With #notmyariel going around, it seems like a great time to talk about representation!
Racism aside, one of the major quoted reason against changing things about a character is often this implied entitlement. People might say:
“Why fix what’s not broken? Isn’t changing things about beloved characters ruining them? It’s so unnecessary… and so must be PC culture. Can’t they make their own characters and leave mine alone?”
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 how having no representation has deeply affected me.
If you are having thoughts like this, I feel you, but it’s time to grow up.
Let’s break it down!
When I was younger, I resented black representation. Why? Because it sucked.
Movies with main black casts were either hardship porn, hood films, or old comedies. Those characters were never anything like me. I often didn’t want to be like them. Most books with black characters were also so poorly written and dull that I quickly became obsessed with fantasy.
White media with black people wasn’t much better. Tv shows, movies, and even the news portrayed us as criminals. Sometimes, movies even portrayed us as a more detestable character: The goofy side kick.
By puberty I withdrew from society, struggling with how media told me to be this way. When my experiences didn’t line up with that, I even rejected blackness. Instead, I tried to embrace simple being seen as a human being.
It didn’t last long.
I ran into issues in college. I couldn’t connect with my (white) peers. Much of the advice they gave me for things in life – such as hair, style color matching, or how to talk to the police – just didn’t work for me. I couldn’t connect with their love of Disney or their experiences around dating. Quickly, I found myself looking for a role model.
It was here when I faced a snafu: When it came to a role model for me, 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. I noticed every time I saw a lack of people like me, products for me, or familiar cultural landmarks. I felt isolated. Eventually, I fell into a small group of misfits and started spending 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.
Five years later, I finally moved to a more diverse area. I saw more black people in two hours at the store than in five 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 in media creates a toxic and isolating environment. It warps your perception of your self worth. It even happens after you become aware of it.
Even today, when I envision tattoos or design them for myself, I default to white skin. Why? I rarely see good work on brown skin. 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 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, this is clearly an issue that needs to be fixed. How can this affect you, you ask?
In this country we have a long, deep history of racism. The majority of us don’t have a diverse set of friends, co-workers, and neighbors. We are incredibly segregated. This mean that you are not only missing the richness of different perspectives, cultures, experiences and issues, but so are your children and loved ones.
In addition, without diverse feedback, it is easy to fall into the comfort of the status quote. Things that others see as “normal” become normal for you, too… even if they don’t apply to your life.
You also get sucked into the feedback of media around people that don’t look like you. You start to make assumptions about their lives and experiences based on stereotypes. It makes it easy to accept the things your parents passed down, even the same things their parents passed down: Racism. Sometimes its not even on purpose: It’s unconsciously seeped into your perspective of the world. The echo chamber of media reinforces it.
Still don’t believe representation affects you? Here are some important questions to ask yourself:
- 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?
The answer to all these questions? Representation.
Fine. Now what?
Lack of diverse representation hurts us all. At best it makes us ignorant; at worst, it destroys people’s self worth. Remember: Changing representation is a thing you GET to do not one you are simply OBLIGATED to. So ,what can be done?
Here are some ideas:
- Support minority created media/art to your life
- Make friends with people who are not like 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