On 27th February 2002 in Godhra,Gujarat,India,coach of a train was “allegedly” set on fire killing 58 people, mostly hindu pilgrims.On the very next day i.e 28th February 2002 two local newspapers “Sandesh” and “Gujarat Samachar” published the news with pictures of the burning train,gruesome pictures of corpses and the headline “Fifty Hindus burnt alive” on the front page and this led to rise of anger and tension amongst the Hindu community in Gujarat.What followed next is considered as a black chapter in the history of the world’s largest democracy – India.Those visually and mentally disturbing pictures appeared repeatedly and continuous anti-muslim propaganda by irresponsible local newspapers and TV channels led to the success of the state sponsored organised ethnic cleansing in Gujarat and subsequent ghettoization of Muslims.Godhra train incident was used as a pretext to launch paramilitary assault against muslim population of Gujarat and local newspapers and TV channels fueled the already heated situation resulting in a carnage.Had the media acted in a responsible and restrained manner then the massacre could have been averted to some extent if not completely.
Race and ethnicity play an extremely important role in the interpretation,consumption and production of media messages.Race and ethnicity are two ways of identity creation and hence these are extremely sensitive aspects of the human society and need to be handled responsibly and sensibly by media.Media creates definition and imagery of the concepts of race,ethnicity and other things.It stereotypes concepts,challenges stereotypes of a concept,justifies any concept.It is through media a lot of people form their opinion,understanding.The responsibility of media is to keep in mind the heterogeneous component of our society and act as per that with a responsible and understanding attitude. We don’t need to go to Afghanistan or Iraq to see and gain an understanding of the scenario there, It is the different forms of media (TV,Radio,Newspapers,Internet) that help us develop an understanding and opinion of the situation.We interpretate these images in our own way depending on the socio-cultural group we belong to.Hence Middle-east countries sympathise with the Afghans and Iraqis, Europe and US are critical about them and most of Asia is against the role played by the US and allied forces there.Also to be noted that media houses survive on the advertiser’s money and henc has to keep in mind the different and varied markets that different advertisers cater to. This essay explores the concepts of race and ethnicity,ethnic and racial aspect of our society,representation by and relevance to media and interaction with media.We conclude with an understanding of the significance of the part played by race and ethnicity in media message consumption and production.
Race and It is historical formation
Racism is a philosophy that contains that there’s a natural connection between the way people look,the differences of our colors,hair and bones and what they think and do with how intelligent they are,whether they are good athletes or not,good dancers or not,civilised or not.For example blacks are considered to have good bodies,good expressions,they make good athletes but got no brains. The concept of ‘Race’ is a socially constructed term which lacks biological evidence.We just accept it’s existence knowing that it has no scientific roots.Stuart Hall asks us to pay close attention to the cultural processes by which the visible differences of appearance come to stand for natural or biological properties of human beings. Drawing upon the work of writers such as Frantz Fanon, he shows how race is a “discursive construct” and, because it’s meaning is never fixed, can be described as a “floating signifier.” He argues against the biological interpretation of racial difference.The idea of racial categories and race are not static, it’s meaning is changing from time to time depending on the cultural context and hence Professor Hall calls it a ‘floating signifier’. But, it seems, the dividing lines within our society are being drawn along how we are physically different from one other.The wonderful physical,cultural and social variety of the mankind is very often reduced to the mere term of ‘race’ knowingly or unknowingly.We often make casual remarks which racially stereotype human diversity.Jacques Martin Barzun says that
” In short, race thinking is a habit.It is not confined to the anthropologists and ethnologists, the historians and publicists who make up systems or preach discrimination; race-thinking occurs whenever someone, in a casual or considered remark,implies the truth of the any of the following propositions:
1. That mankind is divided into unchanging natural types,recognizable by physical features, which are transmitted ‘through the blood’ and that permit distinctions to be made between ‘pure’ and ‘mixed’ races.
2. That the mental and moral behaviour of human beings can be related to physical structure, and that knowledge of the structure or of the racial label which denotes it provides a satisfactory account of the behaviour
3.That individual personality,ideas and capacities,as well as national culture,politics, and morals, are the products of social entities variously termed race,nation,class,family,whose causative force is clear without further definition or inquiry into the connection between the group and the spiritual ‘product’.
These three types of race thinking naturally merge into one another.Few writers limit themselves to any one type and mankind at large uses all three with equal readiness according to the occasion.The formal rejection of the fallacy in one guise does not protect against it’s other guises.”
