Theterm of popular culture has a wide range of meanings.
However, in sociologicalperspective, it is usually referred to the mass culture or what John Storey(2009) describes as “a hopelessly commercial culture that is mass produced formass consumption, and its audience is a mass of non-discriminating consumers” (p.8). Most common products of popular culture include major forms ofentertainment such as film, music, television show, video, art, fashion, andradio. Despite its contributions for pureenjoyment, popular culture also serves as an effective agent for culturalexpression. However, numerous research show that much of its content can bequite problematic in shaping our images of race and otherness, as it often expressesracist ideas and negative stereotypes. Whether by an intentional harm orexclusion act, this can become a source of marginalisation and prejudice aroundrace, ethnicity, colour, and gender.
Through this, it is important that we reflectson stereotypes that put members of minority ethnic groups in less pleasant experiencesand realities due to extensive misrepresentation that take place in the majoritymedia in the past (Downing and Husband, 2005). Despitethese limitations, popular culture also plays a significant role in shaping howwe define our own identity and others. As Storey (2006) states, “we need tosee ourselves—all people, not just vanguard intellectuals—as activeparticipants in culture: selecting, rejecting, making meanings, attributingvalue, resisting and, yes, also being duped and manipulated” (p. 171). Fromthis perspective, he encourages people to be more active and critical when itcomes to media images, so that “we understand the worlds in which we live, and throughcommunicating our understanding, we transform these systems of values, ideasand practices into a social reality, for others and for ourselves” (Howarth,2011, p. 7).
This suggests that the acknowledgement of the process ofrepresentations in and of itself can be an effect of power, thus popularculture invites wide audiences to pursue knowledge and meaning for the strategyof legitimating social hierarchies and constitution of identities. As Street(1997) explains, popular culture can become a form of resistance, as it provides”a form of defiance, the weapon with which to deny power” (p. 12). This essaytends to exemplify the ways in which popular racism has shifted through timeand place and their potential role in challenging dominant stereotypes and presentingmore realistic and accurate portrayals of people of colour, particularly Blacks.
Several examples will be provided to support the notion that popular culturecan be used as a site where racist images can be challenged, however, in somecases can be quite ambiguous. The Representations ofAfrican-American in Popular Culture Aspopular culture continues to be present as a resources of amusement,expression, and socialization. The term of ‘race’ can be seen as a concept undercontinuous contestation, giving it no final fixed meaning in defining racialboundaries, hierarchies, and images (Guerrero, 1993). Before we begin, itis important to highlight that ‘race’ is certainly connected to its historicalcontexts, social and political aspects, and meanings of power structure anddomination. It is undeniable that UnitedStates has a long history of exploitation and discrimination towards particulargroups or non-whites for their political and economic benefits.
Though theslavery system ended in 1865, according to Guerrero (1993), there are stilllittle existence that “Blacks have been subordinated, marginalized, positioned,and devalued in every possible manner to glorify and relentlessly hold in placethe white-dominated order and racial hierarchy of American society” (p. 2). Generally, the production of images in the media havethe power to communicate its meanings, beliefs and identities with audiences. Visual representations in the media tend to portrays Blacksin a very one-dimensional mode and unfavourable roles within the white supremacy system inAmerican society. In the early stage, the dominant representations of African-Americans as servants, gangsters,criminals and drug dealers have appeared frequently in American popular culture, addressing what Lippmann (1956) describes as ‘onemode of characterization’, a common cliché narrative in Western mass production.The notion of propaganda can be defined here as “the transmission of ideas andvalues from dominant groups who control the means of communication, with theintention of influencing the receiver’s attitudes and thus enhancing andmaintaining their positions and interests” (Solomos and Back, 1996, p. 159). Consequently,this effects societal perceptions of African-Americans in the real world.
However, popular culture are not necessary depicting African Americans with negativestereotypes, but also offering alternative and multi-dimensional perspectives ofAfrican American communities. Perhaps somemedia cultures have reinforced inappropriate norms regarding Blacks, othershave not.