Gaston: Stereotypes in the media cause groups to be misconceptualized

Sam Gaston

We have all been told since kindergarten not to judge a book by its cover. Now that the books have become people, the covers are groups like religions, races and genders. How far have we really come since our kindergarten days?

With media and peer influences, our own judgment of something can already be altered by what we are pre-exposed to, which can often lead to misconceptions that are hard to change. One group that has fallen victim to one-sided views is the Muslim community.

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On April 13, Elmurad Kasym spoke about the misconceptions of Islam and the way Muslims are portrayed in the media. Kasym is a specialist on global security issues and has a master’s degree in International Security from the University of Denver.

His examples ranged from biased news channels and anchors to presidential candidates, such as Trump, causing more negative light to be shed on their community. Kasym quoted Trump saying, “I think Islam hates us.” Kasym said he would respond with, “How can beliefs harbor emotions?”

In his speech, Kasym stated, “Media has lost impartial reporting and coverage.” He declared that if someone who is Muslim is invited onto a news show to talk, the anchor will often throw in “off-the-cuff” material, not allowing for the guest to create a comprehensive, well-thought-out response. Society also expects many Muslims to apologize, though this individual may have done nothing wrong, they are just being grouped with people who claim to have the same beliefs.

Kasym attributed many of the misconceptions to mass media outlets. Many shows we see on TV portray Muslims as terrorists. With popular shows reaching so many people, there is more of an opportunity for viewers to associate people that look like the terrorist on the show with terrorism. “Muslims are afraid of terrorism, just like everyone else. … They are running away from the terrorism they’ve been accused of,” said Kasym during his speech.

Even President Obama had something to say on this topic. He addressed the issue of Muslims not being diversely represented on television and called for a change. According to an article on TheGuardian.com, on his first visit to an American mosque, Obama stated, “Our television shows should have some Muslim characters that are unrelated to national security because it’s not that hard to do.”

This issue of stereotyping groups in the media can be applied to people beyond the Muslim community. There are even more distant ways that different types of media shape our way of thinking that we may not be aware of. These can include advertisements, shows and things we are exposed to daily.

Crime shows often show males as the perpetrators and females as the victims. Even as children, with impressionable minds, we were exposed to stereotypes. When looking at a list of Disney villains, the list contained predominantly male characters. These included some of the most well-known miscreants such as Captain Hook, Jafar, Scar and Hades. There are so many ways that we are predisposed to what we currently believe and think. The thoughts that come to mind when we make judgments are a combination of our experiences, previous beliefs and influences. 

The opposing side may argue that certain types of people are portrayed in specific ways because this is accurate according to reality. However, the argument many seem to overlook is that not every criminal act is reported, we pay attention to what we want and we interpret events differently. We can oftentimes only get half of the story, creating a biased view. This is not to say that any terrorist act is in any way justifiable or deserves an explanation. 

Mass media outlets, prominent figures (such as Trump), peers and many other things that we may not consciously consume can alter our perspectives, or form them if they are not already solidified. The way we interpret events and news we hear will also have a lasting impact on our impressions of certain groups.

Our “melting pot” should be based off of the fact that each person is an individual and contributes something unique to our society, not grouping millions of members of religions together when one has done something wrong. 

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Collegian Columnist Sam Gaston can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @SammyGaston.