As much as the endlessly-optimistic sorts like to believe that race is no longer a discriminatory factor any more than eye color is, the fact remains that race is still very much an issue, especially in fiction. While media today is far more racism-sensitive than in the days of the Ethnic Scrappy, the following stereotypes still linger on:
Europeans: Make up the lion's share of western media. The first image that pops up into a westerner's mind upon hearing the word "hero" will probably be a white man (though the main villain, if native to a Western country like America, will nigh inevitably be white as well). Due to the influence of western culture and politics, white people tend to be vastly over-represented in global media. In western media, white people are almost always portrayed as superior to other races (except morally, in which case they might need to be shown the light by a Noble Savage (Avatar), a down to earth person of color (Bringing Down the House), or a black man playing God incarnate (Bruce Almighty or Bedazzled).) The most pronounced example of this trend is the Mighty Whitey, who surpasses all non-whites around him and sometimes snags The Chief's Daughter for his trouble. Over the years, efforts have been made to diversify western media and eliminate the racism, though it's an ongoing debate as to how successful these efforts have been. Even in nonfiction, white people seem to get more attention than anyone else. Diversified casts, often aimed at minority audiences, usually have at least a Token White character, who is often The Lancer. Because white people are considered to have all the power in western society, they are Acceptable Ethnic Targets, usually as a form of comedy. What also must be taken into consideration is that certain types of what we now call "white" people were historically not depicted very often because they were thought of as "not white enough", or in some cases not white at all. In general, only Anglo-Saxons, Germanic, Scandinavians, Baltic Slavs, Russians from the western side of Russia, and the French (except when their "Latin" traits were being played up) have been the only European groups thought of as unambiguously "white" throughout the entire history of American popular media. Eastern Europeans (especially Russians) are still often stereotyped as Dirty Communists (in the US) or poor, job stealing nuisances (in the UK).
Black People: People of sub-Saharan African descent, regardless of actual skintone, with African-American specific stereotypes prevailing. Frequently the Token Minority in an otherwise all-white cast, black people have achieved the greatest increase in positive TV depictions. The Magical Negro is the most common one, but some producers still can't resist slipping in a wisecracking Uncle Tomfoolery for comic relief, though such stereotypical roles often come with a You Know I'm Black, Right? line or Stereotype Reaction Gag from the creators as a sort of "we're not racists but we're still going to make a race gag anyway." The Scary Black Man crops up in police procedural shows, but is always found to be innocent, avoiding the stigma of the Scary Minority Suspect. There's an increased chance of appearing in a role on a TV show as a judge or a police officer. They are most likely to become a Captain Ethnic or Proud Warrior Race Guy. Growing more frequent in television is the Black Boss Lady, who simultaneously provides a positive black character as well as a positive female character in a Twofer Token Minority. There is also Black and Nerdy, a character who is pretty much completely stripped of any typical black stereotypes and is most likely academically inclined (but may still speak with an inner city accent and use double negatives). The subject of portraying black male characters and crime is problematic. One side of the issue argues that current depictions play into stereotypes of violent black men (cf. Scary Black Man). The other side of the issue says that modern depictions ignore important issues in black communities and paint an unrealistically positive picture. So whatever, sticking to stereotypes you can't win either way.
Sometimes such fanatical care is taken to avoid matching black characters to negative stereotypes, however, that an inverse occurs, in which said character is one of the few exempt from a certain negative condition (ala the movie Sgt. Bilko, in which the only intelligent character is black).
Latin Americans: Less likely to be a Token Minority than black people, much less be shown in a good number of TV shows. Many Latinos are either clownish buffoons or thick-mustached, greasy-faced villains, and are rarely ever portrayed seriously. A partial exception to this is the charismatic Latin Lover, but even that depiction still presents the Hispanic as a slightly menacing presence because of his overt sexuality associated with his ethnicity. Latinas are almost always irresistibly sexy firecrackers who have ample chests, skintight clothing, and are irredeemably gossipy and short-tempered—unless they are over 40, in which case they immediately transform into rotund, tempermental mother-figures. In many shows and films (most notably The Shield), Latin gangs are generally portrayed as more violent and brutal than black gangs. There's some uncertainty in media over whether Hispanics are a "race" rather than a linguistic/cultural group, likely because they come from a whole spectrum of centuries of mixing black, white, and native but not many people outside Latin America know this. Not very many people are aware of race relations in the Hispanic world, where those with predominately Spanish or Portugese background are considered at the top of the chain, followed by Creoles, black and full-blooded Native. One episode of Law & Order even featured a Hispanic white supremacist, fiercely proud of his "pure Spanish blood" (note ), much to the disgust of the Hispanic detective interviewing him, showing a dramatized version of Truth in Television. Films and shows centering around Latin families seem to have made progress in recent years. For example, Spy Kids, The George Lopez Show, Ugly Betty, and Wizards of Waverly Place.
