Dr. Samori Swygert: How is your child’s mind altered by television?

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Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 11.06.39 AMHow TV commercials destroy the psyche of black children

By: Dr. Samori Swygert

Television viewership has unfortunately become a mainstay, and one of America’s favorite pastime activities. We all watch a TV screen at some point in time with friends, family, or by ourselves. However, what’s being subconsciously implanted in our psyche if we engage in passive viewership?

Do we conduct routine critical analysis of not just the TV shows but the commercials that are aired for our consumption? Many people will consider TV commercials to be harmless and innocent in nature. However, we must understand the psychology of consumerism and mercantilism. There is a science to this, and as humans we are creatures of habit and repetition. Repetition gives birth to habit, and habit leads to indoctrination.

The next time you turn on your TV, take out a pencil and notepad. Yes I’m forcing you out of “passive viewership”. These are some exercises I want to share on how to breakdown commercials and extract meaning from them for your household.

The race-ratio

I want you to conduct a race ratio of the actors in all the commercials that you see. How many caucasians do you count compared to blacks, and other groups of color in the commercial? Are all the actor in the commercial white or predominantly white?

Script sculpting

There may be an assortment of races in the commercial. The commercial may be culturally diverse, however, what is the dialogue and role about? If there are black people in the commercial, are they singing, dancing, or associated with some sport? Are the blacks in the commercial being portrayed as being “helped, informed, or enlightened” to some new device, invention, activity, method, or counseling by a lawyer, doctor or altruistic white neighbor?

Are blacks depicted as daring, creative, explorers, discoverers, and experts in equal magnitude of whites? How many commercials will you count with African Americans being conquerors, warriors, kings, descendants of deity-like forces, or have super powers?

How many commercials do you see role reversal in which an African American doctor, lawyer, neighbor, or scientist is explaining something new to white patrons or families?

Ethnic Acoustics

I propose a term I thought of called, “ethnic acoustics”. This doesn’t hold true all the time. However, everyone can attest that there have been numerous instances where we can sonically detect the “probable” race of person without their visual presence. This may be due to accent, slang, tonality, inflections, and other forms of verbal manipulation of sound that is customary to specific groups. This isn’t full proof, and shouldn’t be used as evidence in the court of law.

Many times commercials use voice-overs. These type of commercials don’t display the race of the narrator and focuses on the product and service. However, count how many times you think you’re listening to someone who is non-black. Don’t be arrogant and say it can’t be done either, because there are several visually impaired individuals that can perform this exercise with an accuracy in the 90th percentile.

Settings and scenery

What are the settings and scenery of the commercials? How many black women are shown by themselves versus a white family on a sunny day with a dog present, children around and in a park? How many white families are portrayed as homeowners in nice neighborhoods? How often do you see African Americans on hiking trails, bike trails, jogging trails, and peaceful times on the beach, enjoying a leisurely nature stroll, or being serviced with all the amenities and accoutrements of luxury in a hotel, airline, or spa?


Okay we may be present in the commercial. However, are we sitting down while being spoken to, are we in the back of a mass of people, are we near last if the commercial has some sequential order, and are blacks on land while white people are in space or some other aerial perspective?

Pressing mute

Another strategy I use in dissecting commercials, is pressing the mute button on my remote. Commercials pick-up a whole new connotation and meaning when it’s just the video component. Sound can be a distraction for other intents and purposes. Have you ever been in a room that you thought was quiet, and someone comes in and turns off the air conditioner? Your senses then become keener to your surroundings.

With the TV on mute, you’re able to perceive more content. You detect the nonverbal communication, establish patterns of dominance and authority in behavior. The target audience of the commercial becomes more clear and elucidated.


I assert that there is underrepresentation of African Americans in TV commercials, and our roles lack initiative, assertiveness, and equity in the portrayal of dominance and control.

Why is this important? I feel this is crucial because advertisement and media subliminally and subconsciously affect kids. What do these commercials tell our kids if they can’t identify with what’s being portrayed and depicted? A substantial portion of a child’s learning is based on observation and modeling. It’s possible that this can foster an inferiority complex in our kids if we don’t filter, counter act, and intervene on what they see. This also means that we need to drastically reduce the amount of television time. We must routinely immerse and expose our children to activities where they see African Americans engaging in positive and productive pursuits.

I say it is the philosophy of “pay me, don’t play me”. This means many companies will gladly take our money but cut ties when incorporating us in the company vision. Lastly, I repeat, we must own our businesses. I can complain and point out media strategy until I’m blue in the face. However, if I don’t own the company, I can’t tell them who to put in their commercials.