Minorities in the Media Matter
by Sania Malik
October 21, 2015 | Voices
“If I get to see myself on screen, then I know that I exist.” –Gabby Sidibe
A young girl plays with her Barbie doll. She brushes her long, soft, blonde hair and admires her blue eyes. She frowns as she looks in the mirror and sees her own rough, curly brown hair and her dark skin. She asks her mother, “I’m pretty, right?” Her mother reassures her that she is, and the girl continues to play with the doll.
As she grows, she constantly compares herself to every white girl she sees in the movies, the music videos and the billboards. She becomes insecure and starts to feel that because of her dark skin, she isn’t as pretty or important as her lighter counterparts.
This is why people of colour (POC) representation is so important. We live in a society where children too young to even read, are bombarded with messages in the media that normalize white features. We live in a world tailored towards the needs of one skin colour, where children grow up playing with white dolls and idolizing white TV characters, and young POC are left questioning the importance people of their own skin colour. They begin to think their skin colour isn’t “normal” and everything they see becomes internalized. They’ll begin to question the importance of their skin colour, their ethnicity, their nationality, their culture. When everything they see is white, how can they begin to understand the value of colour?
Recently, Mattel created a Barbie doll who resembles the actress/singer Zendaya. She had attended the Academy Awards in February while wearing a white dress and dreadlocks. People threw racist comments at Zendaya for her hair, and the ignorant comments received backlash on social media. The Barbie doll was then created in honour of Zendaya and it is the first black doll to have dreadlocks. Black dolls did exist before this, but they had long soft hair that wasn’t the true reality of most black peoples’ hair. This is a huge step forward for POC, especially black people, who never had the opportunity to play with dolls who resembled anything close to what they look like. When people of colour are represented in the media, it challenges the idea that only straight/male/white is normal. It allows people to have a stronger sense of who they are. Children that aren’t white can have someone to look up to as a role model, and they can avoid being isolated. Positive representation can lead people to understand what POC are actually capable of, and that they are more than their stereotypes.
Most of the time, when movies and TV shows do decide to add POC actors into their works, the actors play characters that force them into racial stereotypes and they remain two dimensional. A movie will include a POC, but it’ll be the black prisoner, the Asian student, the Muslim terrorist, or the Spanish maid. This is “minimal representation”. It requires little effort but appears to be “diverse”, when it’s just a disappointing thing for POC who want to see themselves being represented accurately and seriously.
A huge sigh of relief is released when the brown person in a comedy movie isn’t speaking with a heavy brown accent to add “humour”, or when a black person isn’t portrayed as a young criminal. When POC are represented as something other than their racial stereotypes, it is pleasantly surprising and impressive.
The iPhone emoji keyboard has upgraded its symbols and has inserted numerous POC emojis. Before, there was one shade of the dancing woman. Now there are all ranges of colour, and it’s reassuring to know that the manufacturers realized why it was wrong to have only white emojis. Unfortunately, society conditions us to believe that “white is right”, and that being white is the only identity.
POC representation in the media is extremely vital, because the media influences us in more ways than we think. If we grow up watching a Muslim play a CEO, or a black person play a professor, or an Asian play a rock star, we can learn and understand that we are more than our stereotypes. As members of society, it’s important to recognize that there is a problem in the lack of representation present in media. It’s necessary to become aware of this issue and to challenge the standard that white is the only colour in the world. By understanding this and fixing this, we are one step closer to abolishing racial injustice.