Rhetoric is Ridiculous – Discourse Surrounding Black Men in the Media by Grey

Racism is alive and well in America. The belief that it ended after the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s is a naïve opinion to hold. Racism is entrenched and ingrained in our culture to such a degree that police assaulting black men hardly registers as news. Martese Johnson is a third-year student at the University of Virginia, who was assaulted and arrested by Alcoholic Beverage Control officers. Johnson was pulled aside by officers for attempting to use a fake ID, and was assaulted because he was “agitated and belligerent” (BBC, 2015). Johnson’s case shows that power in society is with those privileged by skin colour, and racialized images contribute to the police aggression against black men.

Johnson garnered the attention of ABC officers by attempting to use a fake ID to enter a bar close to University of Virginia campus. On campuses across the world, students attempt to use fake IDs. Most are turned away without incident; however, Johnson was targeted by officers because he is black. White privilege involves society’s hierarchies, mainly that white people are given invisible advantages in society over persons of colour (McIntosh, 3). McIntosh states that one of the privileges white people hold involves knowing that if a cop questions them, it is not because of the colour of their skin. In Johnson’s case, his harassment was tied to his skin colour. Young black men have been racialized by media images and portrayals of them as “brutish and aggressive…as rapists, pimps, gangsters, drug dealers, or wife abusers…” (Aulette and Wittner, 107). Media images socialize one to view black men as dangerous and aggressive, causing police officers to be fearful and more aggressive towards black men.

The intense racialization of black men as drug dealers intersects with power held by white men, and causes the prosecution and incarceration of black men. Black men are incarcerated at a higher rate than white men, because of drug policies. Black and white people use different drugs. Rich white men’s drug of choice is cocaine, while black men’s is crack cocaine (Aulette and Wittner, 390). Crack cocaine carries a higher minimum sentencing than regular cocaine, which is mostly used by white men (Aulette and Wittner, 390). Therefore, it is clear that black people are targeted by drug policies. Both cocaine and crack are harmful, but the racialized drug carries a higher sentence.

Furthermore, black people are no more likely than white people to use drugs (Aulette and Wittner, 390). An English study found that black people are less likely to use drugs, but more likely to be stopped for drug searches and more likely to be charged for drug possessions (Eastwood, Shiner and Bear, 12-13). Black men’s racialization by the media has led to their persecution by police officers. Johnson’s situation is nothing out of the ordinary for black men, he is simply another victim of the intersection of racialization and privilege.

Rhetoric around black men is full of racist stereotypes and language. On an article published by The Cavalier Daily, comments surrounding Johnson’s assault focused on what Johnson had done to break the law, attempting to justify the action of ABC officers. Media socializes one to believe that black men are dangerous, emphasizing physical and social characteristics which are threatening. This belief can be seen with the shootings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. Media rhetoric focused on Brown’s size, “the 6-foot-4, 292-pound Brown charged Wilson” (McKay, 2014). Moreover, media focused on Martin’s “thug” attitude, stating: “Martin would be alive today, okay, if he didn’t, alright, have a street attitude” (Fox, 2013). Quotes like these socialize one to think police officers are in the right to shoot or assault black men. Johnson’s assault can be seen as this same socialization. Police stated that Johnson was acting aggressive to justify their assault (BBC, 2015).

Martese Johnson’s only crime is attempting to use a fake ID. If he had been born white, there would have been no issue. However, because of his skin colour he was stereotyped as aggressive by police officers, and beaten. Privilege blinds one to how they are advantaged, and it takes stories like this to show what happens to the marginalized. What happened to Johnson is another example of how black lives are worth less than white lives in North American society. Racialized caricatures of black people in the media socialize one to believe this. How can the United States hold the belief that they are the champions of freedom and justice, when those in charge treat marginalized people as lesser? There is no justice for Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner or the thousands of unnamed black men unjustly killed or beaten by police. There is no justice because of socialization. Media language socializes one to side with those in power, by portraying black men as aggressive criminals. Until the discourse surrounding these cases changes, there can be no justice.


Aulette, Judy R., and Judith Wittner. “Chapter 4: Sexualities.” Gendered Worlds. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. Print.

“Virginia Governor Calls for Inquiry into Student Arrest.” BBC News. BBC, 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Ellen. “Fox News Guest Blames Trayvon Martin’s ‘Street Attitude’ For His Death.” NewsHounds. NewsHounds, 11 June 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

“University student, Honor Committee member Martese Johnson arrested.” The Cavalier Daily. Heskett, Chloe, 18 Mar 2015. Web.

McIntosh, Peggy. White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Backpack. 

McKay, Hollie. “Missouri Cop Was Badly Beaten before Shooting Michael Brown, Says Source.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 20 Aug. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

Rhetoric is Ridiculous – Discourse Surrounding Black Men in the Media by Grey

4 thoughts on “Rhetoric is Ridiculous – Discourse Surrounding Black Men in the Media by Grey

  1. Grey,
    Great review! To start off, you had a really strong introduction which draws the readers interest to your blog topic right off the bat. You used a number of terms, and demonstrated your understanding of them well by integrating them clearly throughout your blog. I noticed how you made a point to compare the actions of Johnson to any other university student, and made it clear that he was clearly targeted and assaulted because of his race. You provided a good explanation of white privilege, and made a connection between racialization and power, further linking it towards the prosecution of black men. There were a lot of outside sources that backed up your evidence, which I thought was a very good touch to your blog. I also enjoyed the part where you explained the role of the media and how it socializes the public to believe that black men are dangerous, while connecting it to cases like Michael Brown and Travyon Martin. Your conclusion tied back together all your main points clearly, and ended your blog on a very good note. The only thing I would suggest to work on would be your grammar, as a couple of the sentences were phrased a little awkwardly. Other than that, great job!



  2. Grey,
    Nice review! I thought you did a really great job at making connections with the media socialization of black men, and how this plays a crucial role in the social reactions we are accustomed too, you incorporated this very well into your piece. However you had a rather abrupt introduction to the idea of the racialization of black men being drug dealers, it would have made this point strong had you explained this notion further and its connection to your overall topic seeing as it was slightly unclear why this point was brought up. I also found that you sort of lost you point in which you were trying to make, in the middle of your blog and focused primarily of drug statistics, how do these statistics emphasize the bigger picture? You did however, regain you point near the end of your blog and finished with a very strong and thought provoking conclusion!
    Overall, I found it to be a very interesting blog!



  3. Wow, this was a great review!

    I love how you seemed knowledgeable about the topic of racism and how it is a prevailing issue in North America. I liked that you used other victims of racism (ex. Michael Brown) to rely back on your main arguments. You also used a lot of sources to convey the message of racism and to explain, with examples, how much it is hurting many societies. I lastly liked you closing statement about how language is used to socialize individuals into racism and if that cannot be changed, then justice cannot be made.

    Overall, amazing work! #teamcheckurprivilege



  4. Great blog review Grey! You did a great job introducing the issue of racism in our society. You started your blog off strong, and held my interest throughout. I think you the terms you used displayed your understanding of this issue and created a strong argument. I really liked the way you tied in contemporary events related to issue, such as the Michael Brown case. I also liked how you connected black men in the media to White privilege, which is another great example. Your arguments were written really well and you used a lot of great terms that made this a great blog read. Overall, great job!


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