Media Space in Historical Context

Yet again, African American students at North Carolina State University were not alone in their calls for more accurate representations in media. In fact, in founding The Nubian Message as an alternate campus news source, African American students at NC State followed in the footsteps of African American students at other predominantly white universities nationwide. These students felt that mainstream campus newspapers did not represent their interests and at times, even presented racially biased information. Consequently, African American students across the country established their own campus media outlets, which often became “important vehicles for the dissemination of Black Power ideology and rhetoric."[1]

"The Foundations of the Black Student Movement"

In the 1970s, for instance, African American students at Rutgers University initiated the Black Voice as an alternate to the mainstream campus newspaper, the Daily Targum. The paper, which also showcases Latino/a perspectives today, was “geared toward strengthening and uplifting” minority communities at the university, who otherwise received little recognition or support. The paper’s motto is “Breaking the Chains of Ignorance,” undoubtedly a reference to slavery and ongoing racism.[2] Closer to home, African American students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill founded Black Ink in 1969 as a counterpoint to the main student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel. The original motto of Black Ink was “Voice of Black Liberation,” another reference to continued African American oppression, and the publication is still in print today.[3] These newspapers, like The Nubian Message and other similar publications across the country, became forums in which African American students could discuss politics, make demands upon university administration, and showcase creative works like poetry.[4]

Robert M. Entman and Andrew Rojecki have substantiated African American students’ concerns about racial bias in media in their own studies of mainstream television, news, and film. As they report in The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America, mainstream media rarely promotes open racism. Nevertheless, media outlets continue to act upon racial stereotypes and subvert racial harmony. In fact, the scholars argue, television news disproportionately focuses on black poverty and crime, and it typically reinforces a racial hierarchy with whites on top. These misrepresentations do little to break down racial barriers or build up minority communities.[5]

"Magic Johnson giving a speech at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas on April 25, 2013"

While noting that mainstream media still exudes racial bias, scholars also point out that mainstream media simply ignores important issues for minority communities, like the prevalence of AIDS in the African American community or the dangers of acquaintance rape for women in general. For example, in a 2011 study of African-American students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the South, scholars from Texas Southern University concluded that mass media and public health campaigns are not doing enough to educate this critical population about HIV/AIDS. Students, they discovered, were engaging in risky sexual behaviors because they were unaware of the details of HIV/AIDS transmission or of the seriousness of the disease. Since students reported trusting media sources, however, the media should be proactive in covering this serious health issue.[6] Similarly, as Jody Raphael argues, mainstream media often ignores or distorts the seriousness of acquaintance rape, typically by portraying it as an aggrieved female’s attack on an unsuspecting male. Raphael, who personally interviewed victims of acquaintance rape, asserts that mainstream media must cover this issue more sensitively and accurately so that victims will not be stigmatized.[7]

For African American students at newspapers like The Nubian Message, the fact that mainstream media continues to ignore minority perspectives in these ways justifies their own continued existence as separate publications. The ongoing effort to carve out media space for African American and other minority voices is yet another example of how America is hardly a ‘post-racial’ society where race does not matter.

[1] Joy Ann Williamson, “In Defense of Themselves: The Black Student Struggle for Success and Recognition at Predominantly White Colleges and Universities,” The Journal of Negro Education 68, no. 1, Preparing Students for the New Millennium: Exploring Factors That Contribute to the Successful Education of African American Students (Winter, 1999): 92-105, quoted 99.

[2] “About,” Black Voice/Carta Latina (accessed November 16, 2014).

[3] “The Black Student Movement at Carolina—Black Ink: November 1969,” The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History, (accessed November 16, 2014).

[4] Williamson, 99.

[5] Robert M. Entman and Andrew Rojecki, The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

[6] Masoomeh Khosrovani, Mayur S. Desai, and Arthur Sanders, “African American College Students Opinions of Media Messages on HIV/AIDS Awareness: Students’ Attitudes toward the Disease,” College Student Journal 45, no. 2 (June 2011): 414-427.

[7] Jody Raphael, Rape is Rape: How Denial, Distortion, and Victim Blaming are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013).