People often, if not all the time, perceive themselves according to how society portrays them. How beauty, intelligence and normality is being portrayed in the mass media can have a big influence how people conduct themselves in order to try and hegemonise an institutionalised depiction of what is positive and progressive in society.
It is this power that the mass media has that promotes the ‘thin ideal’, in other words, that a woman is beautiful only based on the size of her waistline, often these women are also white. This definition of beauty has seen countless women killing themselves in the gym and with diet plans, trying to lose weight and fit the desired profile of what an attractive woman is ‘supposed’ to look like. They see these images each and every time they switch on their televisions, images that plus-sized women do not live up to.
It is this power that the mass media has that have many black women bleaching their skin and using lighteners to fit into what the media deems as beautiful. This power also has many black women donning weaves and abandoning their natural, African hair, because it doesn’t fit into what society regards as being ‘ladylike’. This is a society that is underpinned by a white, normative value system, where whiteness is normalised and all else is referred to as ‘other’. This is anti-black cynicism.
In the entire history of Disney, only recently was a black princess movie created, after more than 70 years of depicting beauty as wrapped around whiteness. Out of eleven Disney princesses, ten of them are white. Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) spends most of her time in the movie as a frog, the damage of which done to black girls is too immense to simply be brushed off by a simple definition of black people as subservient to the accepted definition of what is beautiful. To most of them, beauty is the white Barbie or white Cinderella, white Snow White and others who look like them.
In the depiction of heroism in the mass media, whiteness is supreme. From Spiderman to Superman, from RoboCop to Iron Man, they all have one thing in common: they are white. To black children, it is only in white characters that role models can come from. When they switch on their TV’s, they see black people walking around with sagging pants’ as gangsters. They see gangsters as the worst kind of human beings on earth and this is what the mass media chooses to represent blackness as.
One writer, Frantz Fanon once stated that blackness in society represents ugliness, funerals and backwardness, or at least that’s what is portrayed in the media and consequently, society. In contrast, whiteness represents purity, virginity and all things positive. It is this imaging of black people that has been entrenched in the black inferiority complex that has been and continues to be indoctrinated into black people’s psyche through the mass media, the idea that they are somehow subservient to white people. It is this portrayal of black people that has cemented white supremacy in the white world.
Black imaging also manifests itself in something that is known as racial profiling that has led to movements such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ that was formed to highlight the plight of black people in the hands of police. Racial profiling is a security system used to classify people most likely to commit crimes. It is used as a justification to stop and search black people on the road because they are considered more likely to use drugs, although statistics continue to show white males as more likely to use drugs than black people.
Profiling is not only used in America but in most countries and is based on stereotypical views of race. Profiling is responsible for the hatred and fear of Arabs in the Middle East because whenever there’s a bomb threat, they are the first to be suspected. It is responsible for raids directed to black people on the premise that they are likely to commit certain crimes.
One of the prominent black scholars, Bell Hooks speaks vehemently about the imaging of black people, especially black women.
In her analysis, she tells of how film creators like Tyler Perry, in his famous Madeia movies, in which he portrays how black women behave stereotypically (swearing, loud and uncivilized). She argues that this is the depiction of black women that promotes a flawed picture of what a black woman is. Martin Lawrence (another black movie creator) is famously known for his depiction of the character of Big Mama. It is this negative black imaging that is used by the media to depict black people as uncivilized beings, which promotes Afrophobia of Africans in the continent towards those in a diaspora. They are portrayed as low-lives, sexually active, lazy and angry. In the same way, the mass media depict Africans on the continent as illiterate and barbaric. W.E.B Du Bois explains this to have been what prevents meaningful amalgamation between black students from the continent entering American Universities with their African-American brothers and sisters.
Fanon once said that the oppressor is not satisfied merely with holding people in their grip and emptying black people’s brains of all form and content, but also try to distort African history at its core, making it seem backward and barbaric. Africa is often referred to as the ‘dark continent, with its religious practices and customs that are regarded as superstitions. Its rich history is concealed from us, as well as the fact that there was African civilisation before there was European civilisation.
Great civilizations like Khemit Ancient Egypt, was responsible for building structures that could last for thousands of years: the pyramids.
Great civilisations like Ashanti of modern-day Ghana, established in 1670 are other examples of African greatness. Due to the empire’s military prowess, wealth, architecture, sophisticated hierarchy and culture, the empire was studied by most European Historiographers. In those early ages, they had started trading in gold bars and cocoa, among other commodities.
The great empire of Monomotapa, also known as the Kingdom of Mutapa in Southern Africa established as early as 1430 and had great prosperity in those times.
Mapungubwe in Southern Africa (modern-day Limpopo), had traded in cotton even before the Europeans could discover there even was a thing called cotton, much less know its significance. Before they came to Africa to ship black people to work as slaves in the cotton plantations in the USA. Yet for almost 60 years, old government of South Africa kept the Mapungubwe out of public consciousness. It is located at the confluence of the Sashi and Limpopo river. People first settled in the area of AD 200. It was the first public location in which cotton was grown and turned into cloth. Ivory and animal skins were also traded.
The great city of Aoudaghast in Mali, which had been one of the major trading routes linking the Empire of Ghana with Morocco.
The fact is, Africans were advanced at an early stage. Tsodilo in the Ngamilanda District of North Western Botswana is a place of tremendous scientific significance. It contains more than 4500 rock paintings which give a chronological account of successive human communities dating back at least 100 000 years. It has caused European scientists to release long-held theories regarding human social evolution. The fact that knowledge production emanated from this very content, Timbuktu, was the centre of learning almost unparalleled anywhere else in the world, either before or since.
It was first established in AD 1100. It is the place where the first manuscripts were discovered. Dr Molefi Asante, a historian of the 16th century, wrote about Timbuktu: ‘There are many judges, doctors and clerics here, all receiving good salaries from King Askia Muhammad. He pays great respect to men of learning. Books were not only written but also imported and copied there. It became a world heritage site in 1988.
Because those who own the monopoly in the media know the power of black people possess, they have made it their mission to distort black history. If only black people knew their power, they’d dispel the notion that black people are inherently inferior, the image propagated by the mass media. They’d also know how precious and powerful they are and challenge perceptions about their existence. The burden then falls on each and every black person to read up on their true history, and in the process, liberate themselves from mental slavery.
What do you think filmmakers should do differently when making movies portraying stereotypes and projecting the history of certain ethnic groups?