Media Representations and Impact on the Lives of Black Men and Boys


The London riots of 2011 shook the UK, raising concerns around the covert racism in our justice system. The fatal shooting of unarmed black man, Mark Duggan created an uproar and chaos across England. This played a major part in raising racial tensions between black men and the police. However, although the underlining racial tension between black people and the police rose, the way the media handled the coverage of the riots and Duggan’s shooting, made this very apparent. The British media reinforces racial stereotypes of black men through language and imagery.

Miles & Brown (2003) argue in their book ‘Racism’ that as individuals, we use imagery to create personal observations about people we come into contact with. According to them, individuals use this imagery to create an evaluation of the other person by processing their appearance to form opinions. This opinion is then used to process how to better connect with that person.

The media has defined how we are programmed to view others. They influence how racial ideologies are perceived and also how prejudice is received. The British media has had a long history of using micro-aggressions to portray black men negatively. They use covert racism in their coverage to paint black men as violent, aggressive thugs.

A study by The Opportunity Agenda (2011) showed that negative media portrayal of black men resulted in lower life expectancies. The study argues that because black men are represented as violent criminals, this paves the way for them to be treated as such. In addition, when asked to describe the altercation that led to teenager Michael Brown’s death, the officer who shot him, Darren Wilson, said “when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” although he is described to be the same height as Michael Brown.

This naturalisation of black men being aggravating criminals defends their deaths at the hands of cops. Therefore, police brutality is normalised because as far as the public is concerned, the teenaged boy without a weapon was the bigger threat.

If black men are not represented as violent, aggressive thugs, they are being represented as lazy, sexual predators who breed women and then run away from their responsibilities.

Mona Chalabi, a guardian reporter, conducted a study that focused on fathers who do not take care of their kids. Her study showed that one of the main causes of this is due to the rise in divorce, remarriages and the change in family structure. The percentage of fathers who do not live with their kids is 10.3% of a million men.

Her study also showed that fathers who were less involved in their child’s lives were from low socio-economic classes. They were either unemployed or young adults who could not afford to care for their kids. Ultimately, this study displayed that although the absent father narrative is mostly portrayed about black men, it is a universal issue.

So my question here is, why are the media so intent on vilifying black men?

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, uses sociologist, Howard Becker’s labelling theory. She argues that the media are on a hunt to fulfil their agenda. These labels are placed on black men because once they have been labelled a felon, that person is thrown into a hyper reality, where stigmatisation, discrimination and racism becomes perfectly legal.

Once the media has labelled you as a felon, all the privileges you had as a human disappear and you will become a second-class citizen. It doesn’t matter that you may have never spent any time in prison. The moment you are branded a felon, you become a second-class citizen, therefore agents of society are given the go ahead to treat you as such.

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