Can you see me now?
THE WRITE WAY
A study by USC’s Annenberg School For Communication and Journalism looked at the 500 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2012 and discovered that, “Across 100 top-grossing films of 2012, only 10.8 percent of speaking characters are Black, 4.2 percent are Hispanic, 5 percent are Asian, and 3.6 percent are from other (or mixed race) ethnicities.”
Though these numbers are small, they’re growing.
As a kid, I acted out scenes from my favorite cartoons, movies and stories. I would place myself in the shoes of any of my many favorite character. However, these events would rarely go far before I realized someone like me would look starkly out of place in an all-white cast. Or even an all-black cast, for that matter.
Now when I turn on the TV, which granted is not often, I don’t even look for racial diversity anymore. The same can be said for many other major media sources—radio, literature, social media. I’ve become numb to the overly-white stereotype-laden stimuli. When I do choose to watch, listen, or read, though, I can’t see myself, or anyone like me, in the situations I see.
These experiences were long before the days of Aziz Ansari, whom I love. But before Aziz, the only Indian on TV was Apu from The Simpsons, a show I was never allowed to watch due to the conservative home I grew up in.
To me, and most of my well-meaning friends, Indians in America were basically cab-driving, turban-wearing, convenience-store-owning people who ate spicy food and had undecipherable accents. Yet when I looked around at my family and the scarce few Indians I knew who were not related to me, I knew this to be untrue.
Even with the insight media provides into various cultures, producers and writers often trade the diverse range of cultures within each ethnicity for an easily digestible archetype. Consumers pay a sort of convenience tax when accepting these interpretations as reality, and, for the most part, we’re okay with that price.
However, when those like me, first-generation Americans raised by immigrants, look to television and the media to see where we fit in, it’s rare that a non-gloss image appears.The problem here is not with the archetypes that are put forward, but rather the laziness with which we accept them. A 2015 article by Maryann Erigha, professor of sociology at the University of Memphis, showed that three factors affect media representation of any minority group: quantity, quality, and accuracy.
Beyoncé’s new song “Formation” and its accompanying music video was the straw that broke the camel’s back in this careful balance. The video was laced in racial imagery—Beyoncé drowning on a New Orleans police car is reminiscent of hurricane Katrina—and lyrics specifically intended for black audiences.
Issues of reverse racism, the Black Panther Party, and the appropriation of black culture were dredged from their dark hiding places in the underground rap scene and Tyler Perry movies.
Beyoncé’s display of pride in her culture was just as far from equal representation as the rest of the media. Many discussions of race (and all its included parts) have yet to break away from the black-white matrix and include the “rest of us”. An all (insert race here) cast benefits only those of that race. Though many think so, race reversal is not the true goal of media integration.
As we work to find what a balanced cast (TV, movies) and discussion (news, documentaries) look like, we ought to remember that the present condition is just as important as the end goal. There are numerous video clips, songs, and scenes I can point to that work toward a more even playing field for people of color in the media.
But the question still stands:
Can you see me now?
Setheesh is a sophomore mathematics and religious education major.