The main goals of the rapidly growing interdisciplinary field of queer African studies (QAS) are to (a) resist the continual (post)colonial perpetuation of “African culture” as a homogenous entity devoid of diverse nonnormative genders and sexualities, (b) seek to decenter universal Western epistemological framing of queerness, and (c) reveal the intersectional ways that queer African subjectivities are experienced. Drawing primarily from African/Africanist scholarship and queer theory/studies, QAS seeks to create more fluidities between a network of activists and university-based professors to produce contextually relevant and grounded studies that center African experiences in conversations on gender and sexuality. In particular, scholarship in QAS places Africans’ lived experiences as the starting point to theorize queerness. As an interdisciplinary field of study with scholars from history, anthropology, political science, sociology, legal studies, and African studies, QAS has emerged as an essential theoretical intervention in African studies, queer of color critique, and postcolonial studies. In this way, it opens up spaces to interrogate the theoretical and material concerns of queer theory and African studies beyond its westernized origins and focus. For same-gender-loving, queer, nonbinary, and trans Africans, for whom queer theory’s historical beginnings seem to have written them out of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex+ Euro American history, their emergent contributions to the now institutionally anchored discipline of queer theory, and queer studies in communication, provide a necessary corrective and decolonial endeavor to decentralize the Euro American lens in which queerness tends to be theorized and explored. In this regard, while “queering” Africa is a necessary project for some scholars, “Africanizing” queer studies equally provide the epistemological shifts needed to dislodge the West as the source and referent for queer theorizing. The field of communication studies is diverse in its formations and production of knowledge. However, the different subfields all cohere around the commitment to theorizing the symbolic and material systems of communication that enable individuals to make sense of their lives and their positionalities in both local and transnational contexts. QAS can invariably contribute to the various subfields of communication studies by providing an alternative epistemological framework for analyzing language and meaning, especially as they pertain to gender and sexuality.
Content analyses demonstrate continuing improvement in media representations of African Americans. However, research suggests that the progress is uneven across various media and genres, and while underrepresentation and portrayals of blatant stereotypes decline, more subtle stereotypical depictions continue to persist. Importantly, media representations of race can have consequences for both African-American and White media consumers. Research consistently demonstrates that negative media representations of Blacks have a detrimental effect on Whites’ intergroup attitudes and support for social policies. Positive representations, conversely, have the potential to improve intergroup attitudes. For Black viewers, stereotypical media representations of their own group can pose a psychological threat, whereas sympathetic representations serve as a source of empowerment.
Conflict and prejudice are universal phenomena and represent a major concern in most societies, especially on the African continent. Worldwide, just a few cases, such as the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland, Sudan, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Nigeria, have revealed how destructive prejudice and conflict can be to societies. Eastern Africa is a region that has been tremendously affected by conflict. Unfortunately, nations like Sudan and Somalia have been torn apart by many years of conflict. This has inevitably led to other societal challenges or difficulties, such as displacements, poverty, and famine. The question of why people get into conflict has been examined and debated internationally, especially in the field of social psychology. However, conflict in Eastern African cannot be explained merely by psychology. In order to have a holistic understanding of conflict, especially in Africa, it is important not only to look at social psychological factors, such as prejudice, but also to consider important political, economic, and social factors that may be related to the particular conflict, because the African context is extremely complex and the causes of conflict can sometimes be intertwined.
Homonationalism, as defined by Jasbir Puar, refers to the growing embrace of LGBT rights by (mostly Western) nations, as well as the parallel complicity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and associations with nationalist politics. First developed in the context of the U.S. “war on terror,” where the United States presented itself as exceptionally LGBT-friendly in contrast to “homophobic” Muslim others, the concept of homonationalism was quickly adopted by authors across the world and in different disciplines, writing on a number of LGBT-friendly in-groups in contrast to a number of homophobic out-groups. Besides the United States, other Western countries figure prominently as in-groups in this literature, particularly Western and Northern European ones, but also larger regions such as the European Union (EU) as well as subnations such as Catalonia and Québec. Muslims constitute the most prominent out-group in homonationalist discourses, although other groups and regions also appear, in particular, African countries and, in the European context, Central and Eastern Europe as well as Russia. In each case, a simplistic opposition is set up between a homogeneously modern and LGBT-friendly “us” and an equally homogeneous antimodern homophobic “them.” These discourses are prominent in (often right-wing) politics but are equally replicated across a range of media, which play a crucial role in the spread of homonationalist discourses but remain underexplored to date.
