Years ago, long before I met Toyin and long before Annika was a sparkle in my brain, I have this vague memory of being introduced to the idea that it’s important for people to be properly represented in the media.
This notion came by way of watching an interview with a Hispanic comedian who talked about his goal of finding ways to have more Latin faces on mainstream television, not just in their own shows, but in pop culture.
Initially, knowing me, I probably rolled my eyes. But it didn’t take long for the message to sink in when I began studying communications and found out just why representation is important in the media.
I could go into a long, boring explanation, but the gist is, media is part of our culture. Culture provides a reflection. And when you are not reflected in the media, there is a sense of loss. We are constantly looking for our reflections somewhere. In our parents, in our friends, in our daily lives. And that includes media. (It also probably explains a lot about why Facebook is so popular.)
There are people who will say that it doesn’t matter what’s on television, internet and magazines. That it only matters what’s inside. And I agree that it is important to have a solid sense of self. But what we see in our daily lives reflects back to us. Especially children, who are still building a solid sense of self. And since we cannot protect them from everything in the world, what they see in the media DOES matter. And it’s important that kids see positive things to reflect on.
While I’ve known that all this stuff is important, and that there are negatives reflected in the media, until the Trayvon Martin case and subsequent articles on the philosophy of our culture, I hadn’t done much research on what the media reflects back on black women.
According to this study, “Media, in short, are central to what ultimately comes to represent our social realities.” And, “… how we come to understand and perform gender is based on culture.”
The study goes to say that the majority of the representation of black women is either hyper-sexualized -think music videos, bitches and hos- or the traditional “mammy.” This study, btw was done on media from the mid-to-late 90s up through the mid 2000s.
The biracial female is raised up in status, making her the most desirable with lighter skin and typically straight hair. But she is also a “tragic mulatto.”
The study goes on to say that men of color are often just as guilty of perpetuating these stereotypes, as they are typically working for industries run by white men.
The study moves on and discusses other races, Asian women are exotic, yet subservient and ready for sex. Hispanic women are also exotic, but often portrayed with as little culture as possible, acting “white” or they are in very traditional roles, like maids (think Jennifer Lopez).
And Native American women are recast into a Western context, ignoring their culture completely.
Overall, none of this is all that new to me. But it burns a fire anew inside me to do my best to ensure that Annika gets as many positive characters inside her media intake as possible. It’s going to be hard though. She has recently taken a huge interest in fairies. And guess what, yeah, there’s only ONE black one.
Balancing Jane is written by another mama to a biracial child. But aside from the racial aspect, her blog is interesting because she examines things with an intellectual twist. She’s a PHD student, working on rhetorical construction of difference. I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds like fun in my book.
So head on over and read my post. It’s totally new and something I never would have thought to write if she hadn’t proposed it. If you’re a blogger, you can also submit guest posts on the topic of identity in balance.
It’s really late, just after midnight on Wednesday night.
I’m having a glass of wine.
Today was a whiny day. For Annika, not me. For me it’s been an snappy day.
Snappy because I’m so dang tired of the whining. So, I drink wine.
This afternoon we showed up at a pool to swim with friends. We were late because I got lost and on the way there I was frustrated and told Annika we might not be able to swim because I couldn’t find the pool.
Luckily, even though my friends were swimming, at some point one of them called to check on us, wondering if we’d gotten lost. I’m so grateful for good and thoughtful friends.
So, by the time we got there, Annika had been listening to me kvetch and complain about the traffic. I’m not exactly a road rager, but let’s just say that for the most part, it’s probably best for everyone involved that I am not at the wheel when we are lost and late.
By the time we got to the pool, Annika was whiny. And then she was frustrated because the pool was bigger than the local toddler pool where we like to go and she can reach the bottom easily.
I commented to my friends that it was whine time. Or wine time. They all heard it as wine time, knowing me as they do, but then laughed at my double entendre, quickly noting why it was wine time.
Last week I got into a little disagreement on Facebook, through a comment thread on an acquaintance’s page. I left a comment saying that people who fly confederate flags are generally not the kind of people who a black man (or woman) might want to be caught in a dark alley with. My point was not so much that flying a confederate flag makes you a racist, but in my experience, they usually are.
Then I got called a racist. By a white guy from Mississippi. Which, as another commenter on the thread pointed out, was kind of humorous.
The whole thing was kind of silly. Serves me right for wasting my time commenting on threads of people I barely know.
I forgot about it, for a day. But then out of the blue a couple of days later it popped into my head and I began to wonder, “Am I starting to be a bit of a racist toward white people?”
And then I wonder, is that even possible? The notion that white Americans can cry racism is complex and debatable in communities like Detroit, where race tension often runs high. It’s an argument that would take an entire other post to fill.
But the issue at hand, a type of ism, which I will call whiteism, and really has little to do with people who actually fly confederate flags, before Annika was born, and even before I met Toyin, I held the same opinion of confederate flag fliers.
But getting called a racist is unnerving. It’s been a long time since it has happend to me. But it happened a number of times when I lived and worked in Detroit. Black people often pulled the race card out when I worked at a bank on the border of Detroit. And it pissed me off royally every single time.
So the comment struck a nerve with me and it made me start to think about how I view other white people now.
Now that it’s been four years of being the mom to a child of color, I realize that I often view other white people with an initial suspicion that I never did before. I never needed to. I am white, and in the past, there was no reason to associate me with people of another color. Even when Toyin and I were a couple, it wasn’t the same as being someone’s mom. I never took it all that personally or really cared what people thought of us.
But a mother cares and holds concern when the thought that some people might assume negative things about her child.
All the general stereotypes that I know are there about African Americans and mixed race mothers, float through my head when we go to the park, to the store, to school, wherever, in certain neighborhoods. It doesn’t matter what they are, but I wonder, even here in liberal Austin, if they are thinking them about me/us.
They probably aren’t. I try to brush the thoughts away, telling myself that most white people aren’t racist. Even the ones who are friendly, I wonder, just a tiny bit if they are thinking something negative about me.
It’s hard to brush away all the memories of being in a group of white people and hearing things that I know they wouldn’t have said if there was a black person in the room.
And it’s just the white people I wonder about. With black people, I feel more accepted by them than I did before.
Black people typically pick up that Annika is my daughter. The occasional brown skinned person has asked if she’s mine, but for the most part, they see it.
They can tell a biracial child from a black child. They know what it looks like and in their world, it’s just not as uncommon. Additionally, they aren’t looking at her skin color because it’s not a definer. They see her hair, her bone structure. They look at her face faster. It’s not something anyone has told me, but I see it. I can see that they are really looking at her and to them, she’s just a child, not a black child.
I generally feel a sense of welcome when a black person sees Annika and me together. They smile a bit bigger than I imagine they might have when she’s not with me. They see us and they know that I will see them as a person. And I wonder, if perhaps, it’s because they know right away that they can drop their suspicions about me.
It’s true. I’m not imaging it. I began to notice it when I was pregnant. The first time I noticed it was when Toyin and I went out to eat. Our waitress was a black woman and she was so friendly to me. I thought it was just because I was pregnant. Toyin said, maybe that was why, but his guess was that it was because she knew I was carrying a black child in my belly. “You’re one of us now,” he said.
So, in some manner, becoming a part of a culture that I was never entirely privy to, have I renegotiated my status in the other culture that I was once a part of?
It’s a question I wonder about. And it’s why I know, viscerally, that racism still exists. Because I feel it inside my bones and in my heart.
I have no answer to this question. I am not interested in coining a term or floating around a new race debate (not really new). But it’s just something I wonder and I know that I will likely never have a very good answer for.