The personality,morals,ethics and capacity of a person are often attributed to his/her membership of a particular race.The way he/she behaves,talks,acts is merely a result of he/she being a member of that particular group.Complex social relations and varied diversity of the mankind are all reduced to the ‘race’ of a man.There’s no scientific evidence to prove this relation but we very conveniently think this way.Here race is a descriptive and an explanatory concept.Classifications of any kind give rise to meanings and race is one of the principle forms of human classifications.Hence whenever we think of someone as a member of a particular race, other things about that person like what is he like,how he acts,whether he’s intelligent or not,civilized enough or not etc automatically fall in place i.e he/she gets defined.The concept of race and it’s legitimacy have evolved over time.It is a historically specific ideological process and not an ad hoc concept which came into existence all of a sudden out of nowhere.Racial meanings have been evolved through specific historical circumstances of human relations and are currently embellished and deployed within particular socio-economic circumstances. (Downing and Husband, 2005, p.4). Race along with other concepts like gender,sexual orientation,class came into existence after years of contested struggle for power in a society shaped by inequalities,injustice of several forms.”Such concepts [as race] are essentially metaphors for institutionalized social relationships that combine processes of exploitation and domination, on the one hand, with processes of subjection and representation,that is, with struggles over meaning and identity, on the other” (Winant’s ,1994, p. 113).Concepts like race are symbols or metaphors of our institutionalized social inequalities which exploit human identities in the social and political power game.The struggles, the various processes responsible for concept’s coming into being are then highlighted to confer legitimacy to the concept of no scientific evidence.
Ethnicity and the history of It is formation
We consider racism as a social evil and an ideology of political divisiveness,whereas Ethnicity is a means of categorizing humans on the basis of shared cultural experiences.Ethnicity,by virtue of it’s cultural roots, has a far more credibility than race.Unlike race, ethnicity has positive affirmation.So,Ethnicity can be defined as an “Individual’s identification with a segment of a larger society whose members are thought,by themselves or others, to have a common origin and share segments of common culture and who,in addition, participate in shared activities in which the common origin and culture are significant ingredients” (Yinger,1976,p.200).Ethnic identity serves as a framework within which an individual consciously or unconsciously identify themselves.The essential commonalities within an ethnic group form a sense of pride amongst the members of that group for being who they are. Ethnic identities,most importantly, is a crucial tool for nation building,constructing national identity.Boundaries territoralize nations as well as communities and our imaginations pertaining to that particular community.Depending upon where one is positioned or is able to stand (outside or inside or centre or on the margins), we include some,exclude some resulting in the formation of social relations and identities.With the passage of time these boundaries become so much granted by and embedded into our institutional system, our practices,our societies and common sense of being that it leads to formation of legitimized cultural beliefs,ideologies and representations and then an Ethnicity is born with shared common cultural beliefs and practices,religion,language and the like.Those excluded from the boundary forms the sense of “Other” people to that particular ethnic group.
Race and Ethnicity – It is relevance to and representation by Media
Media carries imagery and when we say imagery in the media context it means media as in the arts the intentional aesthetic modeling of a human or non-human reality, yet one which the creator’s intention cannot necessarily encapsulate or fix the public interpretation of the modeling (Downing and Husband,2005).Image in the media context refers to the philosophical reproduction of a human being or concepts which doesn’t necessarily contain the creator’s intention and is loaded with meanings.It’s interpretation is subject to the socio-political-cultural environment of the interpreter.Often it is used with specific reference to the visual dimension of the media and to denote concentrated outlook held by a specific group of people about another group.I believe at this point the contrast between reality and image comes up and often leading to biased imagery of race,ethnicity,gender,class and the like without any factual or fair relation with the imagined group.Image then becomes implicitly malevolent and fabrication of the truth.Daniel J. Boorstin attacked media for serving the Americans with fabricated,artificial media images and he also criticised the fellow Americans for readily absorbing those images and information without judging the integrity of those messages.Portraying Latinos as criminals,Native Americans as tribal leaders of some lost,forgotten era or the portrayal of Muslims as fanatics in US creates faulty perception of those ethnically and racially different groups.But it is to be noted that these interpretations are very much subject to the surrounding socio-cultural structure of the audience.Media almost always portrays images in tune with that and hence leads