- - Monday, June 22, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In “Do The Right Thing,” the 1989 comedy-drama that was nominated for two Oscars and is widely considered an all-time great film, John Turturro’s character, Pino, unwittingly shows that he is fond of African-Americans despite his frequent use of a common slur.

The revelation arrives subtly, under questioning by Spike Lee’s character, Mookie.

Mookie: “Who’s your favorite basketball player?”

Pino: “Magic Johnson.”

Mookie: “And not Larry Bird? Who’s your favorite movie star?”

Pino: “Eddie Murphy.”

We soon discover that Pino’s favorite rock star is Prince, which leads Mookie to conclude that some of Pino’s favorite people are the same ones he refers to with the n-word.

Pino: “It’s different. Magic, Eddie, Prince are not n–—s. I mean, are not black. I mean, they’re black, but not really black. They’re more than black. It’s different.”

Like many consumers of American pop culture, Pino gets much of his information from mainstream media, where black celebrities can be among the most prominent individuals in their fields. Though he’d probably harbor different emotions if Magic Johnson was a janitor, at least he’s able to admit affinity for Magic Johnson the NBA star.

That mindset is bad enough, but some folks are even worse.

There are those who can’t get past pigmentation at all, whether it’s athletes on a field or worshipers at a Bible study.

Thankfully, everyone who’s blinded by color doesn’t act out their beliefs like the wicked Dylann Roof in Charleston, South Carolina. There are gulfs between mere dislike, pure hatred and cold-blooded murder. But the journey isn’t made in one trip, rather via a series of easily overlooked steps that subconsciously can move us closer to the extreme.

For instance, coverage of black athletes can play a significant role in shaping some opinions of blacks in general. Cynthia Frisby, a professor at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, points out the problem in a new book, “How You See Me, How You Don’t.”

Her research finds that black athletes are more likely than white athletes to be portrayed negatively in the media.

Using 155 online news articles from several prominent sports destinations, Frisby identified themes such as moral success/failure, crime, individual accomplishments, domestic violence and lifestyle. Forty-four percent of the stories were on white athletes while 39 percent were on black athletes.

If you wonder why some folks harbor such negative perceptions, here’s a good place to start: That’s what they’re fed on a routine basis.

“Of the morally successful stories: 83.3 percent were on white athletes, where there was only one story, which amounted to 8.3 percent, on black athletes,” Frisby told Voice of America. “Accomplishments: 20 of the stories, 58 percent, were white, whereas eight stories, or 23.6 percent, were black. On their personal lifestyle: 42.9 percent were white versus 33.3 percent black. And then athletics or skills or abilities: 46.2 percent were about white athletes and 23.1 percent, or three stories, were on black.

“66.7 percent of the stories were on crime that dealt with black athletes — compared to 22.2 percent for white. When it came to domestic and sexual violence stories, 70.6 percent focused on the black athlete, whereas three, or 17.6, were on white. When it came to training, work ethic, their dedication, 42.9 percent were focused on white athletes, where 35.7 were on black,” she said.

Considering the three most common portrayals of blacks in media — entertainer, athlete or criminal — consumers often get a two-for-one deal when it comes to sports. She points to a 2013 study that showed many Americans believe black athletes are criminals, a perception that undoubtedly stems from mass media.

“I’m an African-American professor and I will have students that sometimes the only experience or contact that they’ve had with someone like me is through the media,” Frisby told VOA. “And you would be surprised at how much media consumption plays a role in our attitudes and our formation of particular kinds of stereotypes.”

She’s not talking about hate-filled, racist websites that poison the mind of Roof and his ilk. The sources for her study include mainstream outlets such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. They hold tremendous sway on attitudes and sometimes — unknowingly or not — lean in a negative direction that’s based on feelings more than facts.

“A lot of times people would say when I was talking about my research, ‘Well, is it true that athletes are more aggressive?’” Frisby said. “And I went to the crime rate and statistics numbers and was again a little surprised to find that athletes, in general, regardless, commit fewer crimes than the regular male in their same age group.”

If you’re surprised as well, it’s not entirely your fault. But we’re reached the point where news consumers need to be more educated than ever.

Otherwise, they can fall victim to false realities like “you’re raping our women” and “you’re taking over our country.”

“Our” country belongs to us “all.”

Doing the right thing begins with accepting that fact and acknowledging that our similarities far outweigh our differences — whether on a court or in a church.

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