So I often hear this phrase a lot, and I mean A LOT. Representation in media matters, it’s important to be able to see yourself represented in the media. It makes sense, there’s no harm in showing other people in the media if the plot allows for it. However, over time I’ve started to notice that a lot of people don’t quite understand the significance of why representation in the media is such an important thing and has to be done correctly for it to have a truly lasting effect.
From here on out, I’ll be talking about representation from an African/Black perspective. The reason why I’m saying this is that with representation in the media, it’s not that simple, each aspect of it needs its own approach. To some extent, this can be applied to other areas. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a growth in Black representation in the media. From good ones to the bad ones, more and more people are being exposed to Black faces. And that’s it! A lot of time, the Black character in fiction are just there for the sake of being there to represent the Black race! Or they’re Blackwashed. For most people, that seems to be enough, yet for me, it’s not!
I say this because a lot of the attempt for representation from Hollywood has felt hollow and disingenuous. Over the last ten years in the media genre that I have been interested in, I have yet to recall any character (male and female) that has stood out to me from the West! I say this because, with Hollywood, and anything that falls in their realm, their understanding of “representation” often fall into one of these categories:
- Replace white characters with non-white characters (voice acting included)
- Any movies involving trauma of any kind, i.e. salve movies, ghetto come up story, or a war-torn Africa
- Any movie that has a white savior mentality vibe to it!
- Plays into a stereotype but play it off as a positive thing
They’ll tell you that now there are more Black actors, voice actors, screenwriters, directors etc but there’s a catch. Basically, what I’m trying to get at is, no matter what approach we take to bring ourselves to the world, we’re always answering to “somebody”. And that “somebody” decided whether you get funded/supported or not! And if “they” don’t like what you have envisioned, they’ll tell you to change it or scrap it!
Black people are never in full control of their image, and the only reason why we’re seeing a push in diversity is simply because it’s trending. And like all trends, it will fade eventually as we’re starting to see. The only way for representation to truly matter is when we assume total control of our image! As in, we need to find a way to create everything ourselves without being dependent on Hollywood to do right by us. We need to stop asking and expecting other industries to represent us right! We’re never going to go anywhere if we keep waiting. I’m glad I’m seeing a movement of creators stepping forward and taking control but it’s not enough.
Now that’s one aspect of representations. Now the other side of this coin is the representation in reality. I’m sorry to say this, but a lot of the bad images we as a Black community are dealing with as of recently is by our own hands. We are responsible for the type of stuff we put out into the world. So no matter how great a media is about Black people, if a large portion of us continue to upload videos on TikTok, YouTube, or any other media site, videos that show us degrading ourselves, showing us in a bad light, or just pure toxicity behavior, it will diminish the effect. Seriously, it’s very easy to find a video of a Black person or group making a fool out of themselves online, yet I can’t remember the last time I saw an Asian or Arab recording themselves doing something stupid and going viral for it. And that’s another problem. A lot of Black people have been condition mentality to seek out clout and recognition, so much so that they’re willing to throw their own community under the bus. And if you criticize them, they’ll brush it off and call you a hater, or heck even racist.
A perfect example is the Gorilla Glue girl. She could have handled her case privately, yet she chooses to record her stupidity for the world to see. She got verified for it. Or how about the trend of young Black boys making TikTok videos attacking black women for no reason. Or the prank videos of Black creators going into “the hood” to get a “hood” reaction. How about the rappers who are literally being paid to destroy their own community’s image. There are millions of these cases. Each one playing into negative stereotypes for clout. And no matter how many people try and produce positive content, they get drowned out by the negative ones.
So in conclusion, if we want representation to truly matter, we must assume total control of it, both in fiction and in reality, and we must do it ourselves, otherwise, we’re destined to be at the mercy of how everyone else sees us. I understand that we gotta start somewhere and entering the industry is a start, but should not be the end goal. And more importantly, we have to start calling our own out more!