The 2003-2004 Essay Contest Winners:
1st and 2nd Place

High School Division

First Place

Vincent Cheng
Grade 11
Wichita High School East
Wichita, Kansas

The twentieth century has witnessed two important historical developments: globalization and powerful communications technology. Globalization allows people of different races, cultures, religions, and other backgrounds to interact and exchange ideas across great distances. Meanwhile, more advanced technology in communications facilitates these exchanges and helps the world come a little closer together. However, amid the shrinking global village and improved media lie many levels of prejudice. Prejudice expressed in the media, be it intentionally or subconsciously, obscures the truth and cripples efforts toward building cross-cultural understanding.

In the United States, the media is complex and far-reaching, with the most widely used sources being television, newspaper, and radio. An estimated six out of every 10 Americans use television as their primary source of information for current events. Further, a typical American watches three hours of television daily, and a typical American family has the television turned on for seven hours each day.1 Newspapers are also critical sources of information. USA Today, the nation's largest newspaper, has an average 2.2-million weekday circulation, followed by the Wall Street Journal's 1.8 million and the New York Times' 1.1 million. Newspapers are especially relevant to this discussion because in addition to providing information, they also express opinions in their editorial pages. Finally, radio stations have greatly impacted society as a form of media, not as old as newspapers but more deeply rooted than television and used by a great variety of people. Over 13,500 radio stations are currently registered in the United States.2

First, the media has played a significant role in the spread of prejudice against people in other parts of the world. Even though the United States boasts the most advanced television communications system in the world, programs are often plagued with biased reports. The American media is accused of committing such injustices after the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001. While the nation was angered at the terrorist attack, many immediately envisioned the Arab countries as a separate, isolated, and oppressive world. NEC's news anchor in Saudi Arabia even criticized a woman for her traditional Muslim clothing by relating it to an unjust revocation of women's rights. Out of curiosity, I interviewed a scholar from Syria who told me that not all Middle Eastern women dress in the traditional conservative manner, with some women in Damascus even sporting miniskirts.3 The incident illustrates how prejudice may originate from the ethnocentric attitudes and ignorance that people hold of others.

Prejudice against immigrants is another serious bias in the media. In the early twentieth century, immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were believed to be biologically inferior and were subject to immigration quotas. Later in the century, more immigrants came from Latin America and Asia. A local radio station recently received a call from someone complaining about store signs written in Spanish and demanding people to "Americanize." Incidentally, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius' recent proposal to assist illegal immigrants also generated fervent discussion in a local newspaper. The Wichita Eagle. Many blamed immigrants for depleting social welfare and taking away jobs. As testified by Professor Borjas of Harvard University, not all immigrants receive welfare.4 In fact, studies have shown that immigrants from Europe and Asia are generally paid either the same or better than native-born Americans. As the media serves as a community forum, it could better fulfill this role by purging itself of its biases against immigrants, the United States' adopted citizens.

Finally, the media's biases are also commonly found in their coverage of a group of highly scrutinized individuals in this very country: celebrities. Recently, news stations have continually broadcasted accusations against Kobe Bryant and Michael Jackson, while more pressing issues such as updates on Iraq and the economy have subsequently been kept brief. To boost ratings, television channels have also invited "experts" to discuss the celebrity cases and predict the rulings, with Fox News claiming, "even if he is acquitted, Michael Jackson will join 0. J. Simpson in the land of pariah."5 Making advance judgments on cases reaches beyond what Fox supposedly strives to achieve: "fair and balanced" news.

1 The US Bureau of International Information Programs, November 15, 2003
2 The Audit Bureau of Circulations, November 20 2003.
3 Vincent Cheng, 2002. "Interview with Fadi Dib," Teen Ink. Vol. 13, No. 6: 36.
4 George J. Borjas, 1998. "Immigration and Welfare Magnets." NBER Working Papers 6813, National Bureau of Economic Research.
5 Fox cable news. The O'Reilly Factor, November 14, 2003.

Second Place (tie)

Cleveland High School
Seattle, Washington

From dumb blondes to slippery Arabs to Asian dragon ladies, it seems as though every group in the United States is subjected to cultural stereotyping. Through movies, comic parodies and biased reporting many groups are distorted, misunderstood and ultimately disrespected. The media often uses stereotypes present in society and exaggerates them for the public's entertainment; representing many communities as twisted caricatures of themselves. The reinforcement of such images is burned in the minds of viewers and makes it difficult for many Americans to decipher between reality and fabrications.

