I had the opportunity to attend a congressional briefing held on Capitol Hill by the National Collaborative for Health Equity and the Dellums Commision in a topic that has received a great deal of attention in recent months, and even more so in the past few weeks. The issue being discussed was that of ending media bias against boys and men of color, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
With the recent deaths of several black males being such a hot button issue, the media often plays a significant and very crucial role on how the victims are introduced and identified to society. However, many people fail to realize that the way these gentleman are portrayed by certain media outlets can cause a bias towards them and their actions, whether it be one of conscious or subconscious. And with that bias comes a lack of empathy for the victims, their families, and others who fall into a similar demographics. Some even take it a step further and use that same seed of bias that is purposefully, or accidentally, planted to grow into becoming jaded, hateful, and bigoted towards that same demographic.
In all, the way the media chooses to deliver a story has an impact, and this was frequently emphasized by the guest speakers and panelists of the forum. Guest speakers and panelists featured a broad base of race, age, perspective, and experience with the topic which began with addresses by congressman Danny Davis and congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. This was followed by a keynote presentation given by Robert Entman, Ph.D., J.B. depicting surveys and statistics on whether or not bias and racism is still present in today’s media and society as a whole. It also featured examples of past media outlets’ reports, photo selections, and headlines that could cause said bias and racism. Afterward, a panel discussion with Allen Herman, M.D., Ph.D., Senator John McCoy (WA), Lori Dorfman, Dr.P.H., and Natalie Hopkinson, Ph.D., took place where the guests each had the opportunity to give their take on the topic and offer potential solutions for both the improvement, and hopefully, eventual elimination of the problem.
Congressman Danny Davis
I truly believe the points discussed were enlightening regarding the different forms of implicit and explicit bias that have been and continue to be displayed. One particular speaker even made it a point to say,
“If a boy, teen, or man of color is suspected or accused of doing something wrong he frequently becomes degraded, alienated, and almost convicted of these suspicions or accusations in most forms of media. Yet, when a counterpart has been found in the same position with the same level of suspicion or accusation he becomes labeled as misunderstood or eccentric, and at other times even receives praise from the reporters with phrases such as full of potential, a model person, and extremely intelligent.”
Of the range of suggestions mentioned for an eventual solution, the two that stood out to me were working directly with the media to educate them on how their reporting influences a great deal of social action and a continued emphasis on even sided reporting regardless of race, socioeconomic status, location, or background from readers, politicians, big businesses, etc. I’m glad I had the opportunity to attend the briefing and see that others recognize this is a prevalent issue that has been longstanding, and it will not simply fix itself. It will take an ongoing effort from people of different education levels, races, religions, perspectives and experiences–much like those involved with creating and participating in the forum–to begin to make this change possible.
(L to R): Robert Entman, Ph.D., Natalie Hopkinson, Ph.D., Senator John McCoy, and Allen Herman, M.D., Ph.D.
Brian D. Smedley, Ph.D., Co-founder and Executive Director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity
– Supreme Soul