Children Say Television Distorts Its Portrayal of Minorities National Study Highlights Young Viewers' Desire to See More Diversity

By Marilyn Gardner, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 1998 | Go to article overview

Children Say Television Distorts Its Portrayal of Minorities National Study Highlights Young Viewers' Desire to See More Diversity


Marilyn Gardner, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


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 more likely to be boss. By contrast, minorities, if present at all, typically play negative or subservient roles that cast them as maids, janitors, or criminals, and as poor, lazy, and less intelligent.

Those are among the findings of a new national study of children's 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 master." Children of all races also agree that TV news media tend to portray African-Americans and Latinos more negatively than whites and 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. …

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