On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, age 20, fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff
members and wounded two at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the village of Sandy Hook in
the town of Newtown, Connecticut. Given this recent tragedy, no scholars to date have examined
the words used by the media to describe the child victims of this tragedy. This study has three
major goals, and we offer a conceptual framework to meet these goals. The following three
questions were foundational to this study: (1) How often do the most-frequented Internet sites
use the word "angels" to refer to the 20 White child victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary
School massacre of 2012? (2) What words does the public use to describe the 8 Black child
victims who died in Chicago in 2012? (3) What implications underlie the words used in media
reporting of murdered Black and White child victims? Supportive content data are presented in
connection with these headlines.
Key Words: Black; African-American; Angels; Children; Critical Race Theory; Discrimination;
Media; Newspapers; Race; Racism; Sandy Hook Elementary School; White Supremacy
On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, age 20, fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff members and wounded two at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the village of Sandy Hook in the town of Newtown, Connecticut. The massacre was the second-deadliest school shooting in United States history, after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. It also was the second-deadliest mass murder at an American elementary school, after the 1927 Bath School bombings in Michigan. Given this recent tragedy, no scholars to date have examined the words used to describe the child victims of this tragedy. This qualitative study has three major goals, and we offer a conceptual framework to meet these goals. The first goal of this study is to examine how often the most frequently visited sites on the Internet used the word "angels" to describe the child victims of the Sandy Hook massacre. To accomplish this goal, we examined the headlines provided by 53 of the most-frequented Internet sites as well as the sources of these sites. The second goal of this study is to examine the circumstances by which Black children are murdered in Chicago 2012, as well as the words that are used to describe these victims. The third goal of this study is to discuss racial implications that underlie the words used in the media to report the deaths of Black and White child victims.
This topic is important for two reasons. For one, negative portrayals of Blacks in the media (Dixon, 2008) have resulted in the wanton stereotyping, unwarranted fear, intense criminal sentencing, mass incarceration, and death of members of this group (Alexander, 2010; Armour, 1997; Peffley & Hurwitz, 2013). Furthermore, negative perceptions of Blacks have been shown to negatively affect the health of members of this group (Muennig & Murphy, 2011; Pieterse, Todd, Neville, & Carter, 2012), and is the impetus that drives the overt and covert forms of racism they frequently experience (Bell, 1992; Bonilla-Silva, 2009; Bryson, 1998; Chaney & Robertson, 2013; Dottolo & Stewart, 2008; Elicker, 2008; Karenga, 2010). To further complicate the effects of racism, the physical characteristics of members of this group have been associated with more harsh criminal sentences. To make this point clear, Blacks with darker skin tones and more Afrocentric facial features receive harsher sentencing outcomes than those with less "Black" (e.g., lighter skin and less Afrocentric features) facial features (Blair, Judd, & Chapleau, 2004; Maddox & Gray, 2004). Together, the media, the phenotypic characteristics of Blacks, the harsh sentencing of Blacks, and overt and covert forms of racism sustain and protect White Supremacy by legitimizing White life and minimizing Black life. This paper extends the work of Perry and Roesch (2009) and Malcolm (2010) and at the crux of our argument is that race and skin tone, and not necessarily age, are the primary reasons the child victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting were referred to as "angels" and why the same phrase is not used to refer to young murdered Black child victims. Thus, this research extends current scholarly dialogue by focusing on the words used to describe White child victims of a school shooting in 2012 versus murdered Black children in inner-city Chicago in 2012. In order to determine how Black and White children are perceived in the media, this study focuses on the adjectives that are used to describe White and Black child victims. In the section that follows, we provide a comprehensive overview of scholarship related to the media and race, race and skin tone, angels, White Supremacy, and connect these scholarly foci to the basic premise of our argument.
