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Kids, TV And Racial Stereotypes

A new study looks at television through the eyes of children, and many minority youngsters are not so encouraged by what they see.

American children perceive more negative depictions of blacks and Hispanics than of whites and Asians, researchers said.

Asked how often they see people of their own color, 71 percent of white children surveyed felt it was very often, compared with 42 percent of blacks, 22 percent of Hispanics and just 16 percent of Asians.

"People are inspired by what they see on television," one black child said. "If they do not see themselves on TV, they want to be someone else."

"A Different World: Children's Perceptions of Race and Class in the Media," was based on a March survey of 1,200 children, aged 10 to 17, and nine focus groups in January and February. Results were being released today at a conference sponsored by Children Now, a national children's advocacy organization based on Oakland, Calif.

"The findings show that kids of all races are aware of media stereotypes starting at a young age and understand the power of television to shape opinions," Children Now President Lois Salisbury said.

Pollsters interviewed 300 children each from white, Hispanic, Asian and black backgrounds. Results for "all children" were weighted to reflect demographic representation in the population of children: 69 percent white, 14 percent black, 13 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian.

The poll, conducted by Lake Sosin Snell Perry and Associates, had a 4.9 percent margin of error. Among its findings:

Children more often associate positive qualities like financial and academic success, leadership and intelligence with white characters, and associate negative qualities like lawbreaking, financial hardship and laziness with minority characters.

Children of all races say the news media tend to portray blacks and Hispanics more negatively than whites and Asians, particularly in reports about young people. "You always see black people doing drugs and carrying around drugs, shooting people and stealing things," one white girl said.

71 percent of all children said that a Caucasian usually plays the 'boss' role, while 59 percent said an African-American typically plays the role of criminal.

Minority children primarily admire black television figures such as Michael Jordan, Will Smith and Oprah Winfrey, while white children admire white and "crossover" figures: Jerry Seinfeld, Bart Simpson, Tim Allen and George Clooney, as well as Jordan and Smith.

The majority of minority children feel there should be more news presenters of their race. But at least two-thirds of all children said a reporter's race did not affect their trust in the news.

"The kids are onto something," said Amy Jordan, who directs children's television research at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center.

She sid the survey results are consistent with other research that found minorities regularly underrepresented, more likely to be stereotyped and more apt to be portrayed in low-class jobs, as criminals or as buffoons.

Television holds onto successful formulas, which often are "rooted in stereotypes," Ms. Jordan said. She suggested that giving more dimension to minority characters "would be doing everybody, particularly minority children, a service."

By Jane E. Allen. 1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed