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date: 01 December 2021

Media Constructions of Culture, Race, and Ethnicityfree

Media Constructions of Culture, Race, and Ethnicityfree

  • Travis L. Dixon, Travis L. DixonDepartment of Communication, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Kristopher R. WeeksKristopher R. WeeksDepartment of Communication, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  •  and Marisa A. SmithMarisa A. SmithDepartment of Communication, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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.


  • Communication and Culture
  • Mass Communication
  • Media and Communication Policy

Theoretical Importance of Media Stereotypes

Media constructions of culture, race, and ethnicity remain important to study because of their potential impact on both sociological and psychological phenomena. Specifically, researchers have utilized two major theoretical constructs to understand the potential impact of stereotyping: (a) priming and cognitive accessibility (Dixon, 2006; Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007; Shrum, 2009), and (b) social identity and social categorization theory (Mastro, 2004; Mastro, Behm-Morawitz, & Kopacz, 2008; Tajfel & Turner, 2004).

Priming and Cognitive Accessibility

Priming and cognitive accessibility suggests that media consumption encourages the creation of mental shortcuts used to make relevant judgments about various social issues. For example, if a news viewer encounters someone cognitively related to a given stereotype, he or she might make a judgment about that person based on repeated exposure to the mediated stereotype. As an illustration, repeated exposure to the Muslim terrorist stereotype may lead news viewers to conclude that all Muslims are terrorists. This individual may also support punitive policies related to this stereotype, such as a Muslim ban on entry to the United States. Therefore, this cognitive linkage influences race and crime judgments (e.g., increased support for criminalizing Muslims and deporting them).

Social Identity Theory and Media Judgments

Other scholars have noted that our own identities are often tied to how people perceive their groups’ relationships to other groups. Social categorization theory argues that the higher the salience of the category to the individual, the greater the in-group favoritism one will demonstrate. Media scholars demonstrated that exposure to a mediated out-group member can increase in-group favoritism (Mastro, 2004). For example, researchers found that negative stories about Latino immigrants can contribute to negative out-group emotions that lead to support for harsher immigration laws (Atwell Seate & Mastro, 2016, 2017).

Both the priming/cognitive accessibility approach and the social identity approach demonstrate that cultural stereotypes have significant implications for our psychology, social interactions, and policymaking. It remains extremely important for us to understand the nature and frequency of mediated racial and ethnic stereotypes to further our understanding of how these stereotypes impact viewers. This article seeks to facilitate our understanding.

Stage Model of Representation

In order to provide the reader with an introduction to this topic, this article relies on the published content-analytic literature regarding race and media. Clark’s Stage Model of Representation articulates a key organizing principle for understanding how media may construct various depictions of social groups (Clark, 1973; Harris, 2013). This model purports that race/ethnic groups move through four stages of representation in the media. In the first stage, invisibility or non-recognition, a particular race or ethnic group rarely appears on the screen at all. In the second stage, ridicule, a racial group will appear more frequently, yet will be depicted in consistently stereotypical ways. In the third stage, regulation, an ethnic group might find themselves depicted primarily in roles upholding the social order, such as judges or police officers. Finally, a particular social group reaches the respect stage in which members of the group occupy diverse and nuanced roles. Given Clark’s model, this article contends that Native Americans and Asian Americans tend to fall into the non-recognition stage (Harris, 2013). It follows that few empirical studies have investigated these groups because empirical content analyses have difficulty scientifically assessing phenomena that lack presence (Krippendorff, 2004).

Bearing in mind Clark’s stages, Latinos appear to vacillate between non-recognition and ridicule. Meanwhile, blacks move between the ridicule and regulation stages, while whites remain permanently fixed in the respect stage. In other words, in this article, our lack of deep consideration of Native Americans and Asian Americans is rooted in a lack of representation which generates few empirical studies and thus leaves us little to review. The article offers a quick overview of their portrayal and then moves on to describe the social groups that receive more media and empirical attention.

