Structural Racism


  1. Watch one hour of television on a network television station (ABC, NBC, CBS, The CW, or FOX) during prime time (Sunday-Friday, 8-11 pm). These networks, in this time frame, have the widest television viewership, which is why you will be watching the show(s) during this time.
  2. In addition to a network television station at prime time, select a channel airing TV shows that you regularly watch, or would be most likely to watch. For example, if you tend to watch shows on ABC during prime time, then watch those shows. If you don’t regularly watch a lot of TV, you might try the TV Guide (Links to an external site.) listings and see which show(s) is most appealing to you.
  3. Start on the hour. For example, start watching television at 8 pm, not 8:15 pm. You should also schedule this hour of television early to give yourself enough time to do the work.
  4. Count and document the following for the hour:
    • The number of commercial breaks during the hour, and the duration of each commercial break. You are just timing the commercial breaks, not each commercial.
    • For each commercial break, count how many commercials aired during that time frame.
  5. As you are counting the commercial breaks, pay close attention to the first three commercials that air. For the first three commercials that aired during that hour, document the following:
    • The product being marketed, and the company that is advertising the product.
    • The demographics of the main characters in the advertisement. The main people are the ones who you think the company is trying to market to. These are the typically the people shown using the product. Also document significant people they interact with in the commercial. For example, if the commercial features a family at the dinner table, then the members of that family are the main characters. Document what you can about the race, age, gender, sexuality, and social class of the main people in the commercial. If other social categories are relevant (e.g., an underrepresented religious group), you should document that as well. Do not include characters in the background.
    • Five signifiers and their signifieds about the commercial. That is, document five things you can observe about the commercial. Focus on the visual tools the company is using to try and sell a product. This might include things like the setting, color schemes, camera angles, body positioning, facial expressions, and other visual cues. You can also use your knowledge from the film The Illusionists to help you.
    • In one sentence, explain the central message of this commercial. In other words, what is the company trying to communicate to the consumer about why they should buy the product? Write this sentence from the perspective of the company (e.g., If you buy this fragrance, you will attract women.).
  6. For the first three commercials, make sure you write down what they were advertising and the company right away. You might not be able to document everything the first time. If you at least have the product and the company, you can likely find the commercial on YouTube later.
  7. Document all of your information into the worksheet, which is included at the bottom of the instructions.

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