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WIMN’s Voices: A Group Blog on Women, Media, AND…

Makani Themba Nixon

Makani Themba-Nixon is Executive Director of The Praxis Project, a nonprofit organization helping communities use media and policy advocacy to advance health equity and justice...

Read Makani Themba Nixon's full biography
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Makani Themba Nixon's Blog Introduction

Women, Media, AND...Race

Aunt Jemima. Li'l Kim. Tonto. Mata Hari. A few of the images that bend and twist our heads in ways that affect the way we see each other and ourselves. As a woman of color, mother and organizer, I know that media content matters. It bends and shapes us in ways we have yet to realize. Movie plots are the background against which we gauge many of our romantic relationships. There are those of us who have chosen our careers based on some cool portrayal of the job on TV.

However, media content is mostly less than inspiring. It reflects the most limiting, negative ideas about who we are on a constant basis. Many of us mothers of color have had to have "the talk" to our kids at least once. And no, not the sex talk but the "deprogramming talk" as in, "No, your hair is beautiful, sweetie - like a fluffy cloud..." or "No, you do not have to act like that for a guy to like you..."

My daughter said rather matter of fact-ly to me a few years back, "Mom, why is it that they mostly show dark skinned people on TV as criminals, servants or slaves?" It is one of our many conversations on media versus real life. Like the long running talk with my 17 year old son to remind him that his life as an "A" student is authentic Black life - not the lives of the actors in the music video.

For young women of color, the media assault is especially hard. There are few places of respite. Not on the news. Not on "black" television. Not in mainstream movies. According to media content studies like that of Entman and Rojecki, in The Black Image in the White Mind, Black women are five times more likely to be portrayed in violent situations in film than white women and nearly ten times more likely to be shown restrained. In the world of mainstream media, the bodies of women of color have narrow purpose. It leaves very little in the way of cultural nourishment for any of us.

Media portrayal doesn't stop at the psyche. It is part of a complex interplay of opinion, fact, credibility and conventional wisdom that helps to construct the rules we live by. Often, when a news camera points and "shoots" at our communities, it might as well be a loaded gun. The denigration is constant and its effects far reaching.

Who's deserving? Who's a welfare queen? When does a wallet look like a gun and a desperate mother trying to keep her lights on like a rabid animal? The pictures add up to stories and the stories add up to justify the policies that shape our lives.

Of course, it's not all the fault of media as mass media are a reflection of deeply embedded, highly structured power relations forming over centuries. Yet, media should serve us better. We should have more choices, better access and structures of accountability that give the public more power over our airwaves. Media professional associations like the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) have done little to police its members or establish reasonable standards in broadcasting. And the results are more than bad programming. They help to reinforce and rationalize hate and bias - at the personal and policy level.

In fact, groups like NAB spend millions in lobbyists and influence to make sure that there are no regulations to hold them accountable to higher standards. They had 469 lobbyists to fight one piece of legislation seeking to provide clearer guidelines around violence in programming. 469.

The suits have a full court press on all sides and it's frankly you and me in the middle. And many of us are working to mount a serious fight back of our own. This bit of liberated web space will explore media at the intersection of race, class and gender and what we are doing to turn things around. Holla back and let me know what you are doing and how others can get involved. Email me at: mthemba@thepraxisproject.org


Makani Themba Nixon's Biography

Makani Themba-Nixon is Executive Director of The Praxis Project, a nonprofit organization helping communities use media and policy advocacy to advance health equity and justice. Current projects include Policy Advocacy on Tobacco and Health (PATH)— a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Initiative to build tobacco control policy advocacy in communities of color; as well as numerous tools and resources that help people translate local problems into progressive, effective policy initiatives. Makani was previously director of the Transnational Racial Justice Initiative (TRJI), an international project to build capacity among advocates to more effectively address structural racism and leverage tools and best practices from around the world. While at TRJI, she co-authored and edited a "shadow report" on institutional racism and white privilege. Prior to that she directed the Grass Roots Innovative Policy Program (GRIPP) a national project to build capacity among local organizing groups to more effectively engage in media and policy advocacy to address institutional racism in welfare and public education. She was a staffer for the California State Legislature, served as media director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference/Los Angeles, and worked five years for the Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems, including three years as director of its Center for Media and Policy Analysis. Makani has published numerous articles and case studies on race, media, policy advocacy and public health. She is co-author of Media Advocacy and Public Health: Power for Prevention, a contributor to the volumes We the Media, State of the Race: Creating Our 21st Century, along with many other edited book projects. She is the author of Making Policy, Making Change, which examines media and policy advocacy for public health through case studies and practical information. The book is available from Jossey-Bass publishers. Her latest book, co-authored with Hunter Cutting, is Talking the Walk: Communications Guide for Racial Justice.


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