Media Trust, Critical Empathy, And The Black African American Image

(Editor’s note: This is a piece branching off in idea from another piece, entitled,”The Ideal Of Media Trust And The Black African American Image”. Please read that piece first if you have not already.)

In the last piece I discussed a little about “media trust”, and I also mentioned I would discuss “critical empathy” further. Let’s continue firstly with more ideas regarding “media trust”.

In the previous post, we defined “trust”, thusly:

Trust is the dynamic of imagination incrementally allotted based on the fruition and fulfillment of expected, entertained, or sold outcomes. It is our faith that someone or something will do what they or it has a history of doing, what we imagined or hoped they or it would do, or what they or it has communicated that it would do.

What is the primary vision we have of the outcomes of mass communication? Is it solely entertainment? What are the primary outcomes of mass communication? Is it solely entertainment? Please read those queries over, because I did not ask the same things twice.

I want to quote, somewhat at length, these two passages from “The Black Image In The White Mind”:

Racial isolation heightens the importance of the messages Whites receive about Blacks from the mass media, and especially from the most widely consumed source-television. Its constant stream of messages designed to inform, pleasurably distract, and, above all, put targeted audiences in the mood to buy creates two influential roles for television. Along with other media, it is both a barometer of race relations and a potential accelerator either to racial cohesion or to cultural separation and political conflict. Because Whites control mass media organizations, and because Whites’ majority status makes their tastes the most influential in audience maximizing calculations, media productions offer a revealing indicator of the new forms of racial differentiation. Beyond providing a diagnostic tool, a measuring device for the state of race relations, the media also act as a causal agent: they help to shape and reshape the culture.“The Black Image In The White Mind: Media And Race In America”, Robert M. Entman & Andrew Rojecki, pg. 3


But, having only limited personal experience with
Blacks, and raised in a culture where race is highly salient and Black persons rest at the bottom of the social hierarchy, Whites may be more likely to remember the negative than the positive in all the unplanned, media-generated impressions. Psychologists have found more generally that people remember negative information most readily. By what they both do and do not convey, the media can stimulate Whites’ tendencies to imagine, exaggerate, and misunderstand group differences. ibid., pg. 8

Once again, I ask, based on our agreed upon definition of “trust”, what is the imagined outcome of US Black media representations? What is the actual outcome? Do US Blacks even have a collective– or enough of a collective and vested interest– plan for the media images that studies have shown impact the perception of US Blacks? Should we not question the creation of content that presents US Blacks to audiences that have no other information about US Blacks but the media presentations? Has leaving the power of US Blacks media presentation in the hands of Whites and money hungry Blacks been a successful venture thus far?

These are just questions. Some you might have answers to, some you might not. My purpose so far is to remind you that you already have a system of media trust in operation, the question is: are you taking conscious advantage of it? Who do you trust with the operation of content creation, production, and dissemination of the US Black Image? Who should you distrust? Do you know?

Moving on…

As I promised I would, I want to begin defining the ideal of “critical empathy”. In Berrys Gaut’s research essay entitled,”Empathy and Identification in Cinema”, the concept of imaginative identification is introduced and defined as such:

In saying that I identify with someone, a target T, what do I mean? As we sometimes say, we “put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.” Here one means that one imagines oneself in that person’s situation. Call this imaginative identification.The notion of someone’s situation should be construed broadly so as to include not only her external situation but also all of her properties, including her mental ones—we can talk of imagining believing what she believes, imagining feeling what she feels, and so on. Since there are many aspects of a person’s situation, identification is aspectual: I can identify with a person in respect of her beliefs, her feelings, her perceptions, and so on. To identify with some person, T, epistemically is to imagine believing what she believes; to identify with her affectively is to imagine feeling what she feels; to identify with her perceptually is to imagine seeing what she sees.We can refine this notion. In the case of fictional characters, we need to construe “what she believes” as “what it is fictional that she believes,” and so on. Further, we need to rule out coincidences.– Berys Gaut, “Empathy And Identification In Cinema”


Distinct from affective identification is empathic identification or empathy. We can imagine feeling terror at the near-destruction of humanity, but it is also possible actually to feel terror at this merely imagined scenario: We can feel
genuine emotions toward merely imagined or fictional situations– ibid., pg. 3

What I want to deal with here, very quickly, is this notion of identifying and emotionally connecting with people that do not exist outside of written scripts and fictional bodies of work. Some of us lack an ability to resist feelings of connectivity with fictional characters. Even worse, some of us feel more connected to “people” that do not exist than to those that do. This is a lack of critical empathy. At what point do we begin to separate our feelings for a Black Woman that does not actually exist? At what point do we begin to critically assess where and when our empathy should be employed or allowed free emotive expression?

