Dawn Turner on “African-American Images in the Media & the Impact on Policies”

Dawn Turner's seminars will be held on Thursdays at 3:30pm.

All IOP Pritzker Fellows Seminars will be held in the IOP Living Room unless otherwise noted. 
All seminars are students only and closed to press/off the record.


When Barack Obama became our country’s 44th president, many African Americans hoped his presidency would serve as a counterweight to the unflattering media images of blacks, black men in particular. It seemed possible that watching a man of color carry out his duties as the leader of the free world might, to some degree, offset the barrage of negative depictions of blacks on the late-night news. Why does it matter how America sees black people? It matters because image is everything, and perceptions impact policy as well as life prospects. They affect the quality of education and health care we receive, the careers we are able to pursue and our opportunities for promotions and advancement. In short, they affect where we live, how we live, and whether Black Lives Matter. This series will explore the impact the Obama presidency had on perception; the ways stereotypes are perpetuated and dispelled in the media; and the implications for policies that improve black lives.

Session 1 (April 5): How Images of African-Americans Affect Policy | RSVP

Over the years, media images of African Americans have impacted our national policy as well as perspective. Slave fliers (touting “A Cargo of Ninety-Four Prime, Healthy Negroes”) helped to dehumanize blacks and support the institutions of slavery and later Jim Crow. That iconic Jet Magazine photo of the brutalized body of 14-year-old Emmett Till galvanized the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1960s, television news footage of white police officers using water hoses and dogs to attack black protesters forced the country to look straight on at its Southern problem, and led to landmark Civil Rights legislation. Fast forward to the images of young black men with low-slung pants and hoodies, and how we perceive them, and the effect that had on Trayvon Martin. Black people have long desired to see more robust and positive depictions of themselves. And, black media, such as Ebony Magazine, emerged as a way to retool the narrative and effect change. I will open the series with a discussion.

Session 2 (April 11)*: Blacks on the Big Screen & the Bigger Picture | RSVP
*Please note, this seminar will be held on Wednesday, April 11 at 12:30pm. 

The Oscar-winning, comedy-horror juggernaut “Get Out” has won critical acclaim as well as grossed more than $250 million at the box office worldwide. It’s a smart movie. Timely in the way it depicts our stubborn assumptions about black male virility and athleticism. Poignant in the way it reveals what those assumptions say about us—that the boogie man within remains far more insidious than the one without. But “Get Out" is important because it has given us something that’s all too rare in Hollywood—an African-American male protagonist who, despite NOT being connected to drug dealing or gang banging, is complex and thoughtful and engaging. Add to that, the main lead played by the British-born Daniel Kaluuya has an endearing friendship with the hilarious LilRel Howery. We’ll talk about the black male archetype in film.

Special Guest (via Skype): Dr. Jelani Cobb, the Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism at Columbia University and Staff Writer at The New Yorker magazine

Session 3 (April 19): Implicit Bias & the Misrepresentation of Race | RSVP

A study by the College of Wooster, in Ohio, analyzed the images that ran with 474 poverty-related stories in Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report from 1992 to 2010. The study found that ”while Hispanics are underrepresented in media portrayals of the poor, African Americans are overrepresented.” I’d argue that these misrepresentations were not intentional. However, when it comes to race, news editors and reporters, like everyone else, have to deal with their implicit biases, that is, prejudices in thought processes or behavior that exist on a subconscious level. In this seminar, we’ll look at how bias can perpetuate inaccurate information and explore how that affects identity and achievement. We’ll also look at ways to retrain our brains to work around our biases.

Special Guest: Award-winning director and producer Steve James, whose films include "Hoop Dreams," Academy Award nominated “Abacus: Too Small to Jail,” and the upcoming series "America to Me."