A common problem in American media is that many groups are represented only in stereotypes. As TV and film diversify more ethnic groups are displayed, but often these images are limited only to shallow depictions. Using Asians in media as an example, although images of geisha girls and restaurant owners are not as common, Asians in entertainment continue to be shown as archetypes. Constantly presented as perpetual foreigners, emotionless, and over-achievers, the media often does not recognize the individuality among Asian ethnic groups, while skewing their race as a whole.

Arabs in the media are presented in a couple different ways. Very prevalent is the over-representation of Bedouin culture. Images of harsh desert lands show Arabs to be camel-dependent nomads, although Bedouins makeup only 2 per cent of Arabs. It is much more likely to find Arab doctors or engineers than desert dwellers. The association between Arabs/Islam and terrorism is also frequently assumed, especially after September 11 and the current War on Terrorism. If the majority of entertainment and news coverage featuring Arabs is negative, the ideas people hold concerning Arabs will also be negative. These beliefs are strongest in people with little cultural exposure, making cultural understanding all the more difficult.

Illustrating that stereotypes are not only limited to ethnic groups are the judgments made about people who are overweight. These perceptions again can be attributed to the way this group is shown through the media. The overweight and obese continue to be mocked on television and film as being clumsy, lazy and lacking control over their appetites. By representing groups of people more like cartoon characters rather than human beings make it even more difficult for the viewer to understand a group's sensitivity to these portrayals and in all incidences never promotes respect.

When the public is bombarded with stereotypes, they begin to recognize certain groups only from what they have seen through the media. These impressions lead to racial profiling and discrimination. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is an example of how fear and propaganda can distort reality and block common sense. The suspicion that many Japanese Americans were spies for Japan led to over 100,000 people on the west coast to be relocated to internment camps. Although these allegations were without basis, the media influenced many Americans to believe in its validity. Needless to say only nine people were convicted of espionage, none of which were Japanese.

The biased opinions held towards ethnic communities also affect how they are treated by the law. A common perception of American Africans is that they are violence-prone and drug users. African Americans make up 12 per cent of the population and consistently make up about 12 per cent of drug users. But 24 per cent of people arrested for drug possession are black and almost 75 per cent of all people in prison for drug related crimes are black. These statistics indicate that African Americans are more likely to be searched, prosecuted and convicted based on racial stereotypes.

All these examples demonstrate how the media often presents people only as the public already perceives them. Multi-faceted cultures are often reduced to one-dimensional clones of themselves and such images circulate as if it were reality. One thing the media can do to break impressions held by society is to show these people as complex humans, not just characters based on stereotypes and created for entertainment. If the public begins to identify different groups as people similar to themselves, empathy, tolerance and understanding will follow.

Second Place (tie)

Margaret Crone
Grade 10
Westhill High School
Stamford, Connecticut

At the birth of the millennium, it is evident that the world we live in is more diverse and heterogeneous than ever. The media is at the peak of its technology and importance, as countless people rely on the media as their sole source for social and political happenings in their country. However, with the media's great power to influence the beliefs and opinions of the public comes much responsibility, which is often taken advantage of.

All over the world, thousands of forms of media are produced daily; namely newspapers, news programs, and magazines. Bias is rampant throughout these media forms, which in turn leads to a misinformed public. But the fact is, bias is in the eye of the beholder. It is impossible for one to describe how each different sect of people is portrayed in the media, because it is all relative. Whether it be the War in Iraq, the September 11 tragedy, the Bush presidency, or the conflict in the Middle East, different medias report very differently on these subjects. For example, in much of the Middle East, the September 11 occurrence is considered a courageous and selfless religious act performed by the plane pilots. As Americans, however, we hold very different beliefs than those in the Middle East. Also, in terms of the Bush presidency, many liberal medias find fault in trivial events, such as Bush mispronouncing a word. Conservative medias, on the other hand, tend to overlook the minor problems and accentuate the accomplishments of the president. Finally, the Israeli media would have a much different opinion of the war in the Middle East than the Palestinians. Thus it is clear that the question "How are different groups portrayed in the media?" does not have a definite answer. This is due to the fact that every newspaper owner, every magazine editor, every television producer, has their own political agenda. At some point a line must be drawn between fact and fiction, between right and wrong. But subconsciously or purposely, fragments of people's own beliefs enter their media, thus making portions of the so-called "news" no longer fact, but rather, opinion.

