Experts Discuss The Ways Media Criminalize Youth Of Color

Media Narratives Of Youth Of Color Have Long-Lasting, Harmful Impacts

A panel of racial justice and media experts discussed the ways media use criminalizing narratives to depict youth of color and the harmful impacts of perpetuating racially biased public perceptions.

During the February 17 panel, hosted by Advancement Project and Media Matters, Advancement Project co-director Judith Browne Dianis said pundits, anchors, and newsrooms often portray youth of color as inherently criminal, violent, adverse to authority, lacking innocence, and deserving of brutal treatment. “We've created this dialogue and narrative in this country about people of color in which they should be treated as less than human,” she said:

Racial justice communications professional Mervyn Marcano remarked on the double standard that affects coverage of African-American and Latino youth, who “have a starting challenge when it comes to getting accurate and humane coverage” of the issues they face, especially “when it comes to state violence”:

Media have a long record of including criminalized depictions in their coverage of people of color. Recently, Fox News' Megyn Kelly referred to a 14-year-old girl who was violently dragged out of a pool party by a police officer as “no saint.” And, in their coverage of a fatal shooting following a road rage incident in Florida, where the victim was Latino, media outlets depicted the victim by using a mugshot, despite available alternatives. Evidence also shows that some media outlets cover crimes committed by African-Americans at a higher rate than African-Americans are actually arrested for those crimes. And, despite recommendations by activist groups and journalism style guide, slurs are still often used to describe large portions of the immigrant community.

According to the panel's experts, these images and words have impacted the way people engage with and perceive young black and brown people, and they have drastically impacted the interactions youth of color have with various systems in our society, particularly criminal justice and education. Cristina Lopez of Media Matters elaborated on the ways inaccurate depictions of youth of color have “lasting impacts” on communities of color because of “their policy implications ... and because [they] dehumanize the protagonists of the stories being told”:

Panel moderator Danielle Belton, associate editor at, homed in on the importance of newsroom diversity and the impact that a lack of representation of ethnic and racial communities could have in the perpetuation of existing biased narratives. Browne Dianis noted that “lived experiences are important in reporting,” but that when it comes to ensuring diversity, “it's not just the people doing the front-line reporting, but it's also the editors.” Marcano emphasized the need for media outlets to hire more journalists of color, while Lopez mentioned the importance of diversifying Sunday shows and their guests, as these shows represent “the end of the pipeline,” where narratives created in newsrooms are spun.

Studies by Media Matters demonstrate that diversity remains a challenge for the media. In 2014, white men overwhelmingly dominated guest appearances on five agenda-setting Sunday morning political shows, and in the instances in which Latinos are included, their participation has been, for the most part, relegated to discussing immigration issues.