Native American and Asian American Depictions

Although severely underrepresented, there are a few consistent stereotypical portrayals that regularly emerge for these groups. In some ways, both Native American and Asian Americans are often relegated to “historical” and/or fetishized portrayals (Lipsitz, 1998). Native American “savage” imagery was commonly depicted in Westerns and has been updated with images of alcoholism, along with depictions of shady Native American casino owners (Strong, 2004). Many news images of Native Americans tend to focus on Native festivals, relegating this group to a presentation as “mysterious” spiritual people (Heider, 2000). Meanwhile, various school and professional team mascots embody the savage Native American Warrior trope (Strong, 2004).

Asian Americans overall have often been associated with being the model minority (Harris, 2009; Josey, Hurley, Hefner, & Dixon, 2009). They typically represent “successful” non-whites. Specifically, media depictions associate Asian American men with technology and Asian American women with sexual submissiveness (Harris & Barlett, 2009; Schug, Alt, Lu, Gosin, & Fay, 2017).

Overall, scholars know very little about how either of these groups are regularly portrayed based on empirical research, although novelists and critical scholars have offered useful critiques (Wilson, Gutiérrez, & Chao, 2003). Hopefully, future quantitative content analyses will further delineate the nature of Native American and Asian American portrayals. Consider the discussion about entertainment, news, and digital imagery of blacks, Latinos, and whites presented in the next section.

Entertainment Constructions of Race, Culture, and Ethnicity

Entertainment media receives a great deal of consideration, given that Americans spend much of their time using media for entertainment purposes (Harris, 2013; Sparks, 2016). This section begins with an analysis of black portrayals, then moves on to Latino portrayals to understand the prevalence of stereotyping. When appropriate, black and Latino representations are compared to white ones. Two measures describe a group’s representation: (a) the numerical presence of a particular racial/ethnic group, and (b) the distribution of roles or stereotypes regarding each group. When researchers have often engaged in examinations of race they typically begin by comparing African American portrayals to white portrayals (Entman & Rojecki, 2000). As a result, there is a substantial amount of research on black portrayals.

Black Entertainment Television Imagery

Overall, a number of studies have found that blacks receive representation in prime-time television at parity to their actual proportion in the US population with their proportion ranging from 10% to 17% of prime-time characters (Mastro & Greenberg, 2000; Signorielli, 2009; Tukachinsky, Mastro, & Yarchi, 2015). African Americans currently compose approximately 13% of the US population (US Census Bureau, 2018). When considering the type of characters (e.g., major or minor) portrayed by this group, the majority of black (61%) cast members land roles as major characters (Monk-Turner, Heiserman, Johnson, Cotton, & Jackson, 2010). Black women also fare well in these representations, accounting for 73% of black appearances on prime-time television (Monk-Turner et al., 2010).

However, recent content analyses reveal an instability in black prime-time television representation over the last few decades. Tukachinsky et al. (2015) found that the prevalence of black characters dropped in 1993 and remain diminished compared to previous decades. Similarly, Signorielli (2009) found a significant linear decrease in the proportion of black representation from 2001 (17%) to 2008 (12%). Signorielli (2009) attributes this decrease in black representation to the decrease in situation comedy programming. Indeed, African Americans appear most frequently in situation comedies. Sixty percent of black women featured in prime-time television are cast in situation comedies, and 25% of black male prime-time portrayals occur in situation comedies (Signorielli, 2009). However, between 2001 and 2008, situational comedies decreased, while action and crime programs increased.

