Racist stereotypes long shunned by mainstream movies and TV shows are back in social media portrayals of President Barack Obama and his family, according to a Baylor University study.
Images of the Obamas as apelike, angry and evil abound on some Facebook user group pages, indicating hate speech is evolving, not disappearing, since the U.S. elected its first black president, the study found.
“We haven’t seen those images for decades,” said Mia Moody-Ramirez, a Baylor professor who wrote the study. “To see those reappear, that was very shocking. To me, it was reintroducing these images to a whole new generation.”
Moody-Ramirez, who teaches journalism, public relations and new media, analyzed 20 Facebook group pages with the word “hate” in the title that targeted the Obamas and included a large number of photos and comments.
Some groups focused only on the president’s policies, but others targeted the Obamas with racist and sexist rhetoric, Moody-Ramirez said.
The study appears in the summer edition of The Journal of New Media & Culture.
Until now, few researchers have studied how people spread hate through social media, she said.
“As a scholar, that is a part of my job, to help document these trends for the future generations,” Moody-Ramirez said. “And this is just a part of pop culture right now.”
Negative images of the Obamas drew on historical representations that exaggerated and ridiculed black Americans’ facial features, personality traits and diets, according to the study. In one, the president was shown wearing a bandanna and gold teeth above the caption “Obama going for the African-American vote.”
First lady Michelle Obama often was pictured scowling or making angry gestures, perpetuating the “angry black woman” stereotype, the study found.
A Facebook representative could not be reached for comment.
The company prohibits hate speech and encourages users to report violations.
The study recounts the case of a page titled “No! I don’t hate blacks! I just think Barack Obama is a terrible president.” Despite the name, racist posts were common there, including one telling the president to “go back to Africa with the rest of the coons,” the study found. The page eventually was removed.
Because pages with openly racist names are easier to police, many hate groups disguise themselves with benign-sounding names, Moody-Ramirez said. The study points to the need for more literacy programs that teach young people how to critically dissect social media content, she said.
“We’ve taught people how to read advertising,” she said. “Now we have to teach students how to read messages they read online.”
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