The Exclusionary Mass Media: `Narrowcasting' Keeps Cultures Apart

By Khatih, Syed M. | Black Issues in Higher Education, July 25, 1996 | Go to article overview

The Exclusionary Mass Media: `Narrowcasting' Keeps Cultures Apart

Khatih, Syed M., Black Issues in Higher Education

THE Exclusionary Mass Media: `Narrowcasting' Keeps Cultures Apart.

`Race, Multiculturalism, and the Media" reads like a textbook: that is both its strength and its weakness.

It is a strength because it fills an important vacuum in social science and humanities curricula: there are few textbooks which deal systematically with the relationship between race, culture and media. The authors Clint C. Wilson II, an associate professor of journalism at Howard University, and Felix F. Gutierrez, vice president and executive director of the Freedom Forum Pacific Coast Center, are to be congratulated for their contribution to this important area of scholarship.

It is also, however, a weakness, since textbooks, by their very nature, are poorly equipped to tackle controversial social issues. And there are few issues as controversial in American society as race and media. While the authors do an excellent job of examining the damage that newspapers, movies and television do with respect to people of color, they fail to note that their own chosen medium (i.e., books) are equally guilty in this regard. It is true not only for political treatises such as "The Bell Curve;" it is also true of textbook authors who, generally, cannot lay claim to the excuses used by the more commercially dependent authors. Rightly or wrongly, textbooks are held to a higher standard of truth and accuracy than are other types of books and most other media.

Aside from the inevitable confrontation with Goddel's Theorem, which posits that a system (or industry) may criticize others but is limited in its ability to criticize itself, "Race, Multiculturalism, and the Media" provides important insights into the workings of American mass media. These insights are presented to the reader in the form of 11 chapters divided neatly into four parts, including an extensive introduction and conclusion. A list of suggested readings, end-of-chapter notes and an index (always welcome) complete the well-organized 275-page volume.

Authors Wilson and Gutierrez combine their professional and cultural talents to provide African-American and Latino readers with a product which neither insults their intelligence nor degrades their culture. This, in itself, is no minor achievement for a book devoted to the sensitive issue of race and media. Of course, the authors' own ethnic backgrounds (African American and Latino, respectively) may be at least partly responsible for this achievement. But such a correlation between an author's ethnic identity and a text's cultural content cannot be considered an automatic occurrence in today's world of corporate publishing.

Flawed Calculus

In fact, it is with respect to this very issue that some readers might differ with the authors' rather sanguine prescriptions for what ails the racist U.S. mass media. Wilson and Gutierrez suggest that increased ethnic participation in the mass media -- for example, the hiring of more African-American and Latino reporters -- will result in less jaundiced treatment of their communities.

Perhaps. But a little healthy criticism and historical reminders might be in order. While, for example, it would be nice to conclude that all Black newspaper columnists treated Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. with more respect than did all white columnists, such a conclusion would probably be false. Even today, almost a generation after the deaths of these two African-American servants, some of the most widely syndicated Black columnists reveal an attitude bordering on contempt for them and their shared principles. Thus, the calculus that suggests that increased non-white participation in American media will result in better treatment of communities seems, by all accounts, flawed. The problem (racism in the media) is still there -- as authors Wilson and Gutierrez clearly document; but the solutions are yet elusive insofar as simple increases in numbers are concerned.

What is partly at issue here is the tendency for non-white media personnel to adopt (and be rewarded for) Eurocentric perspectives and associated values during the course of their professional education. …

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