UWM Professor Joe Austin spoke last Thursday about the struggle of being young and colored in the 1940’s, arguing that the news media purposely portrayed blacks as criminals, helping lead to the high black incarceration rates in the country and state.
Austin was the featured speaker in the 45th Annual Morris Fromkin Memorial Lecture on the Great Incarceration held in Golda Meir Library.
The Fromkin Lecture is the longest series of lectures at UWM. With prominent speakers like former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold and artist Raoul Deal both former presenters in the annual lecture, Austin said he was also enthusiastic to do the lecture.
Austin is a Texas-born, associate professor at UWM, who has a fascination with the history of youth and adolescence. Austin has a Ph.D. in American studies and a bachelor’s in historical studies.
Austin tells his audience that United States is prison dependent nation. Austin feels criminalization is a way framing people. In the 1940’s, there was a 60 percent chance teenagers will end up in jail if they dropped out of school, Austin says.
More than 120 people came to see Austin give his lecture. Austin said he was happy to do the lecture and was surprised that so many people came to hear it. He laughed with his audience many times before and during the lecture, joking about his excitement.
Austin showed his audience newspaper articles of African-American teenagers being criminalized by the media. Austin believes the media portrayed “whites” as victims and “blacks” as criminals. He feels the media’s reasoning had to do with segregation and the way society portrayed African American teens.
According to Austin, 20,000 news stories about African-American youth appeared on the front pages of eight major U.S. newspapers from 1940 through 1970. The government viewed all teens as subversive after World War I, said one of the New York Times articles that Joe Austin used in his lecture.
Austin said he felt a lot of people have a guided way of thinking, internalizing media constructs about black criminality for example. More people need to “think outside the frame,” says Austin. Austin doesn’t want a reoccurrence of these events and that’s why he brings attention to it. Colored teens never got a fair shot at being “actual teenagers,” Austin said.