The previously discussed analyses describe the frequency of black representation. However, frequent depictions do not equate to favorable representation. Considering role quality (i.e., respectability) and references made to stereotypes, entertainment media offers a mixed bag. On the one hand, some recent analyses found that the majority of blacks are depicted as likable, and as “good characters,” as opposed to “bad character”-like villains (Tukachinsky, Mastro, & Yarchi, 2015). In addition, the majority of black characters are depicted as intelligent (Tukachinsky et al., 2015). On the other hand, the rate of blacks shown as immoral and despicable (9%) is higher than that of whites (2% and 3%, respectively) (Monk-Turner et al., 2010). In addition, black depictions exhibiting high social status and professionalism trended downward. Between 2003 and 2005, higher status depictions reached their peak at 74.3% but sharply fell in subsequent years to 31.5%, with black women faring worse than black men (Tukachinsky et al., 2015). Classic studies of entertainment representations found that blacks tend to be the most negatively represented of any race or ethnic group, often being depicted as lazy and disheveled (Mastro & Greenberg, 2000). Overall, black characters tend to be portrayed in less respectful ways compared to whites in content intended for general audiences, although they sometime fare better when the targeted audience is African American (Messineo, 2008). For example, crime drama television frequently depicts white women as at risk for murder, but FBI statistics demonstrate that murder victims are more often likely to be black males (Parrott & Parrott, 2015).

Black Representations in Magazines and Advertising

African Americans remain well represented in magazines, though they are not as prominent in this medium as in television (Schug et al., 2017). Moreover, the trend in the representation of African Americans, particularly women, appears to be improving (Covert & Dixon, 2008). Images of black women represent 6% of advertisements in women’s magazines and 4% of advertisements in men’s magazines (Baker, 2005). However, both black-oriented and white-oriented magazines appear to advance portrayals of black women with Eurocentric rather than Afrocentric features, referencing whiteness as a beauty standard. Overall, compared to black-oriented magazines, white-oriented magazines feature more black women with fair skin and thin figures. Black-oriented magazines feature more black women with straight hair. Moreover, straight hair textures outnumber other natural styles (i.e., wavy, curly, or braided) in both white- and black-oriented magazines.

Conversely, black men typically assume unemployed, athletic, or entertainment roles in these ads (Bailey, 2006). Moreover, mainstream magazines are most likely to depict black men as unemployed. Meanwhile, black-oriented magazines tend to portray African Americans in more managerial roles.

Black Representations in Sports Entertainment

Besides prime-time television, black stereotypes in sports coverage and music receive substantial attention in the literature. The unintelligent or “dumb” yet naturally talented black athlete remains a programming staple (Angelini, Billings, MacArthur, Bissell, & Smith, 2014; Rada & Wulfemeyer, 2005). For example, Angelini et al. (2014) found that black athletes receive less success-based comments related to intelligence than white athletes (Angelini et al., 2014). The findings echo previous research arguing that black athletes receive fewer positive comments regarding their intelligence than do white athletes (Rada & Wulfemeyer, 2005). Fairly similar depictions exist in broadcast commentary (Primm, DuBois, & Regoli, 2007). For example, Mercurio and Filak (2010) content-analyzed descriptions of NFL quarterback prospects featured on the Sports Illustrated website from 1998 to 2007. The descriptions portray black athletes as possessing physical abilities while lacking intelligence. Conversely, Sports Illustrated described white prospects as intelligent but lacking in athleticism.

Black Representations in Music Videos

Music videos tend to sexualize black women, reinforcing the black jezebel stereotype (i.e., a sassy African American woman who is sexually promiscuous) (Givens & Monahan, 2005). Also, black men appear aggressive and violent in music videos (e.g., like a criminal, thug, or brute) (Ford, 1997). According to rap research, blacks appear in provocative clothes at a higher rate than whites, and black women are the most provocatively dressed in music videos (Turner, 2011). Even black female artists are twice as likely to wear provocative clothing than are white female artists (Frisby & Aubrey, 2012). Furthermore, Zhang, Dixon, and Conrad (2010) and Conrad, Zhang, and Dixon (2009) found that black women appeared in rap videos as sexualized, thin, and light-skinned while black men appeared dark-skinned and threatening.

Latino Entertainment Television Representation

Unlike African Americans, Latinos remain significantly underrepresented in English-language television outlets. For instance, Tukachinsky et al. (2015) found that of all characters, the number of Latino characters was less than 1% in the 1980s and increased to over 3% in the 2000s. However, these numbers fall significantly below the proportion of people who are Latino within the United States (about 18%) (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018). Similarly, Signorelli (2009) also found that the percentage of Latinos in the United States Latino population and the percentage of Latino characters in prime-time programming differed by approximately 10%.

Latinos continue to be underrepresented in a variety of genres and outlets. For instance, Latinos remain consistently underrepresented in gay male blogs. For example, Grimm and Schwarz (2017) found that white gay models (80.2%) were most prevalent, followed by black gay models (4.5%). However, Latino models were the least prevalent (1.5%). In addition, Hetsroni (2009) found that the Latino population makes up 14% of patients in real hospitals, yet they only comprise 4% of the patients in hospital dramas. Conversely, whites make up 72% of real patients but comprise 80% of hospital drama patients.

Latino Underrepresentation in Advertising

Latino underrepresentation extends to the advertising realm. For example, Seelig (2007) determined that there was a significant difference between the Latino proportion of the US population and the Latino proportion of models found in mainstream magazines (1%). Another study that investigated Superbowl commercials conducted by Brooks, Bichard, and Craig (2016) found that only 1.22% of the characters were Latino.

Prominent Stereotypes of Latinos in Entertainment Media

Although underrepresented, Latinos are also stereotypically represented in entertainment media. For example, Tukachinsky et al. (2015) discovered that over 24% of Latino characters were hypersexualized in prime-time television. Furthermore, Latinos tended to occupy low-professional-status roles. This trend also occurred more often with Latina females than Latino males.

Spanish-language television also reinforced stereotypes. For instance, Mastro and Ortiz (2008) studied the portrayals of characters in prime-time Spanish-language television broadcasts by Azteca America, Telefutura, Telemundo, and Univision. They found rich Latina women reinforced the harlot stereotype. They were sexualized, were provocatively dressed, and had slim body types (Mastro & Behm-Morawitz, 2005). Similar to the findings for African Americans and rap music, colorism was also part of these depictions, with idealized Latinos having more European features. Men with a dark complexion were depicted as aggressive (e.g., the criminal stereotype), while men with a fair complexion were portrayed as intelligent and articulate.

Entertainment Imagery Summary

Blacks appear to be well represented in entertainment imagery, often in favorable major roles as professionals. However, their positive portrayals appear to be on the decline as situation comedies become displaced by other genres where blacks are less prominent. Although well represented, black depictions continue to embody many stereotypes. African American males are portrayed as unintelligent or “dumb” athletes whose only assets are their inbred athletic abilities. Black men tend to appear as aggressive criminals or brutes in music videos while black women appear as sexualized jezebels with European features.

Latinos, on the other hand, face substantial obstacles related to their lack of representation. They tend to be grossly underrepresented across a number of entertainment outlets including television, magazines, and advertising. When they are seen, they tend to occupy two primary stereotypes, the harlot stereotype and the criminal stereotype. This appears to be a constant across both Spanish-language and English-language outlets.

News Constructions of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity

News remains an important area to consider when it comes to media stereotypes for two reasons. First, news can be considered a powerful purveyor of social truth (Romer, Jamieson, & Aday, 2003; Tewksbury & Rittenberg, 2012). While entertainment can be considered by lay audiences to have a weak relationship with social reality given its fictional nature, news is rooted in actual events, and therefore seems more real. Stereotypes found in news content may seem believable, increasing these stereotype’s influence on audiences’ perceptions of reality. Second, citizens rely on news to form opinions about policies and politicians (Iyengar, 1987; Price & Tewksbury, 1997). News reports contain the reservoir of information that citizens utilize to make decisions within our representative democracy (Iyengar, 1991). If the news falsely points to racial groups as the cause of social problems, these citizens may advocate for ineffective and misguided policies. The next section explores how the news purveys racial and ethnic stereotypes.

