Media recognition overlooks diversity; minority issues not so black and white

Date Published – October 6, 1999

As the decade winds down, racial issues remain as contentious as ever. In fact, as we enter the next century, this “black-white” divide rightfully concerns many of those concerned with improving the state of racial relations in this country.

Somewhere along the line in this discussion of racial relations in the mass media, however, the perspectives of a now significant portion of Americans have been disregarded. Whose’ Those of America’s other minorities.

Yes, when it comes to the discussion of racial issues in this country, the views, perspectives and thoughts of Asians and Hispanics have been either forgotten or ignored, despite the fact that these two minority groups have had a sizable presence in this country for over a century and are the two fastest growing racial groups in this country. Hispanics will soon outnumber African-Americans as the nation’s second largest minority group and, with changes in immigration legislation, the number of Asian immigrants into this country has skyrocketed.

Unfortunately, the mass media has not paid attention to such facts. It continues to view both groups as negligible when it comes to wide-scale racial issues as well as network programming.

Early in the summer, the four major television networks announced their fall television lineups. The most glaring omission to these lineups was that of shows about minorities of any kind. Fortunately, this wouldn’t go unnoticed by civil rights groups like the NAACP, who threatened boycotts of the television networks until they made their television shows more accurately reflect what America looked like. The networks responded by adding a few more black characters to some of their shows so that minority groups would be appeased.

It is hard to determine what is more appalling with this situation, the networks’ utter lack of foresight to begin with or their belated attempts to rectify the situation when minority groups noticed their boo-boo. Most notably, what was disheartening about the networks’ response was that their half-hearted efforts didn’t even address the near-absence of Asian or Hispanic characters on television. Even after all the complaints and threats, one can still count the number of Asian or Hispanic characters on network television on one’s hand.

But this hasn’t been a problem just with network television. In the ’90s, issues like affirmative action, the L.A. riots and the O.J. Simpson trial have galvanized the attention of the news media and spotlighted some of America’s racial divisions. The discussion of these issues seems to have been centered only on the “black” viewpoint and the “white” viewpoint, despite the fact these issues affect Asians and Hispanics just as much as they do blacks and whites.

Affirmative action, for example, has been hotly contested, especially in the University of California school system. It has been universally assumed that the abolition of affirmative action will decrease the numbers of African-Americans in the UC systems and increase the numbers of whites.

Okay, but how will affirmative action impact the enrollments of Asians and Hispanics at these universities? One would most likely have to conclude that there will be no impact at all, since most stories in both print and television media hardly even mention either group.

Of course, considering California’s racial dynamics, this most certainly is not the case. Asians, not whites, happen to be the group whose numbers happen to have increased the most in the UC system with the abolishment of affirmative action (Asians now outnumber whites at UC Berkeley). Hispanics, California’s largest minority group, have seen their enrollment levels dip to the near-scary levels that African-Americans have seen as well.

Such information certainly would have been important when it came time to discuss the issue of affirmative action in the UC system, but it never came up because the media never thought it important enough to bring up. Consequently, few got to realize the full impact this decision would have on all of California’s minority groups.

This was the same case with some of the other major racial issues of the decade, such as the O.J. Simpson trial or the Rodney King verdict. While both events at their roots may have involved only a black-white conflict, it was not only these two groups who were affected by these events. As with affirmative action, it would have been nice to see more recognition of the impact of these issues on other racial groups in the United States.

The lack of coverage directed towards Asian and Hispanic issues poses a problem not just from informational standpoint, but most importantly from a cultural one. Like African-Americans, Eastern Europeans and others before them, these two groups are trying to gain acceptance into American culture and become recognized as an integral part of the fabric of this country. Publishing realistic, mainstream images of these groups, or at the very least reflecting their viewpoints in the news, can go a long way towards making these groups seem less “alien” and more “American.” It is unfortunate that many in these groups, even those born in this country, still regard themselves as “foreign,” in part because the view of America they see in the media so clearly doesn’t include them.

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