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Race and Violence in the Media- What Do We Need to Do Better?

Published by Aubrey Hicks on

by Justine Dodgen

In the aftermath of the terrible massacre of nine black members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last month, many noted the troubling difference in how the media has depicted the suspected killer, a white man, and suspects of other races or religions in similar past events. Many questioned (here, here, and here) why numerous media outlets avoided calling the suspect a terrorist or were quick to describe him as mentally ill. Critics also noted how unconscious bias causes the media to assume one label over another and how the media has a tendency to portray white suspects in a “sympathetic light.”


The focus on this bias during recent events stems from the ongoing dialogue about how the media portrays race in connection with the violence. In August of last year, the Huffington Post published an article containing numerous tweets and headlines showing the stark difference in how white suspects and black victims are described in the news, noting that white suspects are frequently framed with an air of disbelief, while black victims are characterized by negative or victim-blaming traits. As one critic puts it, “while the media is quick to humanize and try to understand white killers, they’re just as quick to demonize and justify the deaths of black victims.”


Here at the Bedrosian Center, we’ve had several conversations about race relations and how the portrayal of race in the media- and in many other mediums- is inequitable. We’ve also noticed that articles pointing out this problem rarely include suggestions for how we can stop perpetuating a narrative of unconscious racism.


Now, we’re asking some faculty at USC to respond to the question, “What do we need to do better?” Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting their thoughts on one step we can take to improve how the media portrays race and violence. Check back next week for the first response.   Update: Visit all the posts in this series here.



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