The Media’s Effect on the Self Esteem of Black Children

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As a child I struggled with my self-esteem. There were a couple of reasons for this. The first was that my parents didn’t do a whole lot to foster a positive self-image within me. They didn’t have positive self-images of themselves; so it was impossible for them to teach it to me.

There are two major sources that help to build the self-image and self; one is the environment and culture you grow up in, the second is the media – the books, the magazines, the television programs, radio programs and movie entertainment that you consume on a daily basis.


In the absence of getting a positive self-image from my parents, I looked to my environment and television by default. I did not do this consciously, I was a child. Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s I could not help but notice and begin to mimic the self-hatred of those in my community.

Children in my school played the “dozens” by talking about each other on a daily basis. There was not a day that went by that I did not hear about how black was ugly, how my big “African looking” nose was ugly, how poor I looked because of my nappy hair. I was at times accused of being an “African booty scratcher” and on and on. At times I even participated in the cruel denigration of others for laughs. It’s no wonder I began to develop a negative self-image.

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On the television, all my favorite television shows like the Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, Man from Atlantis, The Incredible Hulk, Superman, etc. Were all shows about smart, handsome, heroic white men. Every show that I had ever seen with black people in them were comedies, cop shows, slave movies, or programs where the men acted like buffoons, snitches, or monsters – violent, brooding and self-destructive, and the women were the sexual objects of others, someone’s servant or an otherwise battered and damaged woman.

The positive images of my people were few and far between. Sure there was Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier, but they were in only a few movies or television shows that I had access to and not on a daily basis like the other shows I was allowed to watch day in and day out.

In my favorite Disney and Looney Tunes movies and cartoons none of the characters looked like me and if they did they were negative caricatures of spooks, coons and pikinini looking children.

This onslaught of negative images coupled with living in an environment filled with people with poor self-image, where many people had outright rejected their indigenous African culture in favor of the white Euro-American standard, created within me a very negative view – of myself.

I hated my nose, I hated my hair. I did not think that I was handsome or that anyone would want to be my friend. I began to be lost in despair. As I grew older I still struggled though I was eventually able to come to terms with myself and to build up my own self esteem through counseling, self-study and self-transformation.

Honestly a few positive shows like the Cosby Show and A Different World became available as I grew older. There were also musical rap groups like X-Clan, Queen Latifa, and KRS-One that were creating music that had hints of my great cultural heritage in them at a time in my life when I was reaching a cross roads about my self-image, that really helped me to embrace who I am as a descendent of Africa – though these were only my first steps in a journey that would take me many years to complete in my own self-development.


But so many of my people discount just how powerful television programming and other forms of media are. Far too many people say “It is just a movie. It’s just a television show… It doesn’t have any effect on me!” And because they have accepted this lie as the truth, they remain blissfully unaware that these types of media are the major factor in shaping the reality of their lives, and they don’t even know it.

Dr. John Henrik Clarke once said “Most human behavior is controlled by images. Image is a factor in how people look at themselves and what they use to reflect themselves. The control of images is a major factor in world power.”
It is vitally important to be discerning in the types of media that you watch and allow your children to watch and/or experience. What you watch on television or at the movies has a profound effect on how you think and process information and how you view yourself and others. Most people don’t think so, or even understand how this can be possible. For those people I would highly suggest taking a course on media literacy and advertising design. There is an exact science to how media is created and how it influences your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Every image, colors, sound and frequency is created with the purpose of subtly influencing the way you think and view the world and the environment around you.


More than that, it is necessary to create a positive and nurturing environment for your children to grow up in. One in which they can learn about the greatness of Africa and other indigenous cultures throughout the world. Teach your children about the great African civilizations which predate the U.S.A., and the United Kingdom. Teach your children about the great Kings, Queens, Pharoahs, Gods, Goddesses and Heroes from the cultures of their ancestors whether they be African, Mexican, Native American or one of the many other indigenous cultures throughout the world. Share with them the beauty and the wonder of our people.

Show them images of their beautiful African brothers and sisters. Show them you are not afraid to wear your natural hair. Allow them to see the beauty in themselves and make it a point to show them how to see the beauty in others.

If we want to see positive images of ourselves it is up to us to create them. If we want to have children that have positive self esteem; we must first learn how to create it within ourselves and then make it our business to develop a positive, natural and holistic self-image within our children.

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