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Poor images of Blacks, Muslims focus of panel

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Aug 14, 2014 - 9:35:32 AM

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Panelists who discussed Black media images included Clovis Campbell, Chairman of NNPA / Black Press U.S.A. and publisher of the Arizona Informant on the far left and next to him, Richard B. Muhammad, editor of The Final Call. Photo: Nisa Islam Muhammad

BOSTON - You don’t have to be from Mars to know that images of Blacks in media are so negative they hardly portray the lives of normal everyday people.  This problem and critical issue was the focus of a Black Press Task Force workshop at the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) 39th convention.

“When we are portrayed in film and media everyone around the world thinks we’re the ones with financial problems, the ones stuck in the hood, the ones whose lives are exactly as they see us in the media,” said Reggie Thomas, Director for Advertising for the NAACP’s Crisis Magazine.


Mr. Thomas, who is fluent in Russian, told the standing room only audience August 1, when he previously traveled to Russia, he was stopped at the airport and questioned about drug use. 

“Do you have any cocaine?  Do you have any marijuana?” said the airport agent.

“The first picture he had of me was a drug dealer.  Why is that?  We were kings and queens in our ancestry.”

The why is because of the way Black people are portrayed daily by a media they do not control.

Eric Deggans, TV critic for NPR and author of Race Baiter:  How Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation, spoke about how racism today is targeted.

He explained stations like Fox target their racism to achieve certain goals.

“Media images are constantly emphasizing victimization and criminalization.  The criminal justice system is hyper-vigilant on crime in Black and Latino communities,” said Mr. Deggans.

He recounted the news story of the little White girl who cried because she didn’t want her brother to grow up because he was, “so cute”.

“Black children are never humanized in stories like that,” said Mr. Deggans.

The last hope for Black people seems to be the first hope they started with, the Black Press. 

“There is an historic responsibility of Black-owned media to represent proper images.  We see ourselves as being gatecrashers by battling with the gatekeepers, “said Richard B. Muhammad, editor-in-chief of The Final Call Newspaper.

“Images matter and images drive public policy.  That’s why we see the massive incarceration of Black men and the increasing incarceration of Black women,” said Mr. Muhammad.

The next day during the conference, a panel of Islamic scholars, Imams and activists discussed another group whose images are equally if not more so distorted by the media, Muslims.


The images portrayed on television stations, in movies or newspapers about Muslims and Islam are misrepresented and distorted.

Black people in the U.S. have had a relationship with Islam since the 1930s when Master Fard Muhammad, teacher of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, patriarch of the Nation of Islam, visited Black Bottom Detroit.

Yet images of Blacks who are Muslim are rarely used as a source for stories about Islam. Blacks comprise close to one quarter or one third of all Muslims in America, the faith’s largest group.

“They want to portray us as some ‘other’ thing in America,” said Dr. James Jones, who teaches Islamic Studies and Comparative Religion at Manhattanville College.  He further explained the Muslim presence in America since the slave trade and that President Thomas Jefferson had a Holy Qur’an, the book of scripture of Muslims.

Dr. A. Akbar Muhammad, International Representative for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and an Islamic historian told the audience about the demonization of Islam that dates back to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979.

“Every night for 444 days during the Iran hostage crisis, people heard one negative thing after another about the horrors of Islam,” he said.  Since then Americans have been fed a steady diet of Islamophobia that has rapidly increased since 9/11.

Islamic activist Mauri Saalakan surprised the audience with the story of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, who remains imprisoned in Texas where she is charged with assaulting U.S. soldiers in Ghazani, Afghanistan after her imprisonment at the notorious Bagram Detention Center in Afghanistan for five years.

“I am happy to announce that we have reached our goal of over 100,000 signatures on our White House petition,” he told the audience.  The goal is to force the White House, namely President Obama, to revisit her case again.

“There has been condemnation from around the world about Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s case.  Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark  described her case as, ‘The worst case of individual injustice” he had ever seen.

The panel was moderated by Imam Abdul Jalil Muhammad, President of Deen Intensive Academy. “You have a responsibility as media professionals to tell the truth, not the distorted lies and false images of Muslims in general and African American Muslims specifically.  We are depending upon you to do your job and do it honestly,” he said.

Founded in the mid-1970s, NABJ advocates on behalf of Black journalists, media professionals and students.