A Google Image Search Reveals a Problem With Race in America

June 8th 2016

A short video of a Google image search shows how damaging media depictions of Black teens can be.

In less than a minute, Kabir Alli's Twitter video demonstrates the very different results produced by searching "three Black teenagers" and "three white teenagers" on Google images.

The post has since been retweeted more than 50,000 times.

In the video, a Google image search for "three black teenagers" nets a bleak spread of mug shots and suspected criminals. But when he changes "black" to "white," the results take a 180-degree turn, and we get saccharine stock photos of laughing teenagers engaged in stereotypical teenager activities.

Black teen representation Google - google.com

"I was shocked," Alli tells ATTN:.

"[I]t shouldn't be so difficult to find normal, non-offensive pictures of three black teenagers. That search sort of portrays us as a whole and those pictures are not us," he added.

Google searches are not necessarily a reflection of any racist initiative to portray Black teens as thugs or criminals; rather, the top hits are indicative of popular searches.

White teenager depictionGoogle - google.com

"White teenagers are often portrayed as young, innocent people having fun at a wonderful period in their life, where they're able to enjoy life without a lot of burden, whereas Black youth are portrayed as, if not criminals, then suspects in criminal cases," Jeffrey Stewart, a professor and chairman of the Black Studies department at UC Santa Barbara, told ATTN:.

Cultural perceptions of Black youth as criminals and thugs who should be feared are nothing new. In fact, they've been "an enduring and unfortunate feature of American culture," according to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. The stereotype, researchers wrote, has served as a justification for "the unofficial policy and practice of racial profiling by criminal justice practitioners."

#BlackLivesMatter ProtestsFlickr/The All-Nite Images - flic.kr

But it's about more than just law enforcement. According to Stewart:

"In all of these cases of Black youth being murdered, often the first thing that occurs over the internet, is people begin to search for information on them that can essentially define them as a criminal, and then justify, in their minds, not pay[ing] attention anymore to the fact that [Black youth] were murdered by the police, or by would-be police like George Zimmerman," Stewart said.

He continued:

"[T]hat sets up a dynamic where Black youth who were murdered are labeled as in some way deserving, and that absolves the society from the racial holocaust that's being visited on Black youth today."

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