Unequal representation of race in headlines

Why have we come to associate the word “terrorist” with a particular group, rather than individuals? Originally, the word “terrorist” simply referred to an individual who implemented intimidation against civilians, but it has slowly developed into a term associated with Islam.

Why are those of different races are often treated differently in headlines? White killers are often treated better than their African American or Mexican American counterparts, and sometimes even better than African American or Mexican American victims.

According to the report Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies, “many media outlets reinforce the public’s misconceptions about crime by presenting [certain minorities] differently than whites – both
qualitatively and quantitatively.”

The report states that in Los Angeles, approximately 37% of the suspects portrayed on news stories about crime were black, although black individuals made up only 21% of those arrested in the city, and of that 37%, an overwhelming majority was portrayed in a threatening manner.

Though many news outlets claim to put effort into effacing discrimination in headlines, it seems that the percentage of suspects represented in a hostile or degrading way has increased since the end of 2016, and appears to be continuing in this upwards trend. In an article in the Huffington Post concerning racial disparities in headlines, the author compares the two headlines used by Lubbock Avalanche-Journal to describe a white offender in one crime and a black victim in another.

The killer, a former college professor named Amy Bishop, was depicted using the headline “Ala. suspect brilliant, but social misfit,” after she pleaded guilty to the murder of three of her colleagues, and the wounding of three more at a faculty meeting.

However, the victim in a separate case, 25-year-old Derrick Varner, was depicted using the headline “Montgomery’s latest homicide victim had history of narcotics abuse, tangles with the law” after being fatally shot in Alabama.

The protection of racial and religious equality has never been as crucial as it is now, and, yet, the media continues to vilify and stigmatize individuals of various backgrounds and
perpetuate negative stereotypes through their portrayal of these ethnic backgrounds in headlines.

This compartmentalization of minorities influences readers and encourages them to regard certain minorities “other,” resulting in increased bias.

Though the authors of these articles may not intend harm through these headlines, the use of phrases such as “terrorist” to describe Muslim individuals, or, in the case of African American or Mexican American individuals, “ex-gang member” or “drug dealer,” are extremely harmful to society, as they have the capability to shift and warp perception of races.

Many journalists have been far too irresponsible as of late in their portrayals
of both suspects and victims of crimes, and some have forgotten they are responsible for ensuring that subjects of article are portrayed in an unbiased manner.

They have forgotten the long-term implications of negative stereotyping of minority groups (or any group, for that matter), or are simply being far too careless. Either way, they must strive to be more conscious of the way in which they portray particular individuals.

In order to assist such an occurrence, the audience can petition or boycott any media outlets which negatively portray those of a particular race or religion or maintain stereotypes concerning those of particular ethnicities.

In addition, individuals can use anti-racism writing platforms and write pieces in order to increase understanding of the issue and its impact upon society.

Without taking action, however, we will only be motivating and permitting these injustices, which will only encourage more stereotyping and, in extreme cases, inspire hate crimes and a more apparent form of racism in society.

Author: Apsara Senaratne

Apsara Senaratne is a junior at Granada Hills Charter High School and Feature Editor of the school newspaper, The Plaid Press. She feels very strongly about the right to free speech, and views journalism as a medium through which she can openly express controversial views, both political and personal.

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