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.
That’s why this study on Gender, Race, and Media Representation bothers me so much.
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.