to further sedimentation of those already faulty images.Image creation is actually a time consuming process.One’s views cannot be changed overnight,it takes years and continuous propaganda to create and/or change perception about anything and anyone in the world.Stuart Hall brings forth the media representation of race and ethnicity and how the common ideological beliefs of the majority is affected from what is seen and heard through the images of Television and sound waves of the Radio.For example, the US television show NYPD Blue which depicts members of minority ethnic groups mostly as criminals,anti-socials.In the show, police officers directly tell the suspects belonging to the ethnic minority groups to give up their right to remain silent leading to confession followed by apprehension of the guilty.Such portrayals of the minorities led to the lending of space and legitimacy of the unlawful behaviour of the police.Downing and Husband very clearly states that all the fundamental conceptualizations of the world and the meaning of life were neither philosophically nor theologically but socially derived.Concepts are socially constructed.Hence, to understand the representation of race and ethnicity in the context of media message, we must keep in mind the social apparatus role played by media in disseminating and maintaining dominant social positions.Media representations often lead to stereotyping knowingly or unknowingly.Stereotyping draws attention to the psychological,behavioural aspect of the image created for a specific socio-cultural-political group and the uncompromising attitude of the other groups to stick to these images under all types of reality checks and shocks. Afro-americans considered President Clinton to have been Blackened or ‘niggerized’ after the Monica Lewinsky scandal.Now the question is why use the term ‘blackened’ or ‘niggerized’ when he is an all white man? It is the stereotyping of blacks in America led to the usage of this term for Clinton. He was blackened because
1. His behaviour was subjected to intense,disproportionate and unfair surveillance
2. His sexuality was made public as widely as possible, because it was known to be a threat to the social order, and thus everyone had a right to know about it
3. His sexuality was the means by which opponents hoped to bring him down
(Fiske. J, 2006)
So he was blackened as he went through all these situations which were and are very much associated with the blacks in US.That is how the image of a Black in US is being defined,stereotyped.
Race/Ethnicity and Media Production
In 1896, US Supreme court passed out a judgement regarding the segregation of Blacks an Whites in US and it constitutionally conferred Blacks as separate but equal status.Many wrote about this Plessy v. Ferguson decision which upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation even in public accommodation,under the doctrine of “separate but equal” in the fields of voting rights,discrimination in housing,education,public transportation etc.But during this period black press grew and flourished with racial discrimination acting as a catalyst.Mainstream press ignored the black population and supported the status quo regarding race relations in US that time.Most of the newspapers run by blacks were published only once a week but it turned out to be so influential that the Plessy V. Ferguson ruling had to be overturned in 1954.But nevertheless, the condition of the Blacks didn’t improve much after 1954’s verdict and then there was Civil Rights Act in 1964 to improve the plight of the Blacks.But there were racial civil disturbances in the mid 60’s by the blacks.This led to the set up pf Kerner Commission whose task was to investigate the factors that led to the riots by the blacks.The commission looked into the role played by media,whether instigated the disturbances or not.They found that press reported “from the standpoint of a white man’s world” and reflected the “biases,the paternalism, the indifference of white America” (Kerner 1968:366).The commission suggested recruitment of more blacks in the mainstream media so that it leads to more accurate,complete and sensitive coverage of African Americans in US.This suggests that the inclusion of members of ethnic groups in the media production process will enhance the quality of work related to the coverage of specific groups.But, there are other factors involved which makes the ride of smooth media production bumpy.As per Downing and Husband, Media production process consists of
3.Advertising constraints and pressures
4.Personal career goals
Whatever we see or hear is a product which gets filtered through all the above-mentioned processes.Most of the times individual career ambitions,owner’s priorities,legal frameworks,editorial controls filter the parts which are not in tune with the prevalent social,cultural and political norms.Though there are 4000 TV channels in Europe and most of them do not offer programmes related to the minority communities. France 2, a channel in France, with 15.4% of market share allots 26hrs to Jewish religious programmes, 25 hrs to Muslims,13 hrs to Buddhist programmes (Television Across Europe,2005). ‘Firaaq’,Indian movie,depicts the plight of the Muslims after the riot of 2002.It showcases the aftermath of the carnage.The movie was banned in the state of Gujarat where the carnage occurred and several scenes were censored on the pretext of maintaining communal harmony.Nevertheless, many movies came up with the same subject line not only to promote communal harmony but also to gain viewership especially amongst the minority communities.
