Looking through a number of UK and US newspapers, it’s become clear that it’s now nearly imperative for the media to use premodifiers and adjectival phrases to describe anyone that’s not western … or white.  People are being characterised by the colour of their skin, their religion, whether they are Muslim, Black, African, etc.


What are premodifiers in the media?

A premodifier is: ‘a word, especially a noun or an adjective that is placed before a noun and describes it or restricts its meaning in some way’.

Black-Asian, Muslim, African-American, Syrian, ‘developing’ countries, Middle-Eastern, nuclear-armed, near-bankrupt — are just some examples.

The above premodifiers are used to describe individuals who are not white, or from the UK or the US. You might think, so what? How is this a problem? But the argument is, by using such modifiers to describe individuals or even whole nations, negative stereotypes are created which contributes towards social division. The media, however, repeatedly and habitually immerses us into this overpowering ideological rhetoric of categorising and labelling people.

Headlines using such linguistic techniques tend to makes us forget that we are all human; that we all bleed the same blood. Premodifiers and narrow adjectival phrases are one of the main sources of hate and fear, as well as being the root of xenophobia. We place a great deal of emphasis on the binary oppositions between us, the result being that we label those of a different descent from us as ‘other’.

Such stereotypes have contributed to fearmongering, nationalistic views in society — Facebook groups such as ‘Britain First’ are a prime example. 2016 has seen a spike and worst recording of hate crime than ever before. Such binary rhetoric as seen in the Sun, the Daily Mail etc., does nothing to discourage the growing alienation of social and ethnic groups.

At first glance, these descriptions of individuals just seem like a useful norm. They’re only names, right?  We see them everywhere we go. However, it is a subtle way of generalising people and countries according to their politics, economic circumstances and social environment.

It may partly also be the audience’s fault: for uncritically accepting the media’s imagery we buy into every single day. The result is that we form a negative generalisation or stereotype of foreign individuals of whom we know nothing about. Such examples are countless, the most up-to-date being linking terrorism with all Muslims – largely a result of ignorance; that there are other terrorist organisations, such as The KKK.

It seems if you are white, American and follow an anti-government ideology or commit an extremist crime, the media decline to use the label ‘terrorist’ opting instead for more apologetic premodifiers such as, ‘mentally challenged’ or ‘crazy’. These are preferred instead of the unequivocal ‘fundamentalist’ stamp, which does nothing to dispel the idea of their being a double standard.

Here is a fragment from a member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations describing the media’s reporting of terrorism:

It was an act of terror, but when it’s not associated with Muslims it’s just a day story that comes and goes’.

Media agents predominantly participate in the creation of a perceived reality. The media creates a meaning of what ‘race’ and ‘identity’ ought to mean. Perhaps, it would serve us better to use less judgement-based language and determine truth for ourselves on the basis of facts.

We claim to be a multicultural society while struggling to understand and accept diversity for what it is. Since the colonisation of nations and the globalisation of media platforms, white people with power and privilege have freely been connotative. The result is that individuals of colour or non-Westerners have historically been associated with inferiority and labelled as the ‘other’ in society.

Although society has made progress with tackling racial discrimination, inequality and injustice are still widely evident. The media is a key platform where such ideologies persist and fester, thriving on manipulative reporting. It’s time we seriously questioned this.

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