Last week, I sat in a workshop about stereotypes in the media.
It was held at Columbus State University as part of an annual diversity conference.
The walls were decorated with sheets of paper with labels based on race, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity.
Three diversity peer educators asked workshop participants to write what media stereotypes came to mind in each of those categories.
Of course, there weren't many surprises. Black men, according to workshop participants, are portrayed in the media as "criminals, lazy and aggressive."
White men are usually "white-collar, rich and CEOs." They're apparently also portrayed as "smart alecks," according to one participant.
Black women? You guessed it.
They're "angry, loud and rude." White woman are "calm, laid back and trophy wives."
Male immigrants are portrayed as "drug dealers and criminals." Female immigrants are usually "sexy."
And the stereotypes went on and on.
As I observed the activity, I was reminded again of the significant impact that media has on all over our lives.
The group then discussed possible solutions.
One woman said she knew people who fit the stereotypes and also some who didn't. The problem, she said, was a lack of balance.
Others in the group called for more diversity among the people producing movies, TV shows, commercials and newscasts, and those writing for newspapers and magazines.
They believed that would help solve the problem.
That's all good, but I couldn't resist pointing out another ingredient in the mix -- and that's the consumer.
The truth is that media companies, like all other businesses, exist to make money.
If there's no one watching the shows, buying the movies, listening to the music, they would have to change their tune.
But as Americans, many of us have become such passive consumers. We buy whatever people are selling, regardless of the long-term effect on us as individuals and society. We're programmed to consume without really thinking and to just live with the consequences.
Young consumers are especially vulnerable because they're still so impressionable.
I believe that's one of the reasons why we have so many young black men gravitating to a life of crime.
Images in the media tell them what they're suppose to do and they follow.
It takes a conscientious effort to break that cycle. But I believe we, the consumers, have the power to turn the tide.
We can control the media, instead of it controlling us. But it starts with the pocketbook.
Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.