Profile of Omotayo Banjo

Exploring Media Messages and Race

Date: 02/02/2018 5:00:00 PM

By: Stuart Lindle
Contact: Julie Campbell-Holmes
Phone: (513) 509-1114
Photos: University of Cincinnati

CINCINNATI, Oh. - Media (according to Merriam-Webster) are means of cultivation, conveyance, or expression. Omotayo Banjo, an associate professor of communication at the University of Cincinnati (UC) in the College of Arts & Sciences, is interested in the messages the media sends, particularly messages shaping how we see one another racially and culturally.

Photograph of Professor Banjo in her office.

Professor Omotayo Banjo

As a first-generation American, a child of Nigerian immigrants, Omotayo’s sense of identity was shaped by her parents, the food she ate, and the language she heard more than her skin color. “I lead with culture, instead of something as arbitrary as race,” Banjo said. It was when she went to college that she began to understand how people perceive her. “Within the context of being in America, my skin color meant more to other people.” she said.

For Banjo, the nuances of identity are complex and layered. They involve race, culture and tradition. They encompass not just how we others, but how we see ourselves. She specializes in the intersection of race and media. She looks at how race and culture are represented in the media, and how different audiences perceive those representations.

In her 2013 article “For Us Only?”, published in the scholarly journal Race and Social Problems, Banjo explored discrepancies between black audience enjoyment of black films —written, directed, and starring primarily blacks — and their perceptions of perceived stereotypes.

The study that Banjo conducted revealed that though black audiences might enjoy black entertainment, her participants were still concerned with how other — specifically white — audiences might negatively interpret stereotypes on screen.

In this study and others, Banjo looks at the wider picture of identity in media; how it’s more than how we see ourselves, but how we think others see us.

Screen capture of Professor Banjo discussing her work on a local TV news show.

Professor Banjo discusses her work on a local TV news show.

Banjo has also conducted research on topics ranging from ethnicity and religion to perceptions of romance in media. Her peer reviewed articles can be found in academic journals such as Communication Theory, Penn State McNair Journal, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, and more.

Recently, Banjo was invited by UC College of Law Interim Dean Verna Williams to speak on a panel about democracy, the First Amendment and equality. The purpose of the event was to shed a light on aspects of free speech relevant to life in academia.

“I wanted to address the First Amendment beyond just, ‘what is it?’” Williams said. In her eyes, that meant addressing the full discourse around the amendment — including how it pertains to UC considering self-proclaimed “alt-right” and white nationalist speaker Richard Spencer’s plan to visit the campus.

In an age of fake news and alternative facts, Banjo believes it’s important to advocate education rather than censorship. “As educators we try to get students to think critically, and engage in debate in healthy ways,” she said. To her, this means teaching students how to evaluate and use information to form their own perspectives, and to always seek the truth.

Dr. Banjo is an affiliate faculty member of the Africana Studies; Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies; and Journalism departments.