Bias plays a huge role in the media and how different groups are covered. Once again, however, the coverage of different groups is relative to the area, time, and people in charge of that particular media. What one newspaper editor finds important may not even be mentioned by another newspaper, because a story may be chosen simply in hopes of influencing the opinion of the reader. Often, people forget that they are reporting the news, not writing an editorial. For example, a liberal coverage of the news may portray Bush's secret visit to the troops in Baghdad on Thanksgiving as risky and selfish; done only in an effort to boost his popularity. A politically conservative media, on the other hand, would most likely highlight the heroism, patriotism, and courage of Bush's visit. While neither side of the story is completely false, the truth is twisted and manipulated to make the reader accept the opinion portrayed. This is a clear example of the way in which bias affects the way groups are covered in the media.

If I were the editor of a newspaper or producer of a news program, I know that I would be facing a difficult, yet conquerable, challenge. Although it would not be easy, I would make every effort to report objectively and balanced, and expect the same from my reporters or newscasters. First of all, when reporting a story, I would try to keep in mind different facets of the story, and let the facts speak for themselves. Next, I would be sure that my words would not be written in hopes of altering public opinion, but rather, increasing public awareness. I understand the vitality and utter importance of the media, and I know that I should not take advantage of my opportunity. The public gives the media their trust every time they purchase a newspaper or watch a news program, so it is the responsibility of the media to inform the public truthfully.

Read the High School Honorable Mention Essays

Middle School Division

First Place (tie)

John Bradley
Grade 6
Dolan Middle School
Stamford, Connecticut

Media stereotypes I'm sure you know are harmful to preteens for example, all blondes are dumb, all Arabs are terrorists and blacks are only capable of playing professional sports. So read this essay to learn about the harmful effects of the media's portrayal of certain groups of people in our society.

First example of a negative stereotype that feels real to me, "Blondes are dumb." Once when I was playing wiffle ball I struck out. One of the kids on my team said, "you blondes are all alike. You can't do anything right." Obviously, my hair had nothing to do with me striking out. Negative name calling hurts kids feelings. TV comedies show this image.

Second, the events of 9/11 have changed the way some people see Arabs. The nightly news shows Arabs as terrorists. Once my dad needed a buyer from the office to check some merchandise in the warehouse. When they got out to the receiving area the woman saw an Arab man unloading a truck. She turned to my father and said, "I don't want to be out here. That Arab guy might slit my throat." She had never met this man and knew nothing about him.

Third, those who believe the media stereotype that blacks are only capable of being good athletes are sadly mistaken. Langston Hughes was a famous black poet. George Washington Carver was a world famous scientist. Colin Powell is currently Secretary of State of the United States. Blacks have made a difference in every area of our world. Yet, they don't show this in our movies, ads, etc. Instead, we view blacks in the media as guntoting rappers. Black males committing violent acts are on our news broadcasts and movies nightly. Why don't the big movie studios make a biography on famous black people? The media makes some students at my middle school afraid to make friends with black students.

In conclusion, I'm going to stamp out these inconsiderate negative stereotypes by writing a letter to "The Advocate" and a bunch of other magazines and tell them to write article on this and how it causes prejudice. Can't the media be more considerate of other people's feelings? Also, I will write to Mayor Malloy of City Hall to see if I can get his support. I am just one person but I can take a "critical stance" against harmful stereotypes.

First Place (tie)

Zachary Zingaro
Grade 6
Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School
Yorktown Heights, New York


In the media there are many harmful stereotypes. Some of these are the thought that all blonds are dumb, Arabs are terrorists, and men with long hair are in heavy metal rock bands. One that really stands out to me is that all Arabs are terrorists.

I am partly Arabic, and the stereotype of being associated with terrorism is noticed by me more than other stereotypes. Since September 11, 2001 a lot of people think that all Arabs believe in Osama Bin Laden's beliefs and are Muslims. A lot of this has to do with the media's influence on people. Many people do not know that there are Arabs, both Christian and Muslim that do not believe in Bin Laden's ways.

