Current Debates

Modern Racism on Television?


Traditionally, American racism has used biological inferiority as an explanation (and rationalization) for racial and ethnic inequality. A statement of this view might sound like this: “They (blacks, Hispanics, or other minorities) are poor and uneducated because they’re incapable of anything more.”

Today, according to theories of modern racism, culture has supplanted biology as an explanation (and rationalization) of group inequality, which is now attributed to weaker or inferior minority group values and norms. A statement of this view might sound like this: “They are poor and uneducated because they just don’t work hard enough” or “They have all those problems because they don’t have strong families.”

Modern racism blames the victims and places the burden for change on minority communities. The larger society is absolved of any responsibility, the dominant group is held harmless, and the history of exploitation and oppression are ignored. Modern racism continues the “othering” that began at the birth of U.S. society and perpetuates prejudice and stereotypical thinking, although in more subtle and indirect forms.

How common is modern racism today? To what extent are views of racial and ethnic inequality couched in the language of modern racism? What is the role of the media in shaping, reinforcing, and expressing modern racism?

In this installment of Current Debates, you will view two videos, one from Fox News and one from MSNBC. As you watch, keep in mind that these shows represent different ideological viewpoints. The commentators are editorializing, not reporting objectively or with due consideration to all sides of the arguments they raise. Your critical facilities should be on high alert as you view these presentations! 



Fox News

The first video clip is of commentator Bill O’Reilly of Fox News reacting to President Obama’s statements after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the shooting of Trayvon Martin.[1] O’Reilly argues that the President should not be dwelling on the past or phrasing racial issues in terms of black victimization and that Obama misunderstands the true problems that are plaguing the black community. He discusses a number of issues – teen pregnancy, drugs, and violence, and others – and blames the president and the “civil rights industry” for ignoring them.

The O’Reilly clip  


The other video is taken from the MSNBC show Disrupt. Host Karen Finney and guests Rashid Robinson and sociologist Tim Wise respond directly to O’Reilly’s arguments and attempt to refute them. They also attempt to change the focus of the argument and raise a variety of other issues.

The Dispatch clip  



  • Does O’Reilly blame black problems on the black community? According to him, who should be seeking solutions? What statistics and other evidence does he cite to support his arguments? How convincing are they?


  • What points do Finney and her guests make in response to O’Reilly? Do they refute his arguments? What evidence and statistics do they use? How convincing are they? What other issues do they raise? How germane are these other issues?


  • To what audiences are these shows playing? How much overlap is there between the audiences? On what points would the audiences agree? Is there any chance for a meaningful dialog between these audiences?


  • Do O’Reilly’s statements demonstrate modern racism? How? Are Finney and her guests unbiased? What points of view do they reflect? Which side, in your view, makes more sense?

[1] Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager, was returning home from a convenience store with a drink and some candy. He was stopped by George Zimmerman because he “looked suspicious.” In the ensuing altercation, Martin was shot and killed by Zimmerman. Zimmerman was acquitted of 2nd degree homicide and manslaughter charges in the July, 2013. His trial was closely and extensively watched by the national media.