Connections Between Media Depictions of Black Men and Boys and Lower Life Chances

While there has been significant improvement in racial attitudes in the past half-century, the tragic death of Trayvon Martin suggests that stereotypes and bias against African Americans, especially males, still persist. The Opportunity Agenda’s new report, "Opportunity for Black Men and Boys: Public Opinion, Media Depictions, and Media Consumption," lays out evidence that African-American men and boys are grossly overrepresented in depictions of criminality and violence in the media, as compared to documented reality. These false portrayals, reasearch proves, can lead to distorted and negative perceptions as well as discriminatory treatment against African Americans.

Scholars have long documented that there is a correlation between media depictions, audiences' attitudes, and real life action. In the case of African American men and boys, extensive media audits conducted by scholars and researchers over the years show that the overall presentation of black men and boys in the media is a distortion of reality in a variety of ways, including that they:

  • are underrepresented, including as “talking heads” or as users of computers,
  • are overrepresented in certain negative depictions, such as criminality or  unemployment,
  • are limited in their positive depictions and especially to sports or entertainment,
  • are overly associated with seemingly intractable problems,
  • have important dimensions of their lives largely ignored, such as fatherhood or work lives.

Social science research has long documented that people's conscious and unconscious attitudes are shaped, at least in part, by what people take in from the media, including news reporting, entertainment, video games, and advertising. With respect to distorted media images of black men and boys, the consequences are far reaching and can result in:

  • exaggerated views related to criminality and violence,
  • public support for punitive approaches to problems,
  • general antagonism toward black males, and
  • exaggerated views, expectations, and tolerance for race-based socio-economic disparities.

Perceptions are important because they determine, in part, people's decisions and actions. Consequently, attitudes and biases against black men and boys can negatively affect them every time their fate depends on how they are perceived by others. Examples of real world impact, documented in the literature, include:

  • a higher likelihood of being shot by police,
  • harsher sentencing by judges,
  • lower likelihood of being hired or admitted to school, and
  • lower odds of getting loans.

The report points to ways in which advocates, media makers, and others can redress this stereotyping and improve life chances for black men and boys. Donwload the report here




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