East Asians: Vastly underrepresented in American media. This is most notably evident in TV shows or movies taking place in cities with a very significant Asian population in real life but few, if any, Asian characters. The few representations that do exist are mired in stereotypes. Viewed as the "model minority" in real life, portrayed as having no financial problems, and not experiencing racism. Historically, they were referred to as model minorities because they were less likely to be vocal about mistreatment like other minorities, such as Blacks and Hispanics over Jim Crow, or Jews over Antisemitism. In reality, there are Asian groups who are considerably worse off than whites, but the model minority myth largely overrides this. Asian depictions are split between smart, hopelessly nerdy guys (but never otaku, mind you) with a knack for technology or Funny Foreigners who speak broken English (the Asian Store-Owner is one such minor comic role). Though we've come a long way since the Yellow Peril, we still have a long way to go. For example: the Asian man will never, ever, get the girl. At most he will receive a remark regarding his small penis. Their womenfolk, on the other hand, are hyper-sexualized demons in the sack and will almost always fall for the white guy or even the black guy (Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow). They are shown as switching to "Chinese" when one relative makes outlandish remarks about any non-Chinese nearby. There's never any distinction made between Mandarin and Cantonese, there's just this one, magical Chinese language. Oh, and they all know martial arts. No distinction is made between different East Asian countries, completely oblivious to the conflicts of imperialism between China, Japan and Korea. The inverse of blacks, East Asians, even born and raised Asian-Americans, they are all perceived as the same uniform mass of squinty-eyed foreigners who are identical.
South Asians: Will occasionally appear as corner shop owners or doctors, or cab drivers on U.S. TV. A handful may be portrayed as computer scientists or other science researchers, but all of them have a veddy veddy thick accent. Good luck finding South Asian women, and when they do appear, they tend to have very few lines. If a South Asian woman is portrayed as either having or being a love interest, expect the man to be white. If she's already married, expect her husband to also be South Asian. All movie and TV South Asians are Hindu, and expect a number of lampshades to be hung on aspects of the Hindu religion. Muslim and Sikh South Asians are vanishingly rare on TV, although Sikh-style turbans frequently appear on "Hindu" characters. More prominent in European Media, particularly in Britain where they are the second largest minority group. (In Britain, the term "Asian" generally means South Asian rather than East Asian and East Asian people are called "Oriental". Also, the Asian Store-Owner stereotype is usually switched to Pakistanis.)
- Note that the likes of Holby City and Emmerdale is one of the many positive portrayals of South Asians,
Native Americans: Good luck seeing them beyond a few Noble Savages and Pocahontas, unless you make a side-trip to a casino. Their religion and culture will most likely be simplified to earthy nature-worship and "magic." Exception: Canadian television where they are more common (often in roles where being aboriginal is incidental to the character). If the character is female, she may be an Indian Maiden and/or a Nubile Savage.
Arabs: Still an Acceptable Target, something that can even be seen here on TV Tropes, unfortunately. Almost always portrayed as brutal terrorists. If not terrorists, Arabs will be billionaires or belly dancers... although those depictions have become far less common after 9/11. Generally depicted as the only people living in the Middle East, apart from Israelis. Old Jewish stereotypes like the big-nosed miser are now frequently applied to Arabs. Positive portrayals are very rare, except again in Europe where they are given positive roles a little more often - particularly in France where Arabic and North African (Algerian and Moroccan) people are a significant minority. Since 9/11 almost every media work with Arab villains now includes a Token Minority Muslim good guy, who is usually misunderstood. Sometimes writers mistake Turks, Persians, or even Afghans for Arabs out of sheer ignorance.
Jews: Perhaps over-represented as a "minority," Jews pop up all over the place in literature, film, and television, especially in the USA. This is most likely due to the significant influence that Jewish culture has had in the arts, especially in Los Angeles and New York. Writers often include a Jew, even if they don't plan on doing anything with the character's faith, just to make sure that Judaism is represented somehow. Don't expect there to be any distinction made between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform branches of Judaism. Media depictions of a bris and bar mitzvahs are common when Jews are involved in the storyline, but it is incredibly uncommon for a girl's bat mitzvah to ever be depicted, let alone even mentioned. Good luck getting one past the informed or ambiguous markers, though, and don't expect to find any Israelis or non-Ashkenazim. Overly stereotyped as having dark hair and pale skin, despite there being plenty of blond/blonde haired and blue eyed Jews, red-headed Jewsnote , green eyed Jews, mixed-race Jews, African American Jews, Hispanic Jews, East African Jews and converts from all over the world. Most media Jews are just white people with Judaism added as a character trait.
Everyone else: Everyone else collectively throws up their hands and wonders "why do we keep getting overlooked? So many famous people come from our Ethnic Group X!"
And let's not forget media attempts to discourage racism: some shows simply stick a Token Minority (or even a Twofer Token Minority!) in the cast, a few go all-out with an all non-white cast, or a Five-Token Band including an unexceptional Token White, and still others have a Captain Ethnic as the lead hero or a major character. Many kids' shows make sure to slip in a Very Special Episode about racism or a plot clearly intended to parallel overcoming prejudices. A few shows or games will even make sure enemies are ethnically diverse to try and avoid children associating any one group with "evil".
The success of these antiracist efforts depend on how fleshed-out the minorities are as actual people; if they fall into the trap of simply being there for Political Correctness with little personality outside of their defined racial roles, it comes off as Anvilicious. If, on the other hand, they manage to transcend their stereotypes to become three-dimensional characters in their own right, their creators actually got the message that skin colour really has no effect on personality.
The above classifications are meaningless terms in anthropology and evolutionary biology because science has shown there isn't enough difference between the groups to warrant the classification. Sociologists still use these terms but they're used as social constructs instead of being grounded in biology.