Black Media Images as a Perceived Threat to African American Ethnic Identity: Coping Responses, Perceived Public Perception, and Attitudes towards Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

Recent research has suggested that minority audiences in the United States may exhibit a pattern of media literacy, including media use and responses to media messages, that is distinct from their White counterparts. In general, minority members are more frequent media users than Whites (e.g., Albarran & Umphrey, 1993; Roberts, Foehr, Rideout, & Brodie, 1999), they are more likely to consider the content of the media as real (Greenberg & Brand, 1994), and they are more critical audiences when evaluating how the media present in-group members (Davis & Gandy, 1999; McAneny, 1994). In comparison to the White majority, these differences may relate to minority audiences' ethnic identity (Allen, 2001; Davis & Gandy, 1999). Davis and Gandy, for example, suggested that African Americans have developed and use strategies in dealing with biased media images of Blacks so that they can protect themselves from possible negative influence.

This poses an interesting question about media effects and public opinion research on racial policies. Recent research has revealed that minority images conveyed via the media contribute to public opinions on racial policies (e.g., Pan & Kosicki, 1996; Sniderman, Brody, & Tetlock, 1991; Tan, Fujioka, & Tan, 2000). Tan et al., for example, suggested that negative media portrayals of African Americans (perceived by White viewers) were related to White viewers' negative perceptions of Blacks in general, which in turn led to their opposition to affirmative action. Negative minority images have been prevalent in the mainstream media (e.g., Entman & Rojecki, 2000), yet neither minority responses to these images nor the influence of these images on minority decisions for affirmative action has yet been systematically addressed.

Bobo (1998) stated that public opinion research on affirmative action has heavily focused on Whites' views, yet beliefs of racial minority members should be addressed because both perspectives must play a role in developing racial policies. Similarly, although media effects research on racial policies has largely relied on Caucasian data, responses of ethnic minorities must be examined because both Whites' and minority members' racial opinions are formed in a mediated racial environment. The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between minority media portrayals and minority respondents' decision making for affirmative action. The study specifically asks (a) how Black respondents perceive media presentation of in-group members, and (b) how these perceived images are related to Blacks' opinions on affirmative action. It gives special attention to Black respondents' ethnic identity and proposes that media presentation of Blacks may trigger African American respondents' ethnic identity, which is related to their perceptions of public attitudes towards Blacks and endorsement of affirmative action. The study utilizes survey data to examine the proposed association among key variables that will be discussed later.

Literature Review

Ethnic Identity and Mediated Information

Ethnic identity is a group-based identity formed and developed through a variety of socialization processes, including both personal experiences (e.g., interaction with family and community) and mediated experiences (Allen, 1993, 2001; Berry & Mitchell-Kernan, 1982; Gecas, 1992). People learn the meanings of the self and salient identities via reflected appraisals--the appraisals and responses of others about the self. In comparison to family and friends who are identified as "significant" others, the media have been referred to as "generalized" others that present societal expectations and views about the members of the society (Gecas, 1992). Similarly, Berry and Mitchell-Kernan pointed out that mainstream television informs us of where each ethnic group stands in the social structure and presents "societal attitudes" toward minority members. …