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Racialism and the Media

Black Jesus, Black Twitter, and the First Black American President

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Venise T. Berry

Racialism and Media: Black Jesus, Black Twitter and the First Black American President is an exploration of how the nature of racial ideology has changed in our society. Yes, there are still ugly racists who push uglier racism, but there are also popular constructions of race routinely woven into mediated images and messages. This book examines selected exemplars of racialism moving beyond traditional racism. In the twenty-first century, we need a more nuanced understanding of racial constructions. Denouncing anything and everything problematic as racist or racism simply does not work, especially if we want to move toward a real solution to America’s race problems. Racialism involves images and messages that are produced, distributed, and consumed repetitively and intertextually based on stereotypes, biased framing, and historical myths about African American culture. These images and messages are eventually normalized through the media, ultimately shaping and influencing societal ideology and behavior. Through the lens of critical race theory these chapters examine issues of intersectionality in Crash, changing Black identity in Black-ish, the balancing of stereotypes in prime-time TV’s Black male and female roles, the power of Black images and messages in advertising, the cultural wealth offered through the Black Twitter platform, biased media framing of the first Black American president, the satirical parody of Black Jesus, contemporary Zip Coon stereotypes in film, the popularity of ghettofabulous black culture, and, finally, the evolution of black representation in science fiction.

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Introduction: Racialism and the Media

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Look at the poster of King Kong. Now imagine replacing King Kong with Los Angeles Lakers’s basketball champion Lebron James. Draped across James’ left arm is model, Gisele Bundchen in a similar teal dress. His mouth hangs wide open as if he is growling just like King Kong, and in his right hand rather than holding a club he bounces a basketball.

This was the April 2008 cover of Vogue Magazine. It perpetuated a number of issues concerning normalized stereotypes, biased racial framing, and problematic historical myths concerning African American culture. For example: the comparison of black men to apes, the notion that black men are obsessed with white women, and the historical myth that black people coming out of Africa are like apes and have an animalistic or violent nature. This cover fueled a significant amount of controversy concerning racists and racism (Hill, 2008; Lebron, 2008; Morris, 2008; Stewart, 2008). The design of the cover is too close to the King Kong poster to argue that it was not the inspiration. So, why would photographer Annie Leibovitz create it? Is she a racist? Why would Lebron James agree to pose like King Kong? Is he okay with racism? Why would Vogue Magazine use this image on their cover? Are they comfortable perpetuating racism?

In another example, the recent blockbuster movie Black Panther (2018) featured the Jabari Tribe of Wakanda where the leader M’Baku is called Man-Ape. The tribe is known as the White...

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