REPORT: 3 Ways That Media Outlets Demonize Black Families

By Sameer Rao Dec 14, 2017

A new report finds that media outlets of all leanings repeatedly depict Black families as an impoverished, broken and criminal monolith.

Racial justice organization Color of Change partnered with Family Story—which publishes studies and video profiles to fight racist judgment of families of color—to explore how racial bias emerged during the 2015-2016 election cycle for a report released yesterday (December 13). 

The organizations commissioned communications scholar Travis L. Dixon to write “A Dangerous Distortion of Our Families: Representation of Families, By Race, in News and Opinion Media." Dixon based his analysis on 200 television, print and online news stories produced between January 2015 and December 2016. His findings highlight the extent to which news media misrepresent Black parents and children as pathologically corrupted and violent. Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson argued in the report’s foreword that these racist media frames contribute to destructive perceptions about Black families.

"The current media landscape is shaped by decision makers who continue to inaccurately depict Black fathers as absent, Black mothers as bad decision makers and Black families as destabilizing forces in society," Robinson wrote. "We see these distortions and inaccuracies not only in right-wing outlets like Breitbart, but in unexpected places like The New York Times and Meet the Press—and they have grave consequences. Not only are these systemic patterns in news coverage simply inaccurate, but they also harm American families by justifying federal and state policies that will doom American families for generations to come.”   

These three key findings illuminate the extent of this misrepresentation, using statistics pulled from the report: 

1.) News coverage portrays 59 percent of families living below the federal poverty line as Black. 
This stands in contrast with the 27 percent of Black families actually living in poverty. The same media portrays only 16 percent of White families that way, despite the fact that they represent 66 percent of impoverished Americans. 

2.) Media outlets depict 60 percent of Black families as welfare recipients.
Black families make up 42 percent of the country’s welfare recipients, but receive disproportionate attention from publications that connect welfare to entitlement and laziness. That coverage also rarely acknowledges the history of economic segregation that impacts Black communities into the present. White families make up 22 percent of welfare recipients and represent a near-proportional 23 percent of the beneficiaries portrayed in the news. 

3.) Unverified myths of Black absentee fathers persist, and news media characterizes 60 percent of Black fathers as abandoning their children. 
That’s three times as much as absentee White fathers (20 percent) in media. 

The report includes recommendations for news outlets that include hiring more journalists of color and revising protocol for reporting on racial disparity.