Project

Controlling Race in the Public Sphere: A Collaboration between the State and Media Capitalists in the U.S. and around the Globe

Goal: This project is a historically based theoretical examination of contemporary cultural representations of black masculinities and black femininities. This research compares and contrasts historical images in the media of black bodies in the context of slavery and Jim Crow segregation with contemporary news media images of black bodies propagated as a result of the War on Drugs in the U.S., as well as with images of black bodies in the content of hip-hop media products, such as music videos, as well as images of black bodies on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and IG. The project also examines transformations in the production and content of these images within the context of the global digital platforms that undergird media and communications systems contemporarily.

The goals of this project include an examination of the relationship/collaboration between state and media capitalists in the public sphere for the construction of representations of blackness, including digital blackness. Controlling Race raises the question of whether or not we can expect the state and media capitalists to stand in contradistinction to each other in the context of the public sphere. Social theorists have debated this relationship with some, like Jurgen Habermas, arguing that they are distinct forces, while Noam Chomsky, in examining the relationship between the state and media interests in areas of U.S. foreign policy, sees a singularity in goals.

This project hopes to shed light on this relationship between the state and media capitalists in the context of domestic and foreign policies in the U.S., particularly in the area of race, one of the global fault lines? Under what circumstances do the state and media capitalists have mutual interests in and therefore collaborate in controlling within the public sphere issues related to representations of racial minorities? Some of the evidence that will be explored will include post-1980s representations of African American male youths as hyper-violent and hyper-deviant that became common in the news media as a result of the news coverage of the War on Drugs. These images/representations were commodified further by their use in entertainment media, specifically in music videos that are an important element of artistic production in hip hop culture, which is still reliant financially on behemoth media conglomerates. Also explored in this project are images of blackness within the period representing the rise of Trumpism.

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Project log

Natalie Byfield
added a research item
This study finds that the subject-area "desk" in media organizations that directs the coverage of the larger world, functions in a privileged space to facilitate communication with other privileged zones in the larger society. The information from these external privileged zones is permeated with messages about power and stratification around issues of class, race, and gender in the larger society. Media select the language with which to distill these messages that we use to construct our world.^ The study also finds that in the language used by the media to express the police interpretation of events on the night the Central Park jogger was attacked, race was paramount. In the case of the attack on the jogger, the police—through their public relations system—interpreted the events as follows: it was a gang-rape of a white, female investment banker by a group of six African-American and Latino teenagers. "Wilding"—the racial term describing a new form of urban terror—originated and was disseminated by newspaper writers about the jogger incident. Six African-American and Latino teens were incarcerated with some serving as many as 10 years in jail. The initial suspects were later exonerated and the charges withdrawn when the real perpetrator of the crime was discovered and confessed.^ This is a study of the newspaper coverage of the Central Park Jogger Story (CPJS) that emanated from the so-called "wilding" incident. It is a content analysis of a sample of 251 newspaper articles from two New York City newspapers. The study spans a 14-year period starting with the initial incident and ending when the convictions were vacated. It assesses the media's reliance on sources using frequencies and examines the language of the coverage for racial content using an associational model. Language that is associated with social constructs in our society, like race, class, gender, age, victimhood, and violence are measured for their frequency of use. Additionally, the relationship between the language that represents race and other social constructs is examined.^
Natalie Byfield
added 3 research items
In 1989, the rape and beating of a white female jogger in Central Park made international headlines. Many accounts reported the incident as an example of “wilding”—episodes of poor, minority youths roaming the streets looking for trouble. Police intent on immediate justice for the victim coerced five African-American and Latino boys to plead guilty. The teenage boys were quickly convicted and imprisoned. Savage Portrayals' author, Natalie Byfield, covered the case for the New York Daily News, and now revisits the story of the Central Park Five from her perspective as a black female reporter. Savage Portrayals illuminates the race, class, and gender bias in the massive media coverage of the crime and the prosecution of the now-exonerated defendants. Using sociological analysis and first-person account, the book persuasively argues that the racialized reportage of the case buttressed efforts to try juveniles as adults across the nation. Savage Portrayals casts new light on this famous crime and its far-reaching consequences for the wrongly accused and the justice system.
The historiography of early 19th century United States of America indicates a young, growing nation coming together after a revolutionary war. Principles of the Enlightenment had crossed the Atlantic and they conflicted with the developing market economy and the expansion of rights they afforded white males while simultaneously reducing the rights of free blacks and reinforcing the property status of enslaved blacks. Modern newspapers, the Penny Press, were formed in this cauldron. Their commercial reliance on advertising defined them as modern. The audience they amassed to sell to advertisers did not represent a general audience. The research indicates that the audience represented a newly coalescing group of working- or middle-class people of European descent. This collection of people was evolving into a self-reflexive group at a time when demarcations of race were hardly fixed. The lower-income members of this group had just advanced from their position as indentured servants, a status that was often equated with “black” in this culture. This paper argues that the coalescing of this new group of European descendants occurred symbiotically with the development of the Penny Press. It further argues that this symbiotic relationship, in part, helped to establish this new group as “white.” This chapter further reveals how whiteness is constructed in the foundations of contemporary mass media.
Using the Herman and Chomsky propaganda model, this paper seeks to address the following questions: Did "Black Twitter" act as a democratizing force in the mainstream media coverage of the Michael Brown killing by changing the news agenda? If so, what impact if any did it have on the real world? Contemporarily the development of social media systems like Twitter, specifically "Black Twitter," possibly offers a base from which subordinated racial groups can articulate themselves in the public sphere. As such "Black Twitter" provides avenues for social scientists to study the impact of social media on the news agenda in traditional media. Using content analysis of the mainstream national media coverage of the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson, MO police officer in summer 2014, this paper examines the construction of the narrative of the coverage in the first two weeks of reporting in national agenda-setting news organizations in the U.S. It also examines conceptualizations of the killing of Michael Brown in the public sphere called "Black Twitter" to determine possible impact of "Black Twitter" on mainstream media coverage.
Natalie Byfield
added a project goal
This project is a historically based theoretical examination of contemporary cultural representations of black masculinities and black femininities. This research compares and contrasts historical images in the media of black bodies in the context of slavery and Jim Crow segregation with contemporary news media images of black bodies propagated as a result of the War on Drugs in the U.S., as well as with images of black bodies in the content of hip-hop media products, such as music videos, as well as images of black bodies on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and IG. The project also examines transformations in the production and content of these images within the context of the global digital platforms that undergird media and communications systems contemporarily.
The goals of this project include an examination of the relationship/collaboration between state and media capitalists in the public sphere for the construction of representations of blackness, including digital blackness. Controlling Race raises the question of whether or not we can expect the state and media capitalists to stand in contradistinction to each other in the context of the public sphere. Social theorists have debated this relationship with some, like Jurgen Habermas, arguing that they are distinct forces, while Noam Chomsky, in examining the relationship between the state and media interests in areas of U.S. foreign policy, sees a singularity in goals.
This project hopes to shed light on this relationship between the state and media capitalists in the context of domestic and foreign policies in the U.S., particularly in the area of race, one of the global fault lines? Under what circumstances do the state and media capitalists have mutual interests in and therefore collaborate in controlling within the public sphere issues related to representations of racial minorities? Some of the evidence that will be explored will include post-1980s representations of African American male youths as hyper-violent and hyper-deviant that became common in the news media as a result of the news coverage of the War on Drugs. These images/representations were commodified further by their use in entertainment media, specifically in music videos that are an important element of artistic production in hip hop culture, which is still reliant financially on behemoth media conglomerates. Also explored in this project are images of blackness within the period representing the rise of Trumpism.