Is there a lack of black role models? Mark Sullivan discusses Oprah, athletes and role models in media.

This is the second part of a five-part interview analyzing the negative portrayal of African Americans in the media with Dr. Mark Sullivan, an adjunct professor at Towson University.

My second question while interviewing Sullivan, a professor of Mass Media and Society, was regarding positive black role models in the media. Is there a shortage? Why? And what about Oprah’s fame versus criticism for helping other countries and neglecting the inner cities of America?


Here are some of the best quote from this segment on mass media and racism:

“As with many successful Black people in the media, when you become that big, you are somehow seen as transcending; going beyond being Black…. She is seen as an individual, and so her accomplishments and her popularity never seem to affect the way African Americans as a whole are seen. And we see that again and again. That the very successful positive role models are seen as individuals who have ‘gone beyond’ whereas the very negative ones, like the various athletes who… make the headlines of the tabloids, they are seen as representing Black.”

“But on the other hand, role model is in the mind of the audience. As much as it is the responsibility of anybody who… they’re made role models by the audience. They don’t make themselves role models. It’s the audience who chooses which ones to look up to, and all too often, it’s that stereotypical basketball player or boxer who gets in trouble at a strip joint.”

“It all goes back to gangsta rap. And that is selling a particular stereotypical image and it’s not just selling it to the inner city. Depending on whose figure you accept, 60-80% of gangsta rap sells to white suburban youth. And so they are the ones that are choosing to make this so hugely popular.”


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