African American queer cinema was born as a reaction to the AIDS/HIV epidemic as well as the blatant homophobia that existed within the Black community in the 1980s. It began with the pioneering works of queer directors Isaac Julien and Marlon Riggs and continued during the new queer cinema movement in the 1990s, particularly including the works of lesbian queer director Cheryl Dunye. However, these works were infinitesimal compared to the queer works featuring primarily White lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) protagonists during that time. That trend continues today as evidenced by looking at the highest-grossing LGBTQ films of all times: very few included any African American characters in significant roles. However, from the 1980s to the 2020s, there have been a few Black queer films that have penetrated the mainstream market and received critical acclaim, such as The Color Purple (Spielberg, 1982), Set It Off (Gary, 1996), and Moonlight (Jenkins, 2016), which won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Picture. The documentary film genre has been the most influential in exposing audiences to the experiences and voices within the African American queer communities. Since many of these films are not available for viewing at mainstream theaters, Black queer cinema is primarily accessed via various cable, video streaming, and on-demand services, like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO.
Minority stress for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) and African American communities has been well documented over the past 30 years. Generally speaking, being a member of a stigmatized community can lead to alienation from social structures, norms, and institutions, all of which can have negative implications for mental health, well-being, and relationships. When speaking about minority stress and its impact on LGBTQ+ relationships, the research is mixed. Although there are findings that show LGBTQ+ individuals face greater discrimination and more negative health impacts than heterosexual couples, other research notes the positive coping mechanisms that highlight the resilient nature of these couples. For African Americans and other racial minorities, the disparities are greater, with research showing that racial identity is linked to an increase in overall external stressors. However, over the last few years, discrimination toward sexual and racial minorities has reached a critical tipping point. Both within the United States and worldwide, social movements are drawing attention to the historical inequalities experienced by minority groups, and demanding change. Considering minority stress research, methods, and analyses are built on the connection between an individual and their social situations, the construct is due for an evolution, one that is representative of what our world looks like today. Although conceptualizations thus far have been productive in understanding the stressors of the LGBTQ+ and African American communities, there is a need to incorporate critical concepts of intersectionality and expand understanding of what it means to be a member of a minority group.
The term cultural industries was first coined in the 1980s as a comprehensive means to understand production, distribution, and consumption in the traditional information and entertainment industries—press, radio, and television—and others such as film and recorded music. Closely related industries, such as advertising, marketing, and public relations, were also included. With the subsequent popular embrace and commercialization of the internet, especially the social media platforms, the concept was necessarily expanded to incorporate such “new” media of the digital age. The relevance of these cultural industries for racial and ethnic groups living within the nations of the developed world is significant in at least two contexts: national and transnational. Within the frame of the nation, the issues concern the status of these groups as minorities; and in a global perspective, the groups come to be seen as members of transnational communities, with ties both to a putative nation of origin and to their counterparts in other nations. Most theoretical and research attention has focused on media representations—that is, on how racial and ethnic minorities are portrayed in the content of the cultural industries’ outputs, seen both in a national context, such as the perpetuation of stereotypes in news and television series, and globally, as in film. Yet such a focus on representations tends to position minorities as passive victims of the media. Less common is research in which minorities are viewed as active agents producing their own information and entertainment, as they do, with local, national, and even transnational distribution. Minorities’ own media can range from local community radio to globally available television channels and internet platforms serving vast diasporas, the largest of these being those of non-resident Indians (NRIs) and the Chinese-speaking world (the “Sinosphere”). Each of these provides a case in which the industrial structure of the huge home media market provides the basis for far-flung consumption in all those countries in which members of the respective ethnicities have settled. In situations in which they attain a certain critical mass, such racial and ethnic minorities form a market for the cultural industries and consumer goods industries more broadly. Also to be taken into account is the phenomenon of racial and ethnic minorities having an impact on the cultural industries of the dominant cultures of the nations in which they dwell. The most striking case in that regard is how African American popular music made the profound cross-over from segregated radio stations and live venues to infuse the commercial mainstream of music recording and performance in the United States and, ultimately, the world. Although such creativity is valued, there remains a diversity issue about the actual participation of racial and other minorities in executive, management, and production roles in the major cultural industries.
