“Left of Black”-“A Comment Upon Racial Disparities in Media” -Andrew Demirdjian

Andrew Demirdjian

“A Comment Upon Racial Disparities in Media”

The colors of our nation have stood as a defining essence of where you place in society as an individual over the course of history. Through “Left of Black” hosted by Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, Dr. Jessica Marie Johnson, an Assistant Professor of History at John Hopkins University, they discuss the violence against black bodies in the media. James B. Duke is a Distinguished Professor of African and African American Studies and through their discussion focused on topics such as the coverage of Hurricane Katrina to other racial disparities and the media’s shortcomings in its portrayal of African Americans. This discussion reveals the creation and circulation of images that falsify and distort the realities of Black communities in these impoverished areas. Such a topic shadows events from Hurricane Katrina and spreads across the spectrum into the portrayal of black suffering overlooked by the media and its shortcomings of truly showing the realities of black communities. It is an eye opener to the realities of our world that have been masked by falsified and misportrayed images of black communities. Dr.Johnson also voices the importance and effectiveness of the media in getting the lives of blacks looked upon to see how they have suffered in the past as well as during these times of disaster by the people of the United States.

In hopes to bring amends to the media, Johnson is asked by Dr.Neal to talk about the communities that were affected from the hurricane. In doing so she expounded upon Louisiana and the cities that suffered in deprivation. She focused on how the media overlooked their hopeless state and expounded upon the lack of necessities available for them to escape such times of hardship. “Evacuation policies relied on private means of transportation that were less available to African Americans” (Lavelle K, Feagin JR. Hurricane Katrina: The race and class debate. Monthly Review)  Johnson also voices how artists such as Kanye West, who is an influential Black hip hop artist, brought attention in the media of these areas in hopes to provide aid for their betterment.Several research articles have shed light upon these living conditions and communities. They explain how “many African Americans in New Orleans were impoverished and due to the continuing trend of racism in the area, they were most vulnerable to the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The poverty rate of African Americans was high in the area, which made many of those unable to live in areas safe from floodwaters.” (Arcgis, Aftermath of Katrina). Beyond this Johnson also highlighted how accommodations for blacks to use public transport or leave such vulnerable areas were not available. After the hurricane, “African Americans affected by the storm have since reported higher rates of unemployment, psychological distress, and general life disruption than Whites” shadowing its wider effect on African American lives (Elliot JR, Pais J. , “Race, class, and Hurricane Katrina”). When the news media did not bring attention to such impoverished areas they were left to get hit the hardest and made more vulnerable to the impact of the storm.


On the other side of the spectrum Johnson also voiced the media’s portrayal of Emmett Till’s open casket (September 3, 1955) and how it was used to positively influence American minds of the horrors blacks entail on a day to day basis. Here the media and especially Black media was used to bring light to black suffering and to ultimately show the brutality of racism across the nation in hopes to accelerate the momentum of the anti-racist or Black freedom struggle and raise the consciousness of white America to thread the tie between black and white communities in the United States. As talked about in our classroom, media has been used to heal the wounds that have been left open and with people such as black rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. and black newspapers during the civil rights movement, media was used as a form of closing this abusive chapter in American history. Their actions  held a mirror up in front of our nation to confront their failures and see their historical shortcomings that divides our nation.This strikes me as an individual to see how comprehensive this issue was and the lengths blacks of this time had to endure just to get their message out to the world. 


The media in most cases however has not been a place of light for African Americans especially with “The coon caricature which is one of the most insulting of all anti-Black caricatures. The name itself, an abbreviation of raccoon, is dehumanizing,” as described by (Elvira Jensen Casado, pg.136, Restless Travelers). This anti-black and immoral characterization of black people was prominent during Jim Crow, the early 1900s and can be seen through one of the most misrepresentative in the children’s book  Little Black Sambo. It was such depictions that ultimately shaped the image of black life and was one of the most demoralizing and wicked practices of the time to show utter white dominance. 

It is of human nature to find pleasure in the life we so call share as a home in unity. The color disparity of history has stood as one of America’s most tragic flaws, defining a line between black and white with no balance for gray in between. After engaging in this project, it truly strikes the heart, to amend the past and heal the present. It is the unscrupulous acts of white dominance and black subordination, this abhorrent negligence of human integrity that drives disposition and slandered characterization of people who are no different than anyone else except in “color.”  Such abuse over time imprints scars that can only heal so much, leaving an ever fading mark of the past. Implications from birth instill a chance at life with no hope. When America has only ever thrived off of the foundation of color as its roots, it is unjust to never accredit their accomplishments and replace them as labeled outcasts unfit for the so believed prevailing color of “white.” Such abuse in the course of history will lie in the darkest places of your psyche and leave you in a state of anguish and damnation, night and day, hoping that tomorrow dies so you won’t have to face the very battle you fought today. Imagine yourself in the shoes of an African American during these times of segregation and the demoralizing disparity between black and white trying to live the very God given life you are entitled to. The brain slowly escapes reality into a realm of hell inspired by nightmares that engulf you in a pit of repeated agony fed by a fire of tormented angst and affliction.You will never understand, comprehend, or even imagine the endless agony you suffer as life begins to fade away and time becomes a futile number that just counts your hours of suffering. This was the life of many blacks in America. Many may laugh and others may find sympathy, but you never lived to see the life of many blacks over the course of time. 

Through the “Left of Black” discussion it has opened my eyes to a wider spectrum of focus upon black lives in America beyond what the media just expresses. It is a comprehensive topic that focuses on the ignorance towards black lives during Hurricane Katrina as well as shadows the way the media has given light to blacks in other ways. However the black history project as a whole instills the importance of the past, to become inclusive of all spectrums of black life and to understand the flaws of society. It is the connection between man to man, family to society, and nation to its people which will ultimately allow us to prevail in such a separated world.  Johnson expounded in her discussion that such racism still runs rampant and is evident through the media in their way of disregarding black suffering and deprivation. In all, change is what inspires a new tomorrow and through amends of our scars of the past we can instill a just and racially equitable tomorrow, a world where our progeny can thrive and live in unity despite color, race and cultural background. 


“Representation of African Americans in Media.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representation_of_African_Americans_in_media.

“Aftermath of Katrina: A Time of Environmental Racism A Story Map.” Arcgis.com, www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=2106693b39454f0eb0abc5c2ddf9ce40

Lavelle K, Feagin JR. Hurricane Katrina: “The race and class debate.” Monthly Review. 2006http://www.monthlyreview.org/0706lavelle.htm

Elliot JR, Pais J. Race, class, and Hurricane Katrina: Social differences in human response to disaster. Social Science Research. 2006; 35:295–321. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2006.02.003. 

Lowe, Sarah R, et al. “African American Women’s Reports of Racism during Hurricane Katrina: Variation by Interviewer Race.” The New School Psychology Bulletin, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583345/#R14.


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