Some people have a negative attitude towards Arabic people because a lot of people are unaware of Arabic beliefs, customs and religions. Prior to September 11, 2001 the media was not reporting Arabs in a negative way. After September 11, 2001 the media only showed Arabs in unfair way. They did not report about Arabs that were not terrorists. There were a lot of Arabic delis and restaurants that people stopped going to after September 11, 2001. People thought they would be supporting terrorists if they shopped there. Still today the media only talks about the Arabs that are fighting against the American soldiers. The effect of viewing these reports in the media causes some people to be frightened and scared, or causes other people to be angry and hateful towards Arabs.

To reduce the effect of these images the media can show positive reports about Arabs. The media can show how Arabs and Americans are trying to make peace by working together. The media can educate people about Arabic cultures and similarities with American cultures. If the media showed both positive and negative images about Arabs, people would not treat Arabs unfairly. By educating, we could reduce the effect of the media on people.

All Arabs are terrorists is a harmful stereotype that was influenced by the media. This caused people to have negative attitudes towards Arabs. If the media reports fair and truthfully people's attitudes might change. By educating people of Arabs beliefs, customs and religions people would understand not all Arabs are terrorists. Before you say all Arabs are terrorists learn about their culture, you might learn something new.

Second Place

Katie Needle
Grade 8
Pine Crest School
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Judgmental America

"Prejudice is opinion without judgement."1 Although legally America is equal and united, it is filled with prejudices and stereotypes that break the bond of the nation. Our nation is filled with prejudices concerning race. religion, sex, social groups, and even hair color. America is working hard to keep out prejudice, but it remains in our society and our lives. Three of the more prominent stereotypes found in the media are against blacks, blondes, and especially Arabs.

Who knows why such insignificant things as skin color, religion, and hair color came to be so significant in today's society. Stereotypes exist worldwide for the most ridiculous reasons. Our society has always considered blacks unequal, but times have changed and so has the treatment of black people. Even today, however, television shows, movies, magazines, and, recently, a board game have stereotyped blacks. They have been depicted as criminals, drug dealers, poor and homeless or living in the ghetto, and other harmful classifications. Television shows often portray blondes as being less than intelligent. As a blonde myself, I am offended when people refer to me or any other blonde as a "dumb blonde," and unkind "blonde jokes" on television upset many blondes. Recently, Arabs have become the center for ridicule and prejudice. Several television shows depict all terrorists as Arabs because of the attacks of September 11.2001.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in the 1940's. America stereotyped all Japanese-Americans as being terrorists. After years of punishment and isolation, the nation decided that the treatment of the Japanese was unjust and cruel. Once again, in 2001. our society ostracized a racial group. Americans shunned the Arab community in the nation, and they became the stereotype for terrorists. America began watching out for Arabs. Children, by hearing their parents or seeing images of Arabs on the television, began fearing Arabs. People no stopped feeling comfortable sitting near Arabs, and they became hesitant when getting into a taxi that was driven by an Arab. Millions of Americans no longer wanted to board a plane when they saw an Arab passenger. Although the media does not single out Arabs as being "a terrorist race," all people need to see are the pictures of the faces and races of the actual terrorists, and that's enough to let them know that they don't trust people who look like that. Children watching the news see that all the attackers on September 11 were Arab and become scared of all Arabs. If the media stop showing terrorists as being only Arab, then there would be much less prejudice and stereotyping. Of course, Americans would still attack Arabs, but there would probably be a drastic decrease in the amount of hatred toward that race. America just needs to understand that the Arab community is not full of terrorists; it is made up of human beings, just like America. People don't realize that the Arabs are also the victims of the terrorist attacks, and in a time of tension, when America needs to stand together, race should not tear it apart.

No one really knows why people became prejudiced in the first place, but now prejudice must be dealt with. Not only are children being exposed to prejudice at home and in school, but there are stereotypes seen on the television, in magazines, and on the Internet. Stereotypes like those against blondes. Arabs, and blacks are found too often in the media. People have to understand that people are people, regardless of looks or culture. Race and religion make the world the colorful, diverse place it is, and without them, it wouldn't be an exciting place to live. "If we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race. creed and color, we would find some other cause for prejudice by noon."2

1 Voltaire -
2 George Aiken -

Read the Middle School Honorable Mention Essays