Race/Ethnicity and Media Consumption
Tamar Liebes says understanding is in fact a process of negotiation between the text and the viewer,each anchored in a different culture,then retelling ought to reveal the negotiation process at work.And if the model of negotiation is correct, equal attention should be paid to what viewers bring in to the programme, not only how they use it or what they get from it.As I’ve said earlier interpretation of media content is very much a subjective matter depending on the cultural,political and social surroundings of the person.Members of different ethnic group can interpret the same text in different ways and with different meanings.Any media content is open ended,loaded with meanings waiting to be decoded in many different ways.Several research works have been carried out to prove this.One such famous research work was carried out by Liebes and Katz where the famous American soap opera called “Dallas” was interpreted by several different ethnic groups in different ways.Groups were chosen from 4 widely different subcultures in Israel (namely Arabs,Moroccan Jews,new immigrants from Russia,second generation Israelis in Kibbutz),Americans from Los Angeles and Japanese people living in Tokyo.What came out as an outcome was that Arabs and Moroccans stressed on family relations,preferred linearity,everything defined and believe it to be the correct depiction of truth.Russians defined it in terms of themes and the overall message it conveys and has determinative ideology and considered it to be a false picture of reality.Whereas Americans and Kibbutzniks took psychoanalytical approach.They are concerned with the analysis of the problems faced by the characters inter-personally and intra-personally and not concerned with with the narrative of the story and in Tokyo ‘Dallas’ failed as people could not even relate to the story.The diversities of response to the programme ‘Dallas’ were demonstrated through this study.So I can say that each group negotiated in their own way with the same content.
Another study which exhibit is diversity of reception and decoding of texts was conducted by Ramaswami Harindranath in his ‘Documentary meanings and interpretive contexts:observations on Indian repertoires.In this case, 4 movies (2 by Indians and 2 by westerners) about environmentalism,child labour were selected.Respondents were selected from 3 different communities in Britain and India namely teachers, students (undergraduate and post graduate) and non-academics like technicians,administrative staff.Each respondent were shown 2 movies.There were little systematic differences to form a distinguishable pattern in the reception of the content amongst the respondents.The non-academic Indian group emerged as markedly different group,they were transparent and uncritical in their approach towards the understanding of the documentaries.They believed it to be a true reflection of reality.Few respondents especially the Indian academics were more critical towards the politically authorial intentions in the films,they were sceptic about the documentary representation.The interpretations of the Britons were critical as well as uncritical, transparent and also mediating.But, in this study, the author himself pointed the crucial flaws.His basic assumptions that ‘Britons and Indians are two hermetically sealed, independent cultures’ were questionable then and more so now.I believe, in today’s world no culture is sealed and it is homogeneous and open-ended to a great extent.The cultural territory of a nation is too porous to be termed ‘sealed’ and hence interpretation of media context of two geographically distant countries will be different but not spectacularly different and geographically confined.
Portrayal of blacks as dumb,Muslims as fanatics,Latinos as criminals have been met with much disgust,scoff and been laughed at by the minorities.Self-identification is very important for media consumption as it is through identification audience members experience reception and interpretation of the text from the inside, as if the events were happening to them. (Jonathan Cohen,2001) Audience have to feel and relate to the characters to understand them,to interpret the messages conveyed by them.Studies have been carried out by scholars like Karen Ross,Elizabeth Poole,Janet Wollacott to determine the level of self-identification of minorities with the media characters. But what they found out that the minorities either felt being ghettoized or dislocated or rejected the ideas portrayed by media or asked for realistic portrayals or mocked at.So,I can say that most of the representations are stereotyped and not actual portrayal of the reality though the study carried out by Bird and shively showed that native americans see positively at the concepts at freedom,autonomy though being stereotyped.
Race and ethnicity along with other factors construct the overall framework of individual and collective identity.They construct the sense of who we are, where we belong to,where we want to be, how should we act and carry out our day to day business of our lives and hence are the highly charged frameworks through which contemporary lives are negotiated.Both the terms are often accounted for the deep-rooted social inequalities and/or the pursuit of social and cultural differences.These are two extremely important factors in determining the production and consumption of media content in the current scenario.Like any other industry media is market driven too and to cater to the needs of the market it has to keep in the mind the homogeneous aspect of the society.It is a very competitive field with several media organisations trying to get an edge over its competitors.No one can afford to ignore the minority groups not only in relation to profit making but also the role it is supposed to play as a social apparatus,as a catalyst that drives society towards economical, social, educational, cultural and political development.Though Ethnic and racial minorities have long been ignored or stereotyped by the media but I believe things are changing fast now with more and more channels like BBC 2,Channel4,Dooradarshan,France2 airing programmes that appeals to the tastes and interests of culturally diverse society.It has been rightly said better late than never.Media is a doubly articulated technology-it is an object of consumption and it facilitates consumption in circulation of meanings. (Silverstone and Hirsch,1992:9). Normal household consume media messages in a way that fits into their day to day living, in way they can relate to and understand.There can be several different interpretations of the same thing and that’s where the significance of race and ethnicity develops in the context of creation and consumption of media content and I believe that is when media needs to act sensibly and responsibly to balance social harmony.