Session 4 (April 26): The Big #METOO Tent | RSVP

In the 1970s, several women, many of them African-American and Latino, were being sexually harassed or assaulted on their jobs and decided to sue their employers using the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The legislation, known for prohibiting race discrimination, also prohibited sex discrimination. Initially, the cases failed because the courts ruled that the women couldn’t claim that the right to equality in the workplace protected them against harassment. But in 1986, a landmark case made its way to the U. S. Supreme Court and set us on the course where we are now. While several white women in Hollywood have been in the media spotlight in these recent efforts to expose and end sexual harassment and violence, some white actresses have been working hard to make sure the #METOO movement is inclusive and that women of color get their due. Some believe this alliance is important for getting more women elected to political office around the country, and creating policies that benefit women.

Special Guest: Kaethe Morris Hoffer, Executive Director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation

Session 5 (May 3): Millennial Racism: The Social Media Trap | RSVP

A 2015 Washington Post Wonkblog entry began this way: “Racial slurs that have cropped up [in] chants, e-mails and white boards on America's college campuses have some people worried about whether the nation's diverse and fawned-over millennial generation is not as racially tolerant as might be expected.” Are millennials just as racist as their parents? Data from a General Social Survey by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center (NORC) found that the views of white Millennials were shockingly similar to those of their Gen Xer parents and Baby Boomer grandparents. What role has social media played in fomenting and facilitating racism among millennials? We will look at the survey and discuss why Millennials are so similar to their parents and how that might affect issues from immigration to Affirmative Action.

Session 6 (May 10): This is Us: The Power of Video | RSVP

Since 2005, The South Side Home Movie Project has been collecting the home movies of South Side Chicago residents. The result is a repository that reaches back to the 1930s and shows the political agency of middle-class African-Americans and their ability to document their lives. The National Museum of African-American History and Culture in D.C. has provided help with digitizing some of the film, which includes historical footage such as an NAACP march following Medgar Evers’ assassination. Perhaps more powerful are the wonderful everyday scenes of ordinary black life. They show us, once again, that we are not the first “selfie” generation preoccupied with documenting ourselves and our condition. We will discuss the importance of seeing black folks in their everyday lives, the power of video (as we’ve seen during police-involved shootings) and ways to place race and poverty on the national agenda.

Special Guest: Dr. Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, professor in the University of Chicago’s Department of Cinema and Media Studies and the founder of the South Side Home Movie Project

Session 7 (May 17): Television's Interracial Relationships | RSVP

Television’s first interracial kiss was in 1968 on the show “Star Trek” between Capt. Kirk, played by white actor William Shatner, and Lt. Uhura, played by African-American actress Nichelle Nichols, with a storyline carefully crafted to not offend Southern affiliates. Since then, television producer Shonda Rhimes has created shows from “Grey’s Anatomy” to “Scandal” to “How to Get Away With Murder” that have diverse casts and interracial relationships, particularly those with black women and white men. She says she hates the word “diversity” and, is instead, “normalizing” television so that it reflects the real world. But the reality is that interracial relationships and marriages remain low in this country, and in many ways we’re more racially segregated than ever. What is the message that these shows, as well as television commercials featuring biracial couples, are trying to convey about race and the fight for equality in America? Where should our aspirations be?

Special Guest: Award-winning writer and television producer Rita Coburn, the co-director of the documentary “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise”

Session 8 (May 24): Challenging What We Think We Know | RSVP

Bruce Franks has tattoos on his face and is a rapper. But he’s also a Missouri state representative, the creator of a youth violence prevention program and an entrepreneur. Franks raps about injustice, hoodies, Trayvon Martin, and the police-involved shootings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland. Franks believes that in order to understand a situation, one must see it first-hand. So, he organized a bus trip to take his Republican statehouse colleagues to his South Side St. Louis neighborhood “to understand the root causes of the problems” there. He said he got the idea from the bus tour that freshmen representatives took across the state, which opened his eyes to Missouri’s deeply impoverished and rural Republican areas where people are beset by some of the same problems—homelessness, drug addiction, violence—facing impoverished black folks. Franks will talk about how the media portrays beleaguered communities and how some portrayals help, and others hurt.

Special Guest: State Representative Bruce Franks, D-MO