“[Race] is not about how you look, it is about how people assign meaning to how you look.” – Robin D. G. Kelley, Historian
Both race and gender shape our social interactions according to our expectations of how others should behave based on their “role.” This is particularly true when it comes to our perceptions of deviance and criminality. For example, watch how individuals in a public park react to three different actors in the same situation in the following social experiment:
REPRESENTATION AND CONTROLLING IMAGES
In their essay on racial formations in the U.S., Michael Omi and Howard Winant discuss the importance of the media in both shaping and disseminating racial caricatures:
“Film and television…have been notorious in disseminating images of racial minorities which establish for audiences what people from these groups look like, how they behave, and ‘who they are.’ The power of the media lies not only in their ability to reflect the dominant ideology, but in their capacity to shape that ideology in the first place […This] has led to the perpetuation of racial caricatures, as racial stereotypes serve as shorthand for scriptwriters, directors, and actors” (17)
These caricatures have serious real-life consequences for people of color. As the author of “White Privilege Radically Changes Appearance of Tsarnaev Brothers” points out, recent portrayals of Muslims in the media since 9/11 reinforce “the current dehumanizing ‘Other’ label that whiteness has constructed as a sanctioned target for violence in US popular culture” (emphasis mine).
Consider how the decision to lighten or darken the skin color of the following two celebrities makes an argument about who is “othered”:
On the other hand, consider how often the complexion of Black performers and models are often lightened: