CoverMedia Literacy Activities for Learning Civics ConceptsDefining Critical Media LiteracyChapter 1. Foundations of the United States Political SystemTopic 1: Democracy in Social Media Policies and Community StandardsTopic 2: The Internet as a Public UtilityTopic 3: 21st Century Women STEM InnovatorsTopic 4: Media Coverage of Kings, Queens, and Royal FamiliesTopic 5: Representations of Native Americans in Films, Local History Publications, and School MascotsChapter 2. The Development of United States GovernmentTopic 1: Declarations of Independence on Social MediaTopic 2: Media Marketing and Government Regulating of Self-Driving Cars and Electric VehiclesTopic 3: Representations of and Racism Toward Black Americans in the MediaTopic 4: Political Debates Through Songs from Hamilton: An American MusicalTopic 5: Bill of Rights on TwitterChapter 3. Institutions of United States GovernmentTopic 1: Hollywood Movies About the Branches of GovernmentTopic 2: Writing an Impeachment Press ReleaseTopic 3: Members of Congress' Use of Social MediaTopic 4: Political Impacts of Public Opinion PollsTopic 5: Website Design for New Political PartiesChapter 4. The Rights and Responsibilities of CitizensTopic 1: Immigration in the NewsTopic 2: Portrayals of Immigrants in Television and FilmTopic 3: COVID-19 Information EvaluationTopic 4: Women Political Leaders in the MediaTopic 5: Online Messaging by Special Interest GroupsTopic 6: Digital Games for Civic EngagementTopic 7: Social Media and the ElectionsTopic 8: Media Spin in the Coverage of Political DebatesTopic 9: Celebrities' Influence on PoliticsTopic 10: Political Activism Through Social MediaTopic 11: Media Recruitment of Public Sector WorkersTopic 12: Images of Teachers and TeachingTopic 13: For Whom Is and Could Your School Be NamedTopic 14: Representing Trans IdentitiesTopic 15: Media Framing of the Events of January 6, 2021Topic 16: Music as Protest ArtTopic 17: PACs, Super PACs, and Unions in the MediaChapter 5. The Constitution, Amendments, and Supreme Court DecisionsTopic 1: Prohibition in the MediaTopic 2: The Equal Rights Amendment on Twitter and Other Social MediaTopic 3: Civil War News Stories and Recruitment AdvertisementsTopic 4: Representations of Gender and Race on CurrencyTopic 5: The Equality Act on TwitterTopic 6: Reading Supreme Court Dissents AloudTopic 7: Television Cameras in CourtroomsChapter 6. The Structure of State and Local GovernmentTopic 1: Native American Mascots and LogosTopic 2: A Constitution for the InternetTopic 3: Military Recruitment and the MediaTopic 4: Your Privacy on Social MediaTopic 5: Pandemic Policy Information in the MediaTopic 6: Gendered Language in Media Coverage of Women in PoliticsTopic 7: Environmental Campaigns Using Social MediaTopic 8: Trusted Messengers, the Media, and the PandemicTopic 9: Online Campaigning for Political OfficeTopic 10: Advertising the Lottery Online and In PrintTopic 11: Local Governments, Social Media and Digital DemocracyTopic 12: Protecting the CommonsChapter 7. Freedom of the Press and News/Media LiteracyTopic 1: Press Freedom in the United States and the WorldTopic 2: Objectivity and Reporting the News from All SidesTopic 3: Investigative Journalism and Social ChangeTopic 4: News Photographs & Newspaper DesignTopic 5: How Reporters Report EventsTopic 6: Recommendation Algorithms on Social Media PlatformsTopic 7: Fake News Investigation and EvaluationTopic 8: Paywalls and Access to Online NewsTopic 9: Critical Visual Analysis of Online and Print MediaTopic 10: Memes and TikToks as Political Cartoons

Topic 3: Representations of and Racism Toward Black Americans in the Media

At the Constitutional Convention, the American Revolutionary era declaration that "all men are born free and equal" was denied for Black people. The Three-Fifth Compromise, which counted those in slavery to determine representation in Congress, gave greater power to southern slave-owning states and helped elect slave-owning Presidents in the years before the Civil War. A Fugitive Slave clause was included in the Constitution and the slave trade was allowed to continue for 20 more years. Black slavery that lasted until after the Civil War was followed by Jim Crow segregation and a long civil rights movement that demanded equality and justice, but racial stereotypes persisted.

Powerful, persistent, and pervasive White racism toward Black Americans that began with the forced arrival of the first slaves in North America in 1619 continues today in multiple areas of modern society, including social media. In a video lecture, Emory University professor Nathan McCall has tracked the history of negative, racist imagery toward Black Americans in the media from the founding of the U.S. to the Presidency of Barack Obama.

Black Lives Matter Shirt NYC
Black Lives Matter Shirt NYC by Shanluan is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Racist imagery is only one means of racism in the media. Limited opportunities for creative expression online, racist algorithms, and allowing White people to the steal and get credit for the work of people of color are all different means of maintaining existing systems of inequality and racism.

During summer 2020, amidst protests for racial justice following the death of George Floyd, TikTok faced extensive criticism about treating content created by African Americans unfairly on the platform. The company responded saying it was committed to diversity and equal opportunities for Black content creators to post on the site (A Message to Our Black Community, June 1, 2020).

More than a year later, civil rights leaders say social media platforms have not done enough to address bias toward and unequal treatment of people of color, a frustrating situation given the ways social media platforms, like TikTok, can support and extend social and civic activism.

Black artists staged a strike against TikTok at the beginning of July 2021 (learn more: Many Black TikTok creators are on strike from the platform. Here are voices from the boycott). For many content creators, the popularity of their posts produces income to sustain their artistic and creative work. However, far too often, Black artists often lose credit and income when White artists steal the styles, dances, and trends they create, as in the case of the Renegade dance designed by Black teenager Jalaiah Harmon, and then platforms like TikTok spotlight and promote the White artists' posts rather than the original content creator's post. 

The following activities ask you to analyze media representation of, and social media use by, Black Americans; and, then, design media that affirm and celebrate Black lives and culture.

Activity 1: Uncover Media Stereotypes Toward Black Americans

Activity 2: Analyze Black American Content Creators on Social Media

Activity 3: Curate a Collection of Images of Black Lives and Culture

It is 2050 and enormous strides have been made toward civil rights and social justice in the United States. You are working as a historian for the Smithsonian and you have been asked to create a digital collection of images that represent Black Lives and Culture in the first two decades of the 21st century.

Additional Resources

Connecting to the Standards

  • Massachusetts Civics & Government Standards
    • Identify the various leaders of the Constitutional Convention and analyze the major issues they debated and how the issues were resolved (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Science) [8.T2.3]
  • ISTE Standards
    • Digital Citizen
      • 2b: Students engage in positive, safe, legal and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices.
      • 2c: Students demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.
    • Knowledge Constructor
      • 3a: Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
      • 3b: Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data, or other resources.
      • 3c: Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.
      • 3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
    • Creative Communicator
      • 6a: Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
      • 6b: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
      • 6d: Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for the intended audiences.
  • DLCS Standards
    • Interpersonal and Societal Impact (CAS.c)
    • Digital Tools (DTC.a)
    • Collaboration and Communication (DTC.b)
    • Research (DTC.c)
  • English Language Arts > History/Social Studies Common Core Standards
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.1
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.6
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.8
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.3
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9
  • English/Language Arts Common Core Standards