Representation matters and what you can do as a helping professional
Imagine living in a world that doesn’t think it’s important for you to see people that look like you. Or for you to see stories that represent you. As if it was constantly telling you that your perspective was not important or needed.
Try searching hairstyles or makeup and seeing no one that looks like you. Why do I have to type the word “black” or “natural” before either of these searches to find something useful to me? Imagine walking down the longest Walmart (or any store) hair product aisle and seeing nothing made for you. You have to go to the very end of the aisle over to find the tiny section they put aside for “African American” hair products.
I mean look how long it took for us to get a Disney princess… and when we did they made her a frog 90% of the movie. Like, what are you trying to say?
Growing up we were forced to look at faces and see stories that didn’t relate to us and our struggles. Sorry, but growing up for me was nothing like Gilmore Girls.
I’m so sick of seeing “black” movies or television shows being about slavery, gangs, poverty, drugs, being cheated on, etc. Those are not “black” stories. Those stories do not represent all of our experiences.
Representation in the Mass Media
Representation in mass media is how the media (books, television, movies, etc) portray different groups of people and communities. Mass media uses images and video to send shared ideas and social representations of these groups and communities.
Mass media has always been based on the perspective and served the dominant culture. These visuals allow a surrogate representation for real-world exposure where contact between majority and minority groups are limited or nonexistent. This creates issues when the visual representations are not accurate and are filled with stereotypes about the experiences and norms of these groups. Stereotyping can seem harmless but it can create unrealistic and negative assumptions about a group or community (Leavitt, P., Covarrubias, R., Perez, Y., & Fryberg, S., 2015).
This is especially true when a group is underrepresented in mass media. There are groups of people and communities who are underrepresented at significantly larger rates than other groups. These groups include people of color (POC), women, LGBTQIA+, differently-abled people, people with different body types, etc.
Over the years, popular visuals have perpetuated stereotypes and misconceptions of these marginalized groups in movies, television series, textbooks, the news, art, etc. These representations in the media have a negative impact on the real lives and issues of individuals that belong to these groups and communities (Gover, K., 2017).
A lot of the time black people