The Ideal Of Media Trust And The Black African American Image

(Editor’s Note: This is a piece that I am continuing from yesterday’s topic(Trust, Sex, Black Media, And Black African American Women) that can be found here.)


“In dealing with the confluence of complex social configurations, it is idle to claim primacy for any one set of forces and the field that addresses it. Each field offering seminal contributions to the understanding of any significant aspect of the constellation needs to develop its own critical discipline in order to play its appropriate role.”– George Gerbner, The Importance Of Being Critical-In One’s Own Fashion


Standing outside during a wedding reception inside a friend’s home, I noticed children playing where adults were smoking blunts. Now, everybody has different ethical approaches to what defines responsibility in the case of children and marijuana smoke, but seeing that I did not know who the children’s parents were, thus their disposition, I decided to err on the side of prevention. After I gathered the children and led them away to another area of the house, I was sequestered by another friend. OF course, their response to my act was,”we ghetto, niggaz smoke around kids in the hood!” This was met by a round of laughter, but my initial response remained integrated with my behavior. Everybody attending the ceremony was not from the “ghetto” or “hood”, and everybody is different with their children.


I have since learned that this particular debate tends to diverge at a few points. People without children that do not smoke weed to be the most sacrosanct;people with children that do not smoke weed a slice below them;people without children that do smoke weed fall in the most indulgent category; and people with children and do smoke weed typically exists as the most flexible, not the most indulgent, but also no where near as self-righteous about it.


I tend to see people’s reactions and responses to children and adult themes in media similarly. Much like the underlying current of western capitalist thinking–that is, if you are not a owner, you are ridiculed slightly less than if you are at least a producer for an owner, but never as a non-owning non-producer and never as little as an owner. The basic analogy tends to be towards the line of owners to ridicule as smokers with children to sacrosanctness of weed smoking in front of children as parents that enjoy adult themes of a particular show to strictness regarding media consumption. Now, never to sell media studies(which is my expertise), sociology, or even psychology as pure sciences, I do however beg a certain fairness and protection from all the “well, not me and I am a _______(which ever category)” that I am sure erupted from certain parts of the Asylum readership. My point here is not to present a tally of likert scales comparing indulgences and irresponsibility, but to apply an introductory understanding of what I have coined as “media trust”.


Once again, without having to prove two millenniums worth of Western philosophy, I think it is well within my average readers ability to comprehend the concept that social existence determines social consciousness. As above, so below, the micro to that macro is a mirrored reflection that individual existence would also determine individual consciousness. In the same way that social spheres of collective influence– say, our religious notions, political ideologies, and academic leanings– are used to justify the relationship of owner to producer, so are our personal emotional appeals to media story used to justify who and what we give our media trust to.


So, once again, what is media trust? Well, we sort of understand what we are referring to when we discuss media. Mainly, mass communication at the intersection of corporate message control and entertainment. Well, what is trust? Trust is the dynamic of imagination incrementally allotted based on the fruition and fulfillment of expected, entertained, or sold outcomes. It is our faith that someone or something will do what they or it has a history of doing, what we imagined or hoped they or it would do, or what they or it has communicated that it would do. How has white media been a benefactor for US Blacks? How has control of the media representations of US Black Women been of a benefit to Whites? How does Kelsey Grammar’s(Girlfriends, The Game) influence of the construction of US Black Women characters impact the identity of US Black Women?


We will address that, but first we need to further the understanding of media trust, as well as develop an introductory understanding of what I call ‘critical empathy’. And we will do that in the next post.