With #notmyariel going around it seems like a great time to talk about representation! Racism aside, one of the major quoted reason against changing the blank about a character is often this implied entitlement.
“Why fix what’s not broken? Isn’t changing things about beloved characters ruining them? It’s so unessasary and so must be PC culture. Can’t they make their own characters and leave mine alone?”
If you are having thoughts like this, I feel you, but it’s time to grow up. There was a point when I not only agreed with you, but had these thoughts myself! why do people care so much about race!? Aren’t we all just humans? The difference, is that I was a child, and outgrew this limited view. Additionally as I age I am starting to see the way having no representation has deeply affected me.
Let’s break it down!
When I was younger I resented black representation. Why? Because it sucked. Movies with main black casts either were hardship porn, hood films, or old comedies. Never, were those characters anything like me, or I didn’t want to be like them. Most books with black characters were so poorly written and dull I quickly became obsessed with fantasy, instead of more realistic fiction. On the other hand, white media with black people wasn’t much better. The news portrayed us as criminals, Tv shows as criminals, and movies as, you guessed it, criminals. Or worse. The goofy side kick.
By puberty I withdrew from society, struggling with all media telling me to be one way, and my experiences not lining up with that. I rejected blackness and embraced being a human being.
It didn’t last long.
In college I ran into issues. I couldn’t connect with my (white) peers and advice they gave me for things in life just didn’t work for me. ( Hair, style, color matching, talking to the police, ect) I couldn’t connect with their love of Disney, their experiences around dating, and quickly found myself looking for a role model. There was none. For the second time in my life it felt like I was hit with a ton of bricks, I was black, and that didn’t exist in mainstream media.
The smart, anxious, punk, adult I was becoming didn’t have a mirror to look at. No one to look up to. I began to get down noticing every time I saw a lack of people like me, products for me, familiar cultural landmarks. I felt isolated and fell into a small group of misfits and spent all my spare time at the local tattoo shop.
I eventually moved to Denver, an even whiter area, and was struck by a deep ache for anyone who looked like me. I hung out in the local grocery just because there was a black guy who worked there and I felt a little less alone. 5 years later and I moved to a more diverse area. I saw more black people in two hours at the store than in 5 years in Denver. I can already feel this changing what and how I think about myself.
What’s this got to do with representation?
Representation isn’t about PC points, it’s about the way it deeply affects some people in their daily life. Not being able to see someone like you creates a toxic and isolating environment. It warps your perception of your self worth, and even once you are aware of it, it still happens.
A future post is going to be on tattoos and the distressing experience around noticing when I envision tattoos or design them for myself, I default to white skin. Why? I rarely see good work on brown skin and subconsciously I’ve taken that into myself.
People of all sorts of backgrounds deserve to see themselves in the world and media. Not because of PC culture, but because it’s actually harmful to those people to not see people that look like them. There have been many different studies on children’s perceptions of race, colorism and self image around representation, and let me tell you, it’s not good.
This impacts you, and your children too
From the minority side there is clearly an issue that needs to be fixed. I can almost hear people asking about how this could possibly affect you. In this country we have a long deep history of racism for example. Additionally majority of us don’t have a diverse set of friends, co-workers, and neighbors. We are increadibly segregated. It mean that you are not only missing the richness of diffferent perspectives, cultures, experiences and issues, but so are your children and loved ones. Then, there is the fact that without that feedback it’s easy to fall into the comfort of the status quote.
You also get sucked into the feedback of media around people that don’t look like you. You also make assumptions about their lives and experiences based on stereotypes. It makes it easy to accept the things your parents passed down, the same things their parents passed down. Racism. Sometimes its not even on purpose, unconsciously it’s seemed into your perspective of the world and the echo chamber of media reinforces it.
Why can you tell all the famous Chris’s apart and yet not the three black guys in your office? Why do you have that wave of unease as you walk past a homesless black guy? Why have you never noticed the fact that the “ethnic” hair section is smaller than the men’s deodorant? Why did you never notice that few of the things you watched as a child have black characters? representation
Fine. Now what?
Lack of diverse representation hurts us all. At best it makes us ignorant, at worst destroys people’s self worth. Remember this is a thing you GET to do not one you are simply OBLIGATED to. So what can be done?
- support minority created media/art to your life
- make friends with people unlike you
- support companies diversifying representation
- if you are an artist, include diversity in your art
- Follow blogs/musicians/artists of people unlike you
- Join (as a guest) groups of minorities with similar interests
- go to art/media festivals
- be welcoming to minorities in your life
- hire a variety off humans (if you find yourself defaulting, consider the diverse representation first.
- Demand more diverse representation and celebrate it