Why are stereotypical portrayals of minorities in the media problematic?

Media often depict stereotypical views on social minorities and their members. For instance, Roma are presented as criminal, Middle Eastern refugees as a threat to European values, Muslims as religious fundamentalists. But what effects do such stereotypical information have on their audiences?

Dr. Srividya Ramasubramanian addressed exactly this question with her study dealing with African-American and Latino-American minorities in the US. She has focused on two of the most frequently encountered cultural stereotypes about these groups – criminality and laziness. Ramasubramanian found that stereotypical news about the social minorities strengthened participants’ beliefs about characteristics of the given minority. The more stereotypical the views about these minorities that participants endorsed, the more negative emotions – prejudice – they felt against these minorities. Importantly, prejudice did not stop at the level of feelings but translated into participants’ lack of support for affirmative action policies regarding the given minorities. Practically, participants who felt negatively about social minorities did not think that affirmative action policies are a good way to deal with racial discrimination. Similarly, more prejudiced participants were less likely to support petitions aimed at improving the standing of social minorities in society.

These findings indicate that beliefs of people who follow stereotypical portrayals of minorities in the media become more stereotypical, in line with the media content. These media-enhanced stereotypical portrayals make people evaluate social minorities more negatively. As a result of this vicious circle, minorities’ rights are less likely to be supported by majority members. Consequently, the situation of already negatively perceived minorities could further deteriorate, posing an obstacle for the harmonious coexistence of people from different groups in society.

 

Ramasubramanian, S. (2010). Television viewing, racial attitudes, and policy preferences: Exploring the role of social identity and intergroup emotions in influencing support for affirmative action. Communication Monographs, 77 (1), 102-120.

Another summary for interested general public: https://www.natcom.org/communication-currents/television-stereotypes-and-affirmative-action