Case Studies, Tips & Examples

CASe StUDy: Perceptions and Media coverage of Black Men and Boys 

In 2011, The Opportunity Agenda conducted three research studies that examined perceptions of and by African-American men and boys and their relationship to the media. Among the many factors that influence the opportuni- ties and achievements of black men and boys are public perceptions and attitudes toward them as a group, as well as their own self-perceptions. One of the most important avenues for maintaining—or changing—these perceptions is the mass media, with its significant power to shape popular ideas and attitudes.

To inform the communications efforts of those seeking to improve opportunity for black males around the country w-e commissioned the following:

  • a review of the social and cognitive science literature to highlight what researchers have learned about
  • the relationship between media representations and the media’s impacts on the lives of black men and boys;
  • an analysis of existing research on attitudes of and about black men and boys; and
  • an analysis of original data about black men as consumers of media, including broadcast, print, and online platforms.

The research1 revealed important trends, including the over-representation of black males in media depictions of violence, crime, and poverty, as well as the lack of depictions of the systemic barriers facing members of this group. The research shows as well that distorted media representations can impact perceptions and attitudes toward African-American males and affect many aspects of their lives, from receiving harsher sentencing by judges to having a lower likelihood than whites of being hired for a job and admitted to school despite equal qualifications. But distorted media depictions can also affect African-American males’ self-perceptions and lead to diminished self-esteem and lower performance in cognitive contexts, among other detrimental effects. Frequently, black men are their own harshest critics.

The research findings and recommendations have informed a communications strategy that includes meetings with media decision makers and creative, media literacy efforts, and message development. 

1   The research, which was authored by Topos Partnership (Executive Summary, Social Science Literature Review, and the Review of Public Opinion Research) and Marc Kerschhagel (Media Market Research) is available at www.opportunityagenda.org/black_male.