Thought Catalog
February 6, 2014

There Should Be More People Of Color Represented In Media

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What is the issue?

I can’t help but feel bad for wanting greater representation in this field, in that department, or in children’s movies. I don’t want to be yet another black person complaining. But there’s no need to feel guilty. Why should there NOT be greater representation of people of color in this world?

There’s a quote I reblogged about white people’s number one freedom — the freedom to be totally ignorant about those who are other than white. And yes, I still think that’s true.

It doesn’t matter if the person chose the freedom or not. That’s the thing, a lot of us receive privileges and freedoms we may have not asked for. But we have them. And yes, I would say it’s white people’s number one freedom because this entire country operates keeping white people’s presence in mind. They are the prized racial group. Sure, laws have been put in place to have legal, documented equality for people of color, but that’s in response to minorities wanting the same access to opportunities white people have always had. And they’re not always practiced.

I think it’s fair to say white people are completely unaware of people of color’s realities. This doesn’t mean white people are bad people. It just means they have the luxury of not having to think or deal about the consequences of race and racism the way people of color do. When you are of a majority or dominant group, you have the privilege of not having to know what life is like for the others (unless you really want to).

It’s easy to think the status quo shouldn’t change so that other races are included. It’s easy to agree with Jerry Seinfeld and think that race and gender should have no bearing in comedy. It’s easy to make a powerpoint about the Disney movies that DO feature men and women of color in the leading role, post it on Tumblr (yes, people have done this), and think that will somehow erase the decades of white-dominated Disney films. It’s easy to think white is enough; that there’s so many different ethnic groups within the white race that there’s so much Disney can do with that! But come ON.

I think we can take a break from white people and white narratives for awhile. I want more people of color. Actors, actresses, and artists shouldn’t have to resort to YouTube or Vimeo to post web series and creative works because mainstream television networks aren’t actively seeking talent from different racial backgrounds. While I’m happy that SNL is featuring a black woman for the first time in quite awhile, it was in response to people like me who wanted more roles offered to people of color. Scouting a black woman wasn’t something the writers and producers initiated themselves because representation is not a priority for the white people in power. The casting was reactionary, just like the Civil Rights laws enacted in the 1960s. Reactionary.

I need for the social systems in this country to change. I need for white people to one, stop thinking I hate them and two, to stop thinking that simply critiquing the social dominance of whites and finding it problematic, is somehow a personal attack against them. It’s not hatred, it’s frustration. It’s more than my interpersonal relationships, it’s a system of white supremacy coupled with institutional racism that has me on edge. It’s me fed up with being a black face in a white space and the racial microaggressions that may be unintentional, but are ignorant and racist as fuck:

The “I wouldn’t mind dating a black guy and mixed kids are sooo cute! But I just wouldn’t want to deal with the hair” insults.

Or the “Black parents shouldn’t have to sit down with their kids and have discussions about how to carry themselves as black teens at the mall or getting pulled over by the cops. They shouldn’t have to take extra precautions because racism isn’t as bad anymore” comments in response to forms of institutional racism like stop-and-frisk, racial profiling, and the Trayvon Martin tragedy.

Or my favorite from last summer, the “Maybe if Trayvon hadn’t worn a hoodie, Zimmerman wouldn’t have found him suspicious. The case had nothing to do with race” foolery.

My, oh my, the privilege to be white. To be totally ignorant of what it means to be in black or brown skin.

It’s the lack of understanding and the lack of encouragement I receive simply for being meIt’s the total, unbelievable ignorance that stems from knowing absolutely nothing about black life or the black identity other than the “urban vernacular/slang” that all black people supposedly use and what others appropriate. The twerking. The “Oh no you didn’t!” The finger snapping, hip poking, lip smacking, hot sauce loving, hip-hop blaring, uneducated, excuse making blackness.

Race isn’t something I can just turn off ; it’s on all the time. Whiteness is what I see. It’s on the TV when I see yet another hair commercial, insurance commercial, or cleaning commercial with “the perfect family.” It’s there at the Golden Globes, the Grammys, Academy Awards, on magazine covers, in my class syllabus, those “teen blogs” or “teen” Twitter accounts as I’m reminded just how important whiteness, white history, white representation and white voices are.

I see the ignorance in my old roommate’s eyes as she equates the historical and present racism and stigmas people of color are subject to (both personally and institutionally) to her very unfortunate, yet limited and isolated experiences of being bullied by black people in high school.

I see the ignorance when a white friend doesn’t know what I’m talking about when I mention anything about social systems, inequality, racial privileges, and prejudice because she’s unfamiliar with what the terms mean.

White people are what’s considered normal. Hell, even as I scroll through my Tumblr dashboard, most of the models and pictures are of white men and women. Unless you make the effort to follow blogs specifically featuring black men and women, that is what you normally see.

I distinctly remember my dad telling me to play with a Brandy doll he bought me since I had so many white dolls. As I got older, he wanted me to read magazines catered to black audiences. Magazines like JET and EBONY where I could see men and women who had darker skin. But I didn’t want to. White men and women was what I’d seen in popular culture. They were the heroes, princesses, beauty queens, and the love interest being pursued by the “good guy.”

White people are adequately shown and credited in textbooks making contributions to American life. Whiteness is supreme – that is what I was socialized to believe without anyone actually saying it. Unless the curriculum was related to slavery, Jim Crow, the Indian Removal Act, Japanese Internment camps, or Cesar Chavez, that was all I knew about people of color in my formal education. I had to discover things on my own. And I did. In a perfect world, public education would incorporate so much more from people of color.

But I was still dissatisfied with myself. I wasn’t light enough. Pretty enough.

Even in today’s era when I look at the emoji keyboard on my smart phone: white. There’s one Asian and a brown person with a turban. There’s a gay couple, a lesbian couple, but no interracial couple. There is no black emoji. In a perfect world, there would be way more Asian, brown, and black faces to choose from.White is right. I am re-inforced this every day. I may not choose to believe it, I may tell myself otherwise, but the messages are still there.

They’re being internalized by a young black girl who’s also combing Barbie’s blonde hair and looking in her blue eyes. They’re being internalized by a young black boy who only sees the criminalization of black men on the television screen. They’re being internalized by young Muslim boys and girls who only see people like them depicted as terrorists; Indian and Asian Americans who are depicted as store clerks, the submissive “oriental,” or kung fu masters.

Kids, parents, students, young adults, professionals, scientists, intellectuals, activists, grandparents, are socialized to see white as the default identity.

If we can’t even acknowledge this, we have a problem.

If Americans can’t even sit down and have an honest conversation about race, privilege, the glorification of whiteness, and actually listen to those of us in the margins when we talk about these issues, we have a problem.

If white people are going to squirm in their seats and divert conversations about race to solely something about class to deny their privilege and not even recognize that both race and class intersect, we have a problem.

If they’re going to get irritated at black people for showing discontent about how yet another Disney main character or princess is white, we have a problem. 

Whiteness and white supremacy has been the foundation of this country from its inception and it has has carried into 2014. If you can’t see it, I don’t know what to tell you other than the point is to see, not to be blind. Being color-blind isn’t an option.

So tell me, am I complaining, or is there truth to my words? Because according to a lot of white folks, including a former professor of mine, this is considered complaining. TC mark

image – Shutterstock