The Study of Racial Representation via Television Commercial Analysis

Grade Level

In my Latino/Latina literature class, my primary intent is to help my students see the inequities created in our society by pervasive racism and discrimination. This project asks that the students watch two hours of television, focusing only on the commercials. Collaboratively, we assess how often Latinos/Latinas (as well as other racial and ethnic groups) are onscreen, and if they are onscreen, in what type of roles they are portrayed.

I record one hour of major network morning programming (e.g., NBC’s Today Show) and an hour of prime-time television to get a variety of commercials aimed at different demographics. As a class, we watch only the commercials. After each one, students chart the products being advertised, the (perceived) race and gender of the actors and their prominence in the commercials (e.g., in the foreground or background, speaking or non-speaking).

We replay the commercials as often as necessary to get accurate data. Ultimately, students tabulate the number of people in the commercials, group them by race, and create a bar graph to illustrate their findings. Additionally, the students reflect upon their research and answer these prompts:

What does your research generally tell you about Latinos/Latinas in TV commercials?

What are your thoughts about this?

Were you surprised by anything?

I ask the students to reflect upon what they have seen and read in class to come to a new understanding about racism on television as well as a new perspective about Latinos/Latinas and their place in American society.

Daniel Rubin
Las Cruces High School
Las Cruces, N.M.


Check out some early-grade-level activities on media literacy and social justice.

This activity addresses the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts. 

CCSS R.7, W.1, W.2, W.4, W.7, W.9, SL.2, SL.5, L.1, L.2


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