Communities of color, low-income individuals, and those living in the margins have seldom been in control of telling their own stories.
When white people and mainstream media control the overriding narrative, black people are disenfranchised. In both the interviews and focus groups, common narratives seemed to drive the perception of the “other.” People’s lives are impacted due to these perceptions socially, economically, educationally, collectively, and individually.
As an example, perceptions of black criminality were a recurring theme in our discussions. Dominant media narratives based on perceptions of marginalized groups are often inaccurate, one-sided and damaging. For example, Color of Change reports note that news and opinion media in the U.S. are almost 1.5 times more likely to represent a white family as an illustration of social stability than a black family.
Many people we talked to expressed frustration that the challenges facing their communities continue to go unaddressed or unnoticed by those in positions of power, and even more so by liberal media outlets. A report by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation noted that “while creating more understanding than conservative commentary, traditional liberal narratives focusing on the role of race are not as successful in shifting opinion.”
“We want safe places. We want healthy spaces. We want the same things. And so, I think so often that stereotype that has been perpetuated, has done a disservice to African Americans and to people of color, and it is our responsibility saying, how do we tell that story? How do we tell that narrative and not depend on someone else to tell that story and that narrative for us?”
— Black male, 50, Richmond
“I think there’s just widespread sense that on the side of white, wealthy, particularly older folks, that Black people are not to be trusted, that they’re not willing to work hard enough, that they’re incompetent.”
— White male, 36, Jackson
“One of the biggest impacts of the real crime that exists in the city is that it has created some imaginary boundaries for people. Some of those people who are employees of the organizations or entities who control the systems in the state, they have some legitimate fears. But they also have some imagined fears, based on the perception of crime.”
— Black male, 38, Jackson
“The vision of particularly the white population that allows them to feel good about themselves and sleep at night is in part creating this myth around Black criminality. And that has been a myth that has been built since the Civil War, right?”
— White male, 41, Jackson
“If young black and poor children don’t see anything about themselves on television and video games except as aggressor or violent criminals, what does do to them internally?”
— Black woman, 67, Jackson