2011 Winter Term: Modern Racism in Popular Culture
Oregon State University Sociology 499/599

Professors Dwaine Plaza and Earlene Wilson Huey

Course Overview

The primary objective of this ten week course was to provide twenty students with an understanding of the way in which contemporary popular media perpetuates the ideology of colorblindness in American life today.  The course examined how American popular culture has from its earliest beginnings in the 15th century imbedded the notion of black inferiority and white superiority. Using contemporary popular media (movies, music, magazines, and the Internet) the course provided students with an opportunity to think critically about the ways in which media sources naturalize the superiority of whiteness while at the same time denigrates all "other" non-white groups in the United States today.  The course also offered twenty students an opportunity to think critically about their own colorblindness and false conscious ideas about "race," gender and sexual hierarchies.

Below is a definition of modern racism. We follow the definition with a examples of the students first major assignment (posters). The students were also asked to construct a YouTube video project that demonstrated for them modern racism in popular culture. The students worked individually or in small teams to put together videos that captured the essence of what they learned about modern racism and popular culture in 2011.

Course Syllabus Link

Definition of Modern Racism

Modern racism has evolved from an aggressive prejudicial behavior to a more subtle prejudicial behavior. This type of subtle prejudicial behavior is often felt as micro-aggressions by individuals while growing up or in their day to day activities. Modern racism is the mindset that certain races are better or worse with specific innate abilities or weaknesses. For example, black athletes are often regarded as naturally athletic while white athletes are often seen as being unable to run fast or jump high. Whites are often regarded as naturally rational, fair and caring while blacks are often regarded as criminal, untrustworthy and irrational. Asians are often seen as intelligent, while Hispanics are regarded as unintelligent. All of these myths are seen as innate manifestations that are embedded in our subconscious belief systems. Many of these beliefs are perpetuated by a media which show these stereotypes in different forms over and over again (movies, cartoons, music videos, sitcoms, newspapers etc...). Stereotypes are also further reinforced by our school system in the curriculum that is covered and not covered (e.g. the invisibility of Native Americans). The  socialization we receive while growing up in our families also contributes greatly to our beliefs in inferiority and superiority of  certain individual groups. Some of these beliefs become naturalized in the comments parent(s) or relatives make about other groups while children are growing up. Children come to accept these ideas without much thought.

Modern Racism manifests itself in media characters like:

Flavor Flav-- A Modern Day Minstrel-- Sambo

Mike Tyson-- A Modern Day Brute Negro

Beyonce -- A Modern day Jezabelle wearing black face and animal print 2011

Tyler Perry playing Madea -- Modern day Mammy Character

For More Examples of Modern Racism and Stereotypes go to the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University

Student Poster Presentations

Christina Saechao

Jennifer Breene

Shannon Warren

Tobin Hansen

Ben Terry

Dominic Glover & Blake Harrah

Jordan Cloo
Jordan Cloo & Tyler Hana

Derrick Huey

Tori Hill

Ester Dingmann

Doris Gonzalez-Gomes

Abby Weisenhaus

Gretchen Lindsey

Fidel Solano

Parker Berberet

Student YouTube Video Productions

Please click on the student name below to access their YouTube video creations on modern racism

Tori Hill

Tobin Hansen & Doris Gonzalez-Gomes

Abby Weisenhaus, Ben Terry, & Parker Berberet

Lindsey Gretchen & Christine Saechao

Jordan Cloo, Fidel Solano & Tyler Hanna

Sophie Wilson, Jennifer Breene & Sabrina Lopez

Ester Dingmann

Derrik Huey

Shannon Warren

Earlene Wilson Huey

Dominic Glover

Joshua La Grone

Arya Morman