A series of police shootings of African-Americans and acts of terrorism by followers of the Islamic State group thrust racial, ethnic and religious minorities into the media spotlight during the 2016 presidential campaign.
And that’s led to an increase in negative stereotypes portrayed in the media, some say.
“The media plays a major role in perpetuating stereotypes. Whenever a crime is committed, I start looking to see what race the person is,” said Joe Darden, a professor in Michigan State University’s Department of Geology who researches issues of racial inequality. “Whenever it’s a black person it’s mentioned, but when the media fails to mention race, I know it’s a white person. That trend perpetuates the stereotype that black people are criminals or violent.”
Darden said he has fallen victim to that stereotype.
“I had it happen to me once. A crime was committed and as I was driving from my hometown to downtown Lansing, and I was stopped. The person said, ‘Look, I stopped you because they said the person was black,'” Darden said. “He realized that he was going too far with that and that’s what the media does, it creates situations where you get mistreatment and you become a suspect.”
African-Americans are not the only group targeted with negative depiction by media. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Muslims often have been wrongly stereotyped as violent, said Marwa Mallah, who is Lebanese and a Muslim. She said she hates to see her faith slandered.
“It bothers me to to watch television or read something that implies that my faith should be banned from my home country,” Mallah said.“It’s always implied that Islam is dangerous and cult-like and interacting with anyone who follows it should be treated with caution.”
Terrorist attacks by supporters of the Islamic State group have furthered those stereotypes.
“I’m not sure what can be done to change the narrative, but I wish the ignorance would stop, and in order for that to happen people need to educate themselves,” Mallah said. “Faith is peaceful, and that’s exactly what Islam gives me. Anyone that commits these heinous acts cannot be Muslim because it goes against all of our beliefs.”
Mallah said she sees differences in the treatment of minorities compared to whites in the media.
“I believe it’s easier to bully minorities in constructing all these negative narratives and stereotypes because we are the minority,” Mallah said. “When you think about all the heinous terroristic style crimes committed by white people, they are never called terrorists because they are the privileged majority.
“The way the media portrays minorities doesn’t just affect how white people judge us, but it affects the way minorities view each other,” Mallah said. “If all minorities were to ban together and demand change then we could make great things.”
As a black man, Darden know this isn’t a fight minority groups can win on their own.
“It can’t just be done by African-Americans. We are the minority, so the majority has to join in on the fight to force change,” Darden said. “Members of the majority must come in, and if they’re silent on these matters, then it very difficult to solve it.”