Blacks in the News

A number of early studies suggested that the news often stereotyped blacks as violent criminals, consistently overrepresenting them in these roles by large margins (Dixon, Azocar, & Casas, 2003; Dixon & Linz, 2000a, 2000b; Entman, 1992, 1994). At the same time, many of these studies showed blacks underrepresented in more sympathetic roles, such as victims of crime (Dixon & Linz, 2000a, 2000b).

However, recent research suggests that the criminal stereotype has not remained consistently part of the news landscape. For example, Dixon (2017b) found that current depictions of blacks in local news reflect actual percentages of blacks in these various roles, including as criminals. Similarly, Dixon and Williams (2015) found African Americans underrepresented as both criminals and victims. On the other hand, another recent content analysis that investigated black family depictions in the news, conducted by Dixon (2017a), found that black family members were overrepresented as criminal suspects compared to crime reports.

Furthermore, Mastro, Blecha, and Atwell Seate (2011) content-analyzed articles pertaining to athletes’ criminal activity published in newspapers and found that mentions of black athletes’ criminal activity outnumber white and Latino athletes. Furthermore, mentions of criminal activity among black athletes outnumber their real-world proportion in professional sports (Mastro et al., 2011). In addition, crime articles discussing black athletes provide more explicit details of the crime and mention more negative consequences (e.g., jail or fines) than articles regarding white athletes. News narratives also present less sympathetic coverage for black athletes, more support for the victim, a less respectful tone, and fewer thematic frames (i.e., situating the crime in a larger context) for black athletes compared to white athletes.

Besides criminality, news tends to also depict blacks as part of the underserving poor. For example, van Doorn (2015) content-analyzed images depicting poverty in news magazines (i.e., Time, Newsweek, and USNWR). News magazines picture blacks as the majority of persons in poverty (52%), while blacks only account for around 25% of Americans in poverty (van Doorn, 2015). Blacks experience similar misrepresentations as welfare recipients. Based on magazine depictions, black people comprise 55% of all welfare recipients. However, in reality, blacks only account for 38% of welfare recipients. Furthermore, the black elderly are depicted as only accounting for 1% of poor elderly persons pictured, while the true percentage is 6%. In addition, during times of economic stability, African American association with poverty increases, but during times of economic upheaval (e.g., the Great Recession) white association with poverty goes up.

Latinos in the News

If there is an overarching issue to consider regarding Latino depictions in news, it would again be their perpetual underrepresentation. Overall, Latinos remain severely underrepresented on television news, especially in sympathetic roles. For example, early studies by Dixon and Linz (2000a, 2000b) found Latinos were underrepresented as perpetrators, victims, and police officers in the news. In one of these studies, Latinos were 54% of the homicide victims in Los Angeles County but were depicted as homicide victims only about 19% of the time on television news. A recent update to this study found that Latinos were accurately represented as perpetrators, but continued to be underrepresented as victims and police officers (Dixon, 2017b). This invisibility extends to newspapers and magazines (Sorenson, Manz, & Berk, 1998). For example, Latinos are underrepresented in Time and Newsweek as part of the obese population, 5% in these magazines versus 18% according to medical statistics (Gollust, Eboh, & Barry, 2012).

When we considered the pervasive stereotype that is present with Latinos, it revolved around the issue of immigration and Latino immigrants as criminal or cultural threats. For instance, a meta-analysis (i.e., a type of method that unearths patterns of academic research) by Rendon and Johnson (2015) on studies that analyzed media coverage of Mexican affairs in the United States revealed a Threat Phase, from 2010 to 2014. During this phase, reporters investigated the notion that immigrant Mexicans imperil the United States. Furthermore, Chavez, Whiteford, and Hoewe (2010) found that more than half of analyzed stories concerning Mexican immigration from the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today focused on illegal immigration. Furthermore, within these immigration stories, crime was addressed most often (50.6%), followed by economics (e.g., job competition) (30.6%), and legislative deliberations (28.1%). Similarly, Branton and Dunaway (2008) found that English-language newspapers were almost twice as likely as Spanish-language news to depict immigration in a negative light.

