Using Feathery Birds to Disguise Hateful Speech: Avatar, Hillary: The Movie, Citizens United, and How Birds of the Same Feather Flock Together


In America, we are consciously and subconsciously influenced by abundantly present messages in commercial speech, television, and film viewed for entertainment purposes. The influence can be penetrating, even devastating, especially because of racial messages about nonwhites. For example, a study by university researchers found that watching television lowers self-esteem in white female children and in black children, while elevating self-esteem in white boys. This effect seems logical given the predominant messages in many shows. In film and television, white boys find strong images and likenesses in white men who have economic, family, and political control. White girls suffer a loss of self-esteem as many television shows depict white women as weak, submissive, passive, and lacking power, or even in need of being saved by white men. Black girls and boys confront images of actors who resemble them in color and who are in poverty, violent, imprisoned, on welfare, clown-like, and generally lacking power over their own destinies. Not surprisingly then, the message absorbed by children from media is that white males are worthwhile and are entitled to power and success, while other groups are not.

The broadcasted, and often commercial, messages do not only affect young children. The messages can also affect those trained to be critical, independent, and analytical thinkers. A number of years ago in my civil rights course, a third-year law student, who was nonblack and nonwhite, approached me after class to talk. She seemed to be quite excited about the reading she had completed for that day’s class. “Wow!” she exclaimed. “Before I completed our reading for today I did not know that any poor, minority women cared about their children.” My response was, “Oh my . . . where did you get an idea like that?” The law student, who had excellent grades, answered, “From television and from the movies. And I always thought that if it were not true, it would not be on television.” Even a future lawyer, then, can be cajoled by the power of the marketplace to facilitate skewed views of worthiness and justice. This essay is a necessary response to these subtle messages of hate and racial disdain that affect our conceptions unwittingly, as the messages become disguised as speech for entertainment or speech for commercial purposes only.

This symposium issue is a clarion call to stop, or at least reduce, the hate. The Pursuit of Justice Conference, a 2013 collaborative event organized by the Gonzaga University School of Law, the Gonzaga Institute for Hate Studies, and the Washington State Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System, brought together the 3rd International Conference on Hate Studies and the 2nd Conference on Race and the Criminal Justice System. The symposium addressed ways to eliminate hate and to pursue justice. This essay is my contribution—joining other symposium participants in confronting the messages encouraging injustice as the norm, and in confronting hate messages that are rampant both implicitly and explicitly.

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Angela Mae Kupenda, Using Feathery Birds to Disguise Hateful Speech: Avatar, Hillary: The Movie, Citizens United, and How Birds of the Same Feather Flock Together, 49 Gonz. L. Rev., 1 (2014).

About dkazemba

David Kazemba J.D. Candidate 2014

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