Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Socially Constructing Race and History: Exploring Black Identity and Popular Culture in Social Studies Classrooms through Cultural Studies Framework

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Socially Constructing Race and History: Exploring Black Identity and Popular Culture in Social Studies Classrooms through Cultural Studies Framework

Article excerpt


With the rapid advance in modern technology people now have access to media and popular culture in much larger quantities and in ways that were not possible in previous generations. Grossberg, Wartella, Whitney and Wise (2005) state that "we live in a world of media communication where we can travel great distances and across centuries, all in the comfort of our own living rooms (p. 4)." Personal computers, the world wide web, LCD projectors, and other modern technology gives easy access to endless popular cultural artifacts that include music videos, and product advertisements that can be accessed via the graphically rich environment of the Internet (Sherry, 2002). Popular media also comes in the form of the ever evolving music industry, as well as in new films that push the bounds of technology. Television shows, cartoons, video games, news programs, e-literature, satellite radio and social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, all make up the elements of popular culture contemporary Americans are exposed to regularly (Comstock & Scharrer, 2007).

The abundance of media in people's daily lives has a great impact on their values, worldview, culture, decision making and even their self-perception. Often societal and individual views are shaped by media and popular culture. Grossberg, Wartella, Whitney and Wise (2005) state that it is becoming more and more difficult to tell the real world from the media and that it is crucial for people that live in a diverse society to know the difference. Research shows that children's lives are adversely affected when exposed to media of various sorts on a regular basis (Adler, Lesser, Meringoff, Robertson, Rossiter, & Ward, 1980; Allen, Alessio, & Brezgel, 1995; Field, Austin, Carmargo, Taylor, Striegel-Moore, Loud, & Colditz, 2005). Further Comstock and Scharrer (2007) point out that:

   either the amount of media exposure or exposure to particular types
   of content [can be linked to] ... a range of important outcomes,
   including but not limited to performing poorly in school; learning
   aggression; behaving antisocially; developing unhealthy attitudes
   and behavior regarding such disparate topics as nutrition, alcohol
   consumption, cigarette smoking, and sexual behavior ... (2).

In short, young people can receive negative messages about the world, as well as their own values and ideals from popular culture. These messages often manifest themselves in homes, public places or even at school via the actions of youth. Johnson (1987) and Gay, Hall, Janes, Koed, Madsen, Mackay and Negus (2013) developed a sociological model called the circuit of culture that graphically and theoretically shows the impact ideologies imbedded in popular culture can have on people.

Cultural studies scholars state that people perform or act out the messages they see in the media (Lewis, 2008; Youngbauer, 2013). Schools then become a sort of theatrical stage where youth often unknowingly act out or emulate popular culture and even carry out stereotypical roles of race, class and gender. However, conversely schools can also be sites to combat negative ideas about Race.

American ideas about Race among youth in schools and in the conscious of larger society have stemmed from social constructs that have been shaped by various popular cultural artifacts as well as from racist historical discourses (Lemons, 1977; Balkaran, 1991; Franklin & Higginbotham, 2009; Smedley & Smedley, 2005; Ruffner-Ceaser, 2012). The cultural studies model can offer insight into the impact the media has on perceptions of Race in the US. These findings can be used in classrooms to bring about more positive discussion about Race that challenge popular stereotypes and helps students become more critically aware of media influences. Social studies students can engage in a type of critical media literacy that can allow them to develop more sophisticated mental models of the African American community. …

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