In the eyes of children, it's a white, white world on television.
In sitcoms, dramas, and news shows, they see whites overwhelmingly
appearing in positive roles - as rich, smart, well-educated, and
likely to be boss. By contrast, minorities, if present at all,
typically play negative or subservient roles that cast them as
janitors, or criminals, and as poor, lazy, and less intelligent.
Those are among the findings of a new national study of
perceptions of race and class in the media. Conducted by Children
Now, a California-based advocacy group, the survey polled 1,200
children - Asians, Latinos, blacks, and whites - between the ages of
10 and 17.
Four-fifths of children think it is important to see people of
their own race on television. Yet they look largely in vain for
Asian and Latino characters.
"It's mind-boggling," says Alvin Poussaint, director of the media
center at Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston. "Latinos, who
make up over 10 percent of the population, are seen rarely. And
Asian children are very aware that they're not there. When children
don't see themselves, they think they don't count."
One Asian teenage girl complained that when Asians do appear, they
are either shown as "kind of book-smart, or they're like the Kung Fu
Children of all races also agree that TV news media tend to
portray African-Americans and Latinos more negatively than whites
Asians, particularly when the news is about young people. They see
African-Americans shown doing "bad things" 35 percent of the time
(compared with 9 percent for whites) and "good things" only 14
percent of the time (42 percent for whites).
Jewel Love, vice president of Motivation Entertainment Education
in Los Angeles, sees other failings. "On sitcoms, blacks don't tend
to see fathers. Whites do," she says. "There's more conflict on
black sitcoms, and apartments are often messy." Adds Chuck D., a
musician and a Fox News commentator, "If there are more than three
blacks, expect laughter."
Young people also complain that programs segregate races into all-
white or all-black casts. Explaining that they have friends of all
races, they want programs reflecting that diversity.
Such stereotypes are far from harmless. "White kids who said
they're afraid of blacks and Latinos say it's from what they see in
the media, not from experience," says Dr. Poussaint.
And as Donna Brown Guillaume, a producer, explains, skewed images
result "if you only have one Latina character and she has a fruit
bowl on her head. …