply that the causes of the problems experienced by developing countries are self-inflicted – that they are the result of stupidity, tribal conflict, too many babies, laziness, corruption and unstable political regimes. External causes such as colonialism, tied aid, transnational exploitation and the unfair terms of world trade are rarely discussed by the British media.
  • Ethnic minorities as abnormal – the cultural practices of ethnic minorities are often called into question and labelled as deviant or abnormal. Many Asian people believe that the media treatment of arranged marriages was often inaccurate and did not reflect the way that the system had changed over time. Ameli et al. (2007) note that media discussion around the issue of the wearing of the hijab and the veil is also problematic, often suggesting that it is somehow an inferior form of dress compared with Western female dress codes and that it is unnecessary and problematic. It is often portrayed as a patriarchal and oppressive form of control that exemplifies the misogyny of Islam and symbolises the alleged subordinate position of women in Islam.
  • Ethnic minorities as unimportant – Van Dijk notes that some sections of the media imply that the lives of White people are somehow more important than the lives of non-White people. News items about disasters in developing countries are often restricted to a few lines or words unless there are also White or British victims. Moreover, Sir Ian Blair, the former Metropolitan police commissioner, claimed that institutionalised racism was present in the British media in the way they reported death from violent crime. He noted that Black and Asian victims of violent death did not get the same attention as White victims. However, the murder of the Black teenager Stephen Lawrence by White racists in 1993 received high-profile coverage, both on television and in the press.
  • Ethnic minorities as invisible – in 2005, a BBC News Online survey noted that Black and Asian people were represented as newscasters and television journalists, but the range of roles that ethnic minority actors play in television drama is very limited and often reflects low status, e.g. Africans may play cleaners or Asians may play shopkeepers. Ethnic minority audiences were also very hostile towards tokenismthe idea that programmes contain characters from ethnic minority groups purely because they ‘should’.

Alvarado’s Theory: Ethnic groups are placed into different categories in the media

  • Pitied – Ethnic groups that represented to the audience to be pitied by them, e.g. starving children in Africa
  • Dangerous – Ethnic groups that are represented to bring harm to others, e.g. Muslims as terrorists
  • Exotic – Racy and controversial behaviour from ethnic groups, e.g. Latino women as sex symbols
  • Humorous – Representations of ethnic groups as being comedic, e.g. Mexicans not understanding English

White British/American/European Stereotypes

  • Affluent
  • Educated
  • Socially awkward
  • Restrained – to prevent themselves from doing something
  • Moral
  • Rational
  • Arrogant
  • Repressed – to not allow yourself to do or express something
  • Neurotic
  • Racist

Latin American Stereotypes

  • Lazy
  • Uneducated
  • Easy going
  • Impoverished
  • Hedonistic
  • Ridiculed
  • Involved in drugs (dealing/taking)
  • ‘Exotic’ sex symbols (Antonio Banderez, Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, Shakira)

Afro/Caribbean Stereotypes

  • Gangster
  • Fun loving
  • Athletic
  • Sexist/Homophobic Males
  • Materialistic
  • Hospitable
  • Impoverished
  • Involved in drugs (dealing/taking)
  • Criminal
  • Victim

East Asian Stereotypes

  • Intelligent
  • Hard working
  • Determined
  • Sinister
  • Martial arts
  • Obsessed with electronics
  • Quirky
  • Physically weak
  • Ruthless
  • Lacking emotion
  • Submissive women

Middle Eastern/ South Asian/ Arabic Stereotypes

  • Terrorists
  • Devout
  • Glamorous
  • Educated
  • Oppressed females
  • Religious fanatics
  • Sophisticated and Cultured
  • Formidable
  • Serious
  • Cruel/brutal
  • Victims
  • Villains



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