Review of Literature
The media is a powerful presence in U.S. culture and creates the very public opinions it seeks to reflect in its news. For example, subtle nonverbal cues of newscasters influence voting behavior (Anastasio, Rose, & Chapman, 1999), and the race of individuals appearing on television influence perceptions of that group (Haider-Markel et al., 2007). However, the media's portrayal of African-Americans has been less than favorable. Research has revealed the American news media tends to depict African-Americans in a deleterious light and to emphasize poverty in African-American families (Gilens, 1998; Haider-Markel, Delehanty, & Beverlin, 2007). Such delineations contribute to the desensitization of Whites toward the plight of African-Americans and are associated with decreased support for social safety nets (e.g., welfare) because these are generally perceived as abused by undeserving Blacks (Gilens, 1998). By portraying a world in which people's opinions are based on their ethnic or demographic group membership, the media subtly and powerfully creates the very opinions they seek to reflect (Anastasio, et al., 1999; Baker, 1996; Beaudoin & Thorson, 2006; Oliver, Jackson, Moses, & Dangerfield, 2004). Even more recent studies have found the relationship between news use and social capital to be less positive for Blacks than for Whites as well as the relationship between entertainment TV viewing and social capital to be more negative for Blacks than Whites (Beaudoin & Thorson, 2006).
Previous scholars have focused on the criminality of African-Americans in the media. Sadly, Blackness and criminality are so entrenched that Whites reported seeing a Black suspect at the scene of a crime when none was actually present (Oliver & Fonfash, 2002). In his examination of whether exposure to the overrepresentation of Blacks as criminals on local news programs, attention to crime news, and news trust predicted perceptions of Blacks and crime, Dixon (2008a) found attention to crime news was positively related to concern about crime. Furthermore, attention to crime news was positively associated with harsher culpability ratings of a hypothetical race-unidentified suspect but not a White suspect. Finally, heavier consumption of Blacks' as criminals on local television news has been positively related with the perception of Blacks as violent (Dixon, 2008a).
To support Anastasio et al's (1999) earlier work, Dixon (2008b) conducted a random survey of nonstudent adult residents to determine whether exposure to network news had a demonstrable effect on racial attitudes and perceptions of African-Americans. After controlling for a number of factors, these scholars revealed exposure to network news depressed estimates of African-American income, network news primarily increased the endorsement of AfricanAmerican stereotypes, particularly the view that African-Americans were poor and intimidating, and was positively associated with higher racism scores (Dixon, 2008b) and capital-sentencing outcomes (Eberhardt, Davies, Purdie-Vaughns, & Johnson, 2006). The following year, Mastro, Lapinski, Kopacz, and Behm-Morawitz (2009) conducted a two-study experimental design to investigate the relationship between exposure to television news portrayals that intersect race with violent crime and viewers' real-world racial judgments.
These scholars revealed both the gender of the viewer and the race of the TV news suspect influenced subsequent judgments, including attributions about the perpetrator and victim, and the race of the depicted suspect had a significant effect on attitudes toward Blacks in the larger society, beyond the mediated context (Mastro et al, 2009). Interestingly, even though Blacks are four times more likely to be presented as criminals than police officers on television, this proportion is inconsistent with recent statistics provided by the U. S. Department of Labor Statistics (Masto, Lapinski, Kopacy, & Behm-Morawitz, 2009). In spite of this reality, the media's portrayal of African-Americans as poor, dangerous, and criminal is deeply embedded in the American consciousness.
Extant scholarship has revealed race and skin tone to be salient predictors of the experiences of Blacks in the United States. Historically, Blacks with lighter-skin had greater wealth than Blacks with darker skin. To support this, Bodenhorn and Ruebeck (2005) examined more than 15,000 households interviewed during the 1860 US federal census and found sharp differences in wealth holdings between White, mulatto, and Black households in the urban South. Although Black wealth was only 20% of White wealth, mulattoes, or light-skinned Blacks held nearly 50% of Whites' wealth, and the favoritism shown to Blacks with lighter complexions resulted in their elevated socioeconomic standing (Bodenhorn & Ruebeck, 2007). Even contemporaneously, lighter skin tones have been positively associated with more favorable socioeconomic outcomes (Celious & Oyserman, 2001; Essed & Trienekens, 2008; Hochschild, 2006; Keith & Herring, 1991); higher levels of racial identity attitudes (immersion/emersion) among Blacks (Coard...