1.0 Chapter 1: INTRODUCTION
1.1 Background of the Study
The advent of human rights violation cases that border on racism is a phenomenon that is not novel in the limelight of racism as far as the racial relations in the United States of America are concerned. Recent events such as the shootings in Dallas of five police officers during a peaceful protest is a vivid depiction of the state of desperation and uncertainty that surrounds insecurity and the justice system. The shooting that was described as a retaliatory attack by a lone shooter with the help of others to avenge the shootings of African Americans by white police officers earlier. Notably, the ensuring Dallas protest was in light of the fact that the shootings of the African American men by police informed the basis of the protest. A lone gunman who came to be known as Micah Johnson a former US Army veteran was said to have been behind the snipper weapon that fell five police officers. Johnson with the help of other three suspects managed to kill the white officers while injuring another seven. Witness accounts according to the guardian indicate that Johnson was quoted saying “I want to kill white people” (Levin, Jamieson, Glenza, Weaver, & Phipps, 2016; The Liberty Web, 2016). The interesting bit in the whole scenario or confrontation is that the shootings concurrent with the Dallas protest came at a time when heightened tensions emanated from the circulation of video clips that showed police brutality against African American males. Suffice to say, that the enmity between African Americans and the police is hinged on the premise that police brutally respond to African American suspects when compared to responses to white criminal suspects. Regrettably, many such confrontations will end in the shooting of the African-American suspect.
The Dallas shootings are but the latest among many previous shootings most of which African American males were the victims of white police officers’ brutality. It is, therefore, quite ironic to see media coverage of protests by white people after the Dallas shooting under the hashtag white lives matter campaign (Robb, 2016). The situation is gradually creeping into a state of lawlessness and utter disregard for the gains that the American nation has achieved ever since the abolishment of racial segregation. The latest developments are such that #White Lives Matter protests in Texas can be seen to openly present racist agenda where racist protesters flaunt the confederate flag with placards written ‘Black Lives Kill’ (Aljazera, 2016). Consequently, the situation is slowly getting out of hand as opposing persons in the divide take hard-line positions as regards the issue of police brutality. What had begun as a campaign against police brutality is cropping into a racial issue that has pit White and Black Americans against one another over supremacy issues regarding which lives matter the more (Kitching, 2016). The Dallas shootings are a stark reminder of the strained racial relations between Black and White Americans dating back to the 1700s and n1800s at the prime of trade of slavery. Today, the country risks degenerating back to the days when African-Americans were but lesser human beings than their White counterparts. More so, the shooting of five White officers by a Black man identified as Micah Johnson followed his disgruntlement of earlier killings of two Black men by White police officers. Earlier on 6th July, Philando Castile aged 32 was killed after he was pulled over by White traffic police officers in Minnesota near St. Paul (Flores & Shoichet, 2016).
The second shooting that sparked Micah Jonson’s anger to avenge African Americans who are brutally murdered by men and women in blue uniform was the killing Alton Starling aged 37 in Louisiana. Starling was tackled by White male police officers and fatally shot by the police officer in Baton Rouge (Kopplin & Miller, 2016). The shooting of Starling happened on the 5th of July, a day before Castile’s shooting which led to the heightened emotions regarding police brutality; hence, the peaceful protests in Dallas (Rooney, 2016). Eventually, the shootings of the five officers during the protest came about as a retaliatory move in a spirited effort to seek vengeance by the assailant. One thing that the two shootings have in common is the fact that they were recorded by witnesses and bystanders (Hall & Bradley, 2016). Moreover, social media was used as a means to circulate the videos of the shootings and witness accounts to individuals throughout the country. It is imperative to recognise that social media played a crucial role in the dissemination of information leading to the reactions from factions of the African American community. What is more, the eventual shooting of five police officers in Dallas is the ultimate indication of how far the hatred between Black males and White police officers has escalated (Furber & Perez-Pena, 2016). More so, with counter protests propping up with each waking moment, tensions continue to grow as the level of hatred and distrust of authorities by African Americans grows while equally negative attitude of rogue White police officers in total disregard of lives of African Americans continue unabated. The resultant situation is, hence, a desperate circumstance of sorts where counter retaliatory attacks from either faction can be expected in the future (Smith, Capecchi, & Furber, 2016). In that esteem, the situation remains volatile as it is not easy to tell whether hostilities between hardliner parties would cease in the near future.
To that extent, understanding the genesis of the strained racial relations between African Americans and White Americans particularly based on attitudes surrounding law enforcement, it is imperative to evaluate the historical developments of human rights activism in the country. In the year 1776, the then 13 American colonies united with the sole objective of fighting the British out of America and with it declaring independence of the colonies that would come to be known as the United States of America. The declaration of independence signed on July 4th of that same year established a nation where all men were created equal. The declaration has gone in history as one of the most prolific English sentence constructions. It reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (Lucas, 1989, p. 85). The Declaration of Independence as it is inspired revolution in many other parts of the world that include the Americas to the south, Western Africa, and Central Europe among other parts. Sadly, however, back home, the document meant very little for the freedom of African Americans in the United States. As a matter of fact, slavery became the backbone of the American economy where African American men and women were exploited for their labour. The Negro as he was called was a lesser human being as compared to their White counterparts only best placed as a servant to their White masters. For the 250 years that followed, African Americans suffered in the hands of their White slavers labouring in cotton fields and working house chores for free (Perkiss, 2013).
