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297 I n our consumption-oriented, mediated society, much of what comes to pass as important is based often on the stories produced and dis- seminated by media institutions. Much of what audiences know and care about is based on the images, symbols, and narratives in radio, tele- vision, film, music, and other media. How individuals construct their social identities, how they come to understand what it means to be male, female, black, white, Asian, Latino, Native American—even rural or urban—is shaped by commodified texts produced by media for audi- ences that are increasingly segmented by the social constructions of race and gender. Media, in short, are central to what ultimately come to rep- resent our social realities. While sex differences are rooted in biology, how we come to under- stand and perform gender is based on culture. 1 We view culture “as a process through which people circulate and struggle over the meanings of our social experiences, social relations, and therefore, our selves” (Byers & Dell, 1992, p. 191). Just as gender is a social construct through which a society defines what it means to be masculine or feminine, race also is a social construction. Race can no longer be seen as a biological category, and it has little basis in science or genetics. Identifiers such as hair and skin color serve as imperfect indicators of race. The racial categories we use to differentiate human difference have been created and changed to meet the dynamic social, political, and economic needs of our society. The premise 16 GENDER, RACE, AND MEDIA REPRESENTATION u Dwight E. Brooks and Lisa P. Hébert 16-Dow-4973.qxd 6/11/2006 1:42 PM Page 297
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