The Media Portrayal of Young Black Men: Victim Blaming

By: Gisell Bermudez-Camacho

Though the use of social media has skyrocketed in recent years, traditional media sources like newscasts on television and the newspaper are still the most reliable place to get information on current events. However the news portrays African Americans differently than other races.

For example, when young black men are killed, they are often portrayed not as a victim but as villains, as if they somehow contributed to their demise. People of color are never given the benefit of the doubt of acting along, or suffering from mental illness. Instead, they often become a symbol used to condemn an entire population. The Black Lives Matter Movement is a widespread group of activists with diverse interests, which mainly revolve around fighting for their freedom and justice they deserve in their community, such as police brutality. According to Black Lives Matter Movement, a specific area that they should focus on is the way the television’s media’s portrayal of black people represents them, because on television they demonizes victims, justifies violence against them, and it allows white people to exempt themselves from the problem.

Many claim that the portrayal of black people in the media is important to focus on because of the profound effect media has its audience. The Influence Guide even claims: “the influence of television on society is getting stronger and stronger as technology advances.” Our constant intake of media influences our behavior more as information becomes more universally available.

Black Lives Matter should focus on media portrayal because African American people are often represented as dangerous, while white people are not. They should be represented with respect and equality just like white people are. Media makes people think that all African American are bad, evil. If media represented every race with equality then we wouldn’t have a huge problem with stereotypes and media portrayal. Philip Bump, a writer for the news called The Wire writes about an experiment based on how people including cops see a little boys, criminal activity based on if they were black or white. The researchers state that “At every age level after 10, black kids were considered less innocent than either white or unspecified children”. This shows that black kids are looked at differently and are more likely to be accused of criminal activity than whites. This is shocking to see how people see innocent kids different just based off their skin color. Kids or anyone in general, should not be discriminated just because there age or race.

In support of Michael Brown, a young African American man named CJ Lawrence created a hashtag called “#iftheygunnedmedown”. Lawrence explains that he created this hashtag to show how the media “draws a biased narrative when it comes to telling stories of black men and women” on television. In a broadcast, Lawrence described seeing several posts from Twitter, some with a photo of Brown with a smile, and others of him holding his hands up forming a sign.

CJ Lawrence was disturbed by the comments he started seeing on that photo. He says many Twitter users commented “oh that’s a gang sign”. Lawrence explained that he was shocked “to live in a world that is justifying death by appearance”. All of this inspired him to post two different photos of himself on Twitter with the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown.



The hashtag shows two different images of a particular person looking successful and happy while the other image is someone anti successful. When a white person commits a crime they are made to look like they’re innocent almost as if they weren’t responsible for what they committed while the criminalizing images are often used to portray African American people. This movement believes it shows that everybody has a positive self but media decides to make you look negative based on your skin color. This was a way of showing how easily different types of media can misuse photos people post online.

CJ made a difference in the black community by creating such an influential movement for African Americans that are everyday represented as “criminals, thugs and gang bangers” on television. The hashtag became very successful; many Twitter users started creating their own photos, similar to CJ’s. A particular Twitter user, Rod Winzer, explained that he also decided to be a part of the #iftheygunnedmedown by posting a picture of himself in a graduation suit next to a picture of him with unflattering light. Rod said he wanted to be part of this movement for of a very personal reason. He elaborated, “I had a friend that was gunned down last week and he was looked at bad image based off his pictures”. This shows that the movement is very inspiring to many people of color who have been represented badly.

On August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, an unarmed 18 year old boy named Michael Brown was shot dead multiple times by a white policeman named Darren Wilson. This tragic event caused a lot of attention on television. The way media represented this situation was that it was Michael Brown’s fault that he was the reason he got himself killed. For example, Fox News is a television news channel that always discriminates against African American people. An article by Media Matters For America, provides a video with several examples of how the newscast poorly present African Americans. They even call the Black Lives Matter Movement a “Murder Movement”. They called it that because of one single man named Shannon Miles, who shot a white police officer. So the whole movement was affected, stereotyped, and blamed for the actions of one man. The opinions of the Fox newscasters impact the opinions of a huge amount of people, which can lead to them stereotyping black people and thinking they are all violent murderers.

This chart shows percentages of African American suspects who were arrested and percentages of African American suspect in reports. This shows that the reports we see on television are made to look like African American people are always getting into trouble and being arrested all the time when they’re really not.


To conclude, The Black Lives Matter Movement should focus on how social media and news reporters represent African American to the public. People on the internet to be careful of what they post online because you never know how media can change it against you. Media is such a powerful source now and one single picture can change a whole perspective of someone. It is important to remember that stereotypes will always be around but with a little change we can make a difference by actually making black lives matter in the news and on social media. A change would be that the the news reporters should represent every race equally without making another look less than the other. It’s clear the media lacks diversity, and it stereotypes many races but once The Black Lives Matter movement focuses on media portrayal, fewer people will have strong racial biases like this, which could lead to fewer acts of racism in America.


Artist Statement


The Media Portrayal of Young Black Men: Victim Blaming

Facing Systemic Racism: Does it Exist?

Exposing Injustice: The Role of the Police

Annotated Works Cited: What should the Black Lives Matter Movement Focus On Next


12 Comments Add yours

  1. Tori says:

    I’ve noticed this but it hasn’t really came to my attention until now. The media does this all the time.


    1. mikaelaweidman says:

      It’s really scary to think about.


  2. Jackson Tobes says:

    Institutionalized racism runs so deep through everything we know


    1. Qasas says:

      And yet people to this day doubt that institutionalized racism is even a thing…… sad


  3. Omari King says:

    Th is something thats been happening forever and it never gets pointed out


  4. Raja Elliott says:

    I totally agree that people should discuss the topic more and see different viewpoints on the situation.


    1. gisellbc says:

      especially on the news


  5. Amanda Levin says:

    The role of the media is so influential now and so widespread, I found it interesting that the #iftheygunnedmedown movement did not have the impact it might have. Why do you think this is?


  6. Nathalie says:

    The media always portrays black victims as thugs in order to distract people from the bigger issue.. This needs to stop.


  7. Adan says:

    I hate it when my parents watch the news. They get scared of every little thing that happen now… :/


  8. Qasas says:

    If you look on youtube you will see that people are trying to prove that trayvon martin was a thug. This is just the sick world we live in.


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