Marya Gwadz and Amanda S. Ritchie
It is well documented that African American/Black and Hispanic individuals are underrepresented in biomedical research in the United States (U.S.), and leaders in the field have called for the proportional representation of varied populations in biomedical studies as a matter of social justice, economics, and science. Yet achieving appropriate representation is particularly challenging for health conditions that are highly stigmatized such as HIV/AIDS. African American/Black, and Hispanic individuals, referred to here as “people of color,” are greatly overrepresented among the 1.2 million persons living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Despite this, people of color are substantially underrepresented in AIDS clinical trials. AIDS clinical trials are research studies to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of promising new treatments for HIV and AIDS and for the complications of HIV/AIDS, among human volunteers. As such, AIDS clinical trials are critical to the development of new medications and treatment regimens. The underrepresentation of people of color in AIDS clinical trials has been criticized on a number of levels. Of primary concern, underrepresentation may limit the generalizability of research findings to the populations most affected by HIV/AIDS. This has led to serious concerns about the precision of estimates of clinical efficacy and adverse effects of many treatments for HIV/AIDS among these populations. The reasons for the underrepresentation of people of color are complex and multifaceted. First, people of color experience serious emotional and attitudinal barriers to AIDS clinical trials such as fear and distrust of medical research. These experiences of fear and distrust are grounded largely in the well-known history of abuse of individuals of color by medical research institutions, and are complicated by current experiences of exclusion and discrimination in health care settings and the larger society, often referred to as structural racism or structural violence. In addition, people of color experience barriers to AIDS clinical trials at the level of social networks, such as social norms that do not support engagement in medical research and preferences for alternative therapies. People of color living with HIV/AIDS experience a number of structural barriers to clinical trials, such as difficulty accessing and navigating the trials system, which is often unfamiliar and daunting. Further, most health care providers are not well positioned to help people of color overcome these serious barriers to AIDS clinical trials in the context of a short medical appointment, and therefore are less likely to refer them to trials compared to their White peers. Last, some studies suggest that the trials’ inclusion and exclusion criteria exclude a greater proportion of people of color than White participants. Social/behavioral interventions that directly address the historical and contextual factors underlying the underrepresentation of people of color in AIDS clinical trials, build motivation and capability to access trials, and offer repeated access to screening for trials, hold promise for eliminating this racial/ethnic disparity. Further, modifications to study inclusion criteria will be needed to increase the proportion of people of color who enroll in AIDS clinical trials.
Catherine R. Squires
Angela Yvonne Davis is an American-born, internationally acclaimed intellectual, activist, and icon. Davis’s groundbreaking work and generative theorizing synthesizes Marxist, feminist, critical race, and cultural studies to illuminate workings of power. Her many books, articles, and essays pose crucial questions that have inspired the work of generations of scholars, cultural workers, and activists. Spanning from the late 1960s to the early 21st century, her writings and speeches have provided rich understandings of history, justice, representation, identity, and resistance.
Travis L. Dixon, Kristopher R. Weeks, and Marisa A. Smith
Racial stereotypes flood today’s mass media. Researchers investigate these stereotypes’ prevalence, from news to entertainment. Black and Latino stereotypes draw particular concern, especially because they misrepresent these racial groups. From both psychological and sociological perspectives, these misrepresentations can influence how people view their racial group as well as other groups. Furthermore, a racial group’s lack of representation can also reduce the group’s visibility to the general public. Such is the case for Native Americans and Asian Americans. Given mass media’s widespread distribution of black and Latino stereotypes, most research on mediated racial portrayals focuses on these two groups. For instance, while black actors and actresses appear often in prime-time televisions shows, black women appear more often in situational comedies than any other genre. Also, when compared to white actors and actresses, television casts blacks in villainous or despicable roles at a higher rate. In advertising, black women often display Eurocentric features, like straight hair. On the other hand, black men are cast as unemployed, athletic, or entertainers. In sports entertainment, journalists emphasize white athletes’ intelligence and black athletes’ athleticism. In music videos, black men appear threatening and sport dark skin tones. These music videos also sexualize black women and tend to emphasize those with light skin tones. News media overrepresent black criminality and exaggerate the notion that blacks belong to the undeserving poor class. Video games tend to portray black characters as either violent outlaws or athletic. While mass media misrepresent the black population, it tends to both misrepresent and underrepresent the Latino population. When represented in entertainment media, Latinos assume hypersexualized roles and low-occupation jobs. Both news and entertainment media overrepresent Latino criminality. News outlets also overly associate Latino immigration with crime and relate Latino immigration to economic threat. Video games rarely portray Latino characters. Creators may create stereotypic content or fail to fairly represent racial and ethnic groups for a few reasons. First, the ethnic blame discourse in the United States may influence creators’ conscious and unconscious decision-making processes. This discourse contends that the ethnic and racial minorities are responsible for their own problems. Second, since stereotypes appeal to and are easily processed by large general audiences, the misrepresentation of racial and ethnic groups facilitates revenue generation. This article largely discusses media representations of blacks and Latinos and explains the implications of such portrayals.