Media outlets have a long history of using mugshots of Black women and men, while using “innocent” pictures of their white counterparts in their news articles. This may not seem like a big deal to some people, but the way in which this tactic is used by some media outlets, is another way to paint Black women and men as being criminals. These pictures of Black women and men are used to not only generate more views on articles, but to degrade the subjects of the articles as well. This kind of depiction can further criminalize and shame people of color, and establish an unfair narrative. Racism has always been prominent in the United States, and the use of mugshots for Black women and men in news stories is another way it’s being carried out.
In an article by the digital news and lifestyle magazine, “takepart,” in 2015, EJ Brown, a graduate of Park Point University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, created a series of images of regular graduation photos compared with mugshots to raise awareness for the way that young Black men are portrayed in the media. He said, “In the past couple of years we’ve seen events from Trayvon Martin to Freddie Gray unfold, and I was disappointed with the way the media would portray young Black men. They’d dig up photos from Facebook with a group of friends, and suddenly they’re a gang. A peace sign would become a gang [symbol]. I was always puzzled by that.” Over the years, we’ve seen our white counterparts being treated better in news and media outlets because of their whiteness. News and media outlets will find any photo of Black women and men that remotely looks (to the writers of these articles), as if they are doing a suspicious activity, or have always been involved in “criminal activity.” Specifically, with Black youth, the way in which media outlets use photos to manipulate the subjects of the articles into something that they are not. This further takes away from the fact that they are still young and human, and are more than a sensationalized headline.
Brown also notes in an article written about Michael Brown’s death, how a photo of him looking at the camera showing no emotion went viral before a photo of him in his cap and gown for graduation did. He says, “Typically when you look at a mugshot you already think [the person is] a criminal, but then you see the cap and gown, and it’s like ‘Wait, what exactly did they get charged for? It’s my way of asking, ‘Would you look at me the same way If I wasn’t in the cap and gown? ‘If I ran the streets in a cap and gown, would you still stop me?” I think this project of Brown’s was necessary and helps shine a light on the ways in which young Black men are portrayed in the media. It’s important for the world to see this, and there needs to be more attention directed towards the portrayal of them.
Overall, I think mugshots being used for Black women and men in the media is a form of racism. The fact that white people are shown in a positive and more “innocent” light shows their privilege among a plethora of other issues regarding racism against Black people. Black women and men deserve to be shown in the same way as our white counterparts, because we are human and have lives outside of the incident in which is being reported upon. It’s not fair that we are being shone in a negative light. Although Black people are calling out media outlets on this issue, the white people who “claim” to have solidarity with issues of racism we face in America need to as well.