Eric Deggans addresses the crowd, claiming that stereotypes in the media rise from America's underlying white supremacy on Apr. 3, 2019.

When Bill O’Reilly calls you a “race-baiter,” it starts to sound like a good name for a book.

On April 3, Peabody Board of Jurors chair, NPR TV critic and author Eric Deggans spoke to students, faculty and Peabody jurors at the annual Peabody-Smithgall Lecture about the importance of recognizing biases and stereotypes in mainstream media and learning to prevent biases from getting in the way of factual reporting.

Deggans’ book, “Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide A Nation,” explores biased journalism that fuels political agendas and poor coverage of minority groups. It also addresses stereotypes that media outlets, especially broadcast news, perpetuate.

Society conditioned to racism, stereotypes

“We have all been socialized to accept these ideas of elevating certain cultures and oppressing others,” Deggans said in his lecture.

Deggans, who also serves as a regular contributor for MSNBC and NBC News, explained his socialization theory through the example of an interaction of a white mother who reprimands her child for loudly pointing out that the black man next to them has different colored skin.

“We're already telling that kid, in a lot of subliminal ways, that talking about the differences in culture is something that's impolite, something that you don't do and something that's undesirable because that person's culture is something we don't really want to talk about,” Deggan said.

The lecture included an interactive quiz about stereotyping and racist socialization so that Deggans could interact with his audience and have “a back-and-forth exchange of ideas as much as we can,” he said.

“We have all been socialized to accept these ideas of elevating certain cultures and oppressing others." 

—Eric Deggans

The audience learned at the end of the quiz, for example, there are more poor whites in the U.S. than blacks, and there are more black men in college than prison.

“Resisting the socialization of America’s white supremacy is harder than it seems,” Deggans said to reinforce the idea that the media emphasizes and perpetuates stereotypes.

Racial biases present in media coverage

In his speech, Deggans highlighted four racial biases that distort media reporting: bigotry denial syndrome, situational racism, strategic racism and white privilege.

“Hopefully after I identify this, you will never look at news reports the same again,” Deggans said.

According to Deggans, bigotry denial syndrome involves making racist comments but continuing to deny one’s racist tendencies.

“Situational racism is misusing prejudices and stereotypes against certain people of color,” Deggans said. “I used to see it a lot in reality TV shows like “Survivor” and “Big Brother” until they became very sensitive to how their participants were shown.”

Strategic racism targets marginalized groups for political goals, Deggan said, while white privileges are benefits society presents to white people that they often take for granted.

Taylor Potter, a junior entertainment and media studies major, recognized parallels between Deggans’ lecture and her women’s studies course in relation to white privilege.

“You’re supposed to not understand how influential white privilege is because it’s supposed to be invisible,” Potter said. “But it’s something we definitely need to be cognizant of to avoid perpetuating those stereotypes.”

Junior entertainment and media studies major Chole Slafka believes learning about these racial biases will improve her future projects.

“It’s very eye-opening to see how the media is affected by stereotypes,” Slafka said. “When I’m creating something I’ll keep that in mind and further include and involve people of different races and cultures and be more open-minded.”

Deggans wants students to accept their responsibility to reverse the system of inequality that has existed for centuries.

“It's about seeing how this systemic stuff works in your own environment, and maybe finding a way to speak up,” Deggans said. “I also hope that it teaches people a little bit about how to decode some of the messages that they're being fed through media.”

The Peabody-Smithgall Lecture is sponsored by the Peabody Awards. The lecture is named after Lessie Bailey Smithgall, who turned 104 years old this week. In the late 1930s, Smithgall introduced the general manager of Atlanta’s WSB radio to the dean of the University of Georgia’s School of Journalism, which fueled the creation of the George Foster Peabody Awards, which are housed at UGA.

The next event in the Signature Lecture Series will feature David A. Strauss from the University of Chicago on April 12 at noon in Hirsch Hall.

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