President Lincoln came into office at a time when volatile relations pertaining to slavery were at its peak. The Confederate ruled south pit itself against the North aligned as pro and anti-slavery respectively. The Lincoln controlled North successfully achieved victory during the Civil War leading up to the 13th Amendment of Constitution which guaranteed African Americans of Civil liberties. To that extent, the Amendment brought slavery to its knees throughout the United States in the year 1865 ensuring that emancipation of African Americans from enslavement. The Amendment marked a new beginning for African Americans, however, little improved regarding relations with White people especially in the Southern states (Sitkoff, 2008). Throughout the remainder of the 18th century and into the 19th century, African Americans continued to play second fiddle to White people. Blacks remained lesser citizens as compared to White citizens notably receiving low status in socioeconomic and political spheres. Segregation was once a hot topic of debate during the late 1800s and early 1900s since African Americans received cold treatment from their White counterparts. The unequal distribution of resources, wealth, facilities, and amenities also disadvantage African American neighbourhoods in comparison to their White counterparts (Margo, 1990). The Jim Crow laws were at play and enforcement ensured that African Americans did not mingle with White Americans in public places or in neighbourhoods (Woodward, 1974). Although the Jim Crow laws were primarily established and enforced in the South, their impact was felt by all African Americans spread out throughout the American Nation as a whole. Notably, the segregation was note merely a social issue since it was also enforced by the authorities ensuring that mingling or mixing of races was an offense by law (Luke 10: 27, 2013).
Physical separation of facilities and provisions were branded as ‘separate but equal’, however, the realities on the ground revealed otherwise. The enforcement of segregation by the law meant that the African American communities in the United States did not receive equal treatment as their White counterparts. The Civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s that led to the weakening of segregation laws and the eventual abolition of the Jim Crow laws were a great stride for African American people (Hasday, 2007). The disobedience of people like Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Greensboro Sit-Ins, and the Birmingham Campaign all contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. Notable contributions from Malcom X and Martin Luther King Junior also served crucial to the push towards the ending of racial segregation. It is imperative to recognise, however, that the segregation witnessed by African Americans during the said period coupled with the confrontations that ensued also laid a foundation for the predicament that Black people continue to face to date. Contemporary racial segregation takes various forms in residential neighbourhoods (Graham, 1990). As such hyper segregation has come to be known as separation of White and Black neighbourhoods where African Americans residents live in the inner city or the core while White residents surround the core in the suburbs extending outwards from the core of the cities. Unfortunately, such segregation has taken a foothold in various socio-political and economic avenues of existence for African American people (Massey & Denton, 1993). As such, it is not surprising to find that African Americans are predisposed to living in dangerous neighbourhoods, mortgage discrimination, redlining, and racial profiling among other aspects of inequality as compared to their White counterparts (Hurst, 2007).
Consequently, African Americans continue to receive unfair (Hartney & Voung, 2009). More so, the police are likely to frisk and scrutinize black young men as compared to White criminal suspects or other races (Mahapatra, 2014). As such, the police are seen to target African American males mostly than they do other male suspects drawn from other races least of all White people. African Americans are; hence, victims of police brutality an attribute that is closely linked to the racial segregation of African Americans in the not so distant past (Margo, 1990). The supremacy of White racist individuals in comparison to the victimised Black community minority in the United States brings to the fore the pertinent question on why the police are stuck on making life difficult for African Americans at a time when racial discrimination is thought to have been abolished. More so, in an era where the president of the United States is an African-American, it is appalling to witness scenes such as was the case of Dallas, Texas shootings (Aljazera, 2016). The implications of racial discrimination and police brutality, therefore, have a significant impact on the creation and development of perceptions of African American males in American society. In the same line, the portrayal of African American males in the media that tends to show images of aggressive and violent African Americans portraying them as a danger to society (Hammond & Yung, 1993). As such, some of the images have proven to justify the use of brutal force by law enforcement in an effort to quell the violent nature of the African American male. Consequently, repercussions that arise from police brutality against African American males has been that lives have been lost from both sides of the divide. Moreover, the thorny issue of racism persists.
1.2 Thesis statement
The premise of this research report is to investigate the impact of media’s portrayal of African American males. As such, the investigation seeks to understand the role that the media plays or executes in the creation of perceptions about African-American males in the United States. Moreover, the evaluation of the resultant effects arising from the creation of perceptions about African American males are also discussed. In essence, the research seeks to evaluate whether or not the media portrays African American males in positive or negative light. Equally, the factors surrounding the creation of perceptions of the Black male by the media are as well evaluated where it is imperative to understand how the composition of Media personnel informs the agenda especially as regards the plight of the African American male in society. The role played by conventional and modern forms of media that include television, film, radio, and cinema in case of the former. And, Social Media that included Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram among others in the case of the latter will form the basis of evaluation on pertinent concerns regarding the portrayal of African Americans by the Media. To that extent, the paper seeks to argue that the media’s portrayal of African Americans has a direct implication on the perceptions of Americans and the world at large about African American males. In that esteem, an evaluation of the portrayal of African Americans by different media outlets is examined for the presentation and evaluation of perceptions and expectations of the American populous with regard to the conduct and character of the African American male. The ramifications of the research report are to seek the way forward through the presentation of crucial recommendations for portrayal of African American males by both traditional and modern forms of media.