Privilege manifests itself in a many ways. The fact that it is systemic rather than localized means that it is difficult to identify. Moreover, individual benefits of privilege may often seem small — but being outside of privilege can have staggering setbacks. This section helps identify how media and privilege intersect.
In this section, we explore common media representations of people with disabilities. We also discuss issues relating to people with disabilities finding work in media and challenge common assumptions about people with physical and mental disabilities.
Teachers who include media literacy in their classrooms often face issues that don’t arise in other subjects. Nothing illustrates this better than the issue of diversity in media. It’s not unreasonable for teachers to see the topic as a can of worms and be concerned about offending students and their parents – not to mention worrying about what the students themselves might say. At the same time, it’s a topic that is simply too important to be ignored: what we see in media hugely influences how we see others, ourselves and the world. As a result, an ability to analyze media depictions of diversity is not only a key element of being media literate, it’s essential to understanding many of the social issues and concerns that we face as citizens. That’s why Media Awareness Network has developed That’s Not Me – a new online tutorial for professional development to help educators and community leaders approach this issue through key concepts of media literacy.
Privilege is the relative benefit that a group enjoys as a result of the discrimination or oppression of other groups. When we think about racism and discrimination, we often envision acts of deliberate meanness or quantifiable oppression of a disadvantaged group – hurtful words, tasteless jokes, deliberate exclusion from work or school, acts of violence, and so on – but it can just as easily take the form of privileges given to members of a more advantaged group.
I can look at the media and see people from my group widely represented as heroes, role models, leaders, news anchors, television hosts, and experts.
Persons with disabilities might best be described, in the media at least, as an invisible minority: though a large segment of the population has a physical or mental disability they have been almost entirely absent from the mass media until recent years. Moreover, when persons with disabilities appear they almost always do so in stereotyped roles.
Social justice activists and writers have built on Peggy McIntosh’s original essay on privilege in 1988, by adding to and modifing the original list to highlight how privilege is not merely about race or gender, but that it is a series of interrelated hierarchies and power dynamics that touch all facets of social life: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, education, gender identity, age, physical ability, passing, etc. These categories will be further discussed below.
Part of stereotyping is the attitude that all members of a particular group are the same, or else fall into a very small number of types. This is particularly true in the few cases where persons with a disability appear in media