Kim, Carvahlo, Davis, and Mullins (2011) found that illegal immigration stories produced by the media focus on the negative consequences of crime and job competition. A more recent study conducted by Dixon and Williams (2015) appears to confirm the media link between immigration, Latinos, and criminal behavior. They found that criminal suspects identified as immigrants in news stories were greatly overrepresented as Latino. In addition, almost all of the illegal or undocumented immigrants appearing in the news were depicted as Latino, which is a great overrepresentation based on official government reports. Dunaway, Goidel, Krizinger, and Wilkinson (2011) confirm that news coverage encourages an immigration threat narrative, meaning that the majority of immigration stories exhibit a negative tone.

Whites as the “Good Guys”

While black representations as criminal suspects does appear to vary in intensity and Latinos tend to be depicted as either invisible or threatening immigrants, white portrayals remain consistently positive in this domain. Classic studies of both news and reality-based programming show whites overrepresented as officers and victims (Dixon et al., 2003; Dixon & Linz, 2000a, 2000b; Oliver, 1994). This includes network and local news programs. More recent studies show that this continues to occur regularly and remains a news programming staple (Dixon, 2017b). When contrasted with black and Latino representations, this reinforces the notion that whites resolve social problems and people of color create social problems.

Summary of News Constructions of Culture, Race, and Media

Based on this literature review, three significant findings that summarize news’ construction of race and ethnicity emerge. First, African Americans tend to be overly associated with criminality and poverty. However, the intensity of these portrayals depends on context (e.g., a focus on families, athletes, or general economic conditions). Second, Latinos tend to be largely underrepresented, but when they are seen, they tend to be overly associated with problematic illegal immigration, especially immigrants who may pose a threat or be prone to criminality. Third, news depicts whites most favorably, overrepresenting them as victims (e.g., innocent portrayals) and officers (e.g., heroic portrayals).

Digital Media Constructions of Culture, Race, and Media

The vast majority of research detailing the portrayal of people of color in the media relied on the analysis of traditional media sources including television and magazines. However, increasingly, people turn to digital media for both entertainment and news. This section provides an overview of this growing industry that will eventually dominate our media landscape. The discussion first entails video games and Internet news websites. Speculation about the role social media will play with regard to these depictions follows.

Black Depictions in Video Games

An abundance of research focuses on racial representation within video games (Burgess, Dill, Stermer, Burgess, & Brown, 2011; Williams, Martins, Consalvo, & Ivory, 2009). Similar to traditional entertainment media, African Americans comprise approximately 11% of popular video game characters for major game systems (e.g., Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube) (Williams et al., 2009). Conversely, blacks are underrepresented in massive multiplayer online games (MMO) in which players customize their own avatars’ features, including gender and skin tone (Waddell, Ivory, Conde, Long, & McDonnell, 2014). In this environment only 3.84% of all unique characters within MMOs are black.

When considering gender differences in portrayals, more problematic depictions exist. For instance, black women are underrepresented in gaming magazines and almost completely absent from video game covers (Burgess et al., 2011). Meanwhile, black men are typically portrayed as either athletic and/or violent. Black aggression does not occur in socially sanctioned settings (e.g., war). Instead, many black males appear as outlaws (e.g., street fighters).

