How Media Influences Our Views on Racism Essay Example


The line, “It comes as a great shock to discover the country, which is your birthplace, and to which you owe your life and your identity, has not, in its whole system of reality, evolved any place for you” (Peck, 2016) in the film I am not your Negro written by James Baldwin has been distinctly in my mind since watching film. I found the film to be an exceptional look at the Black history within the United States from the time of Martin Luther king Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers to the current Black Lives Movement. Listening to James Baldwin’s writings and seeing photos and video clips in this film has evoked a deep sense of empathy and injustice, to say that this film made a lasting impression is how I would best describe my reaction. This film further expanded my knowledge of the perspective and struggle of Blacks in the United States, from the social construction of norms and their place throughout history, to the use of social control and the power of political figures in addressing the issue of racism. 

 The role of Blacks in the United States has always been connected with the term “deviance” and “other.” Just as “deviance does not exist and is a social construction” (Week 2 Deviance and Crime) the racism and segregation of Blacks was a social construction made to keep them separated. A clear example of this is when Baldwin points out that from the moment you are born you think everything is white until you look in the mirror and find that “Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you” (Peck, 2016).  You assume you are part of society and to suddenly find out that you have been singled out and labeled as “deviant’ all because of a social construct and your skin color? The role that Blacks are placed in is one that was made as a social control with social control being defined as the “means used by members of a group or society to ensure conformity” (Week 2: Deviance and Social Control). The “criminality” of the role that has been placed on Blacks was one that was socially constructed to control them and when faced with the examination of this Baldwin states , “the American people are unable to face the fact that I am flesh of their flesh, bone of their bone, created by them. my blood, my father's blood, is in that soil” (Peck, 2016). Blacks are just people in society, yet through racism and segregation, they have been placed in a role that has separated them to the point that they are not even considered human as pointed out by Baldwin in the film (Peck, 2016). It is a role that was made through social control and enforced by the next theme of media and the idea of purity and heroes. 

Media is another method of social control and the use of it in further separating Blacks in the United States is apparent, from the roles of heroes and the way films further pushed the idea of “purity”. In the film Baldwin points out how the “heroes in films were white, not only because of the movies, but because the movies were a reflection of the land he lived in”  and how in the film “The Defiant Ones” the Black character jumps off the train to the joy of the white people to be with the white character, but to the black people this action was just another example of how white people felt they needed to be reassured that they were not hated and that they could maintain their “purity” (Peck, 2016). This idea of maintaining purity relates to the “moral entrepreneurs” theme by Howard Becker, in which those in power in the social structure are able to dictate their moral legitimacy through their superior position in society (Becker, 2009, p3). This social control of the portrayal of Blacks in films as secondary characters or characters who require a white savior, only further added onto the idea of the separation of Blacks and Whites. If only Whites get to play heroes, if only Whites get to maintain the image of “purity”, then the only things left for Blacks would be the roles of secondary characters or villains, roles that never had to be, but were left there by those who controlled the media. 

With the theme of roles and media, one very important theme that is also touched on in the film is the politicality of Blacks. Politicality, being when the government and those in power are able to decide what is considered a “crime” and what laws are to be enforced. A clear example of this is when Baldwin notes how the attorney general, Mr. Robert Kennedy had reacted to being asked to give a moral commitment to Blacks by having the president personally escort a young black girl to school in the south and had responded by looking insulted and saying “it was a meaningless moral gesture” (Peck, 2016). This clearly reflects how as someone in power, had the chance to address and change a situation, felt that they did not and rather than deal with the issue, felt that it would be useless and not something that needed to be empowered. This disregard to racism and to even aiding Blacks, exemplifies how politicality plays into the social structure of how a authority with the power to change the treatment of blacks, did not. By viewing a gesture that could affect the treatment of an entire group of people as “meaningless” only reinforces the view of those in society that Blacks are not part of it and should not be even treated as a priority.

This film, I am not your Negro, reflects the ways in which social control is constructed and how the ability of those in power determine what is considered deviant and important. As Howard Becker states in his article, deviance depends on many extraneous things outside of a person’s actual behavior (Becker, 2009, p7). Just as deviance is a social construction that is dependent on those who are in power, on those who enforce the law, the social problem of racism and the treatment of Blacks in the United States all depends on “the profiteers, on the vested interests, and on the people of this country” (Peck, 2016)  as Belafonte states. Change of the social controls and constructs of Blacks has never been more relevant, and with the Black Lives Movement, hopefully the social constructs will change for the better. 

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