Black Depictions in Digital News Sources

There is limited research on news depictions and race within digital media contexts, but this will most likely become the focus of future scholarship over the next few years. This focus will be fueled by the rise of political figures, such as Donald Trump, who utilize media stereotypes to advance their political agendas (Dixon, 2017a). Much of what we do know stems from research on websites and digital news sources. One earlier study of this phenomena found that African Americans were underrepresented as part of images and headlines used in these web news stories (Josey et al., 2009). They were also more strongly associated with poverty than what the actual poverty rates suggest. A more recent analysis of a wide variety of online news sources similarly found that black families were overrepresented as poor and welfare dependent (Dixon, 2017a). In addition, black fathers were misrepresented as excessively absent from the lives of their children. Finally, African American family members were overrepresented as criminal suspects. These findings complement the traditional news conclusions reached by previous scholars.

Latino Depictions in Video Games

Waddell, Ivory, Conde, Long, and McDonnell (2014) found that the trend of Latino underrepresentation in media extends to the video game industry. Latino avatars were not observed in the highest grossing MMO games in 2010 (0%). Williams, Martins, Consalvo, and Ivory (2009) also assessed the racial characteristics of video game characters across 150 games and found that white characters were observed more often (59.32%) than Latino (1.63%) characters. Furthermore, Latino characters were never observed assuming primary roles.

Latino Depictions in Digital News Sources

In terms of digital news sources, the research presents extremely similar findings between Latinos and African Americans. Latinos continue to be largely underrepresented across a variety of roles in web news (Josey et al., 2009). They are underrepresented in both headlines and images. They are also likely to be overassociated with poverty (Dixon, 2017a; Josey et al., 2009).

Summary of Digital Constructions of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity

In summary, underrepresentation remains the norm for both African Americans and Latinos in digital media. At the same time, digital news overly associates these groups with poverty. Clearly, as traditional media and its audience migrate to new digital platforms, this area will continue to be researchers’ focus well into the future. One digital platform not mentioned is social media. Many users receive, consume, and share entertainment and news content via social media. This includes music and music fandom content (Epps & Dixon, 2017). Social media’s specific and unique characteristics may contribute to media stereotype cultivation and prevent positive intergroup contact (Dixon, 2017c). Much work needs to be undertaken in the future to explore these possibilities.


This article began with a discussion of the possible impact of mediated stereotypes to contextualize our discussion. Social categorization theory, social identity theory, and priming/cognitive accessibility suggest that the prominent black stereotypes of black laziness, criminality, innate athleticism, jezebel, and poverty would be embraced by heavy media consumers. Similarly, even though Latinos remain underrepresented, the reinforcement of Latino stereotypes like poverty, harlot, criminal, and illegal immigrant would result from regular media consumption. While underrepresented, Latinos receive enough mainstream media attention for scholars to conduct quantitative social research. Asian and Native Americans’ underrepresentation in mainstream media, however, indicates these groups’ general absence.

When educators teach these topics in class, they are often asked: Why? Why does media perpetuate these stereotypes? Consider these two prominent answers. First, media creators suffer from mostly unconscious, and sometimes conscious bias, that scholars believe facilitates an ethnic blame discourse (Dixon & Linz, 2000a; Romer, Jamieson, & de Coteau, 1998; Van Dijk, 1993).

This discourse tends to occur within groups (e.g., whites conversing with one another) and leads them to blame social problems on ethnic others (e.g., Latinos and blacks). Given that media producers remain overwhelmingly white, this explanation appears plausible. As white people engage in these discussions, their way of thinking manifests in their content. The second explanation revolves around the structural limitations and economic interests of news agencies (Dixon & Linz, 2000a). This explanation suggests that media agencies air material most appealing to audiences in the simplest form possible to increase ratings. This process heavily relies on stereotypes because stereotypes make processing and attending to media messages easier for audience members. In turn, profits increase. This points to problems related to the relationship between media content creation and the media industry’s profit motives. Skeptics may question these explanations’ plausibility, but overall, mediated stereotypes remain a persistent part of the media environment. Digital media exacerbate the negative effects of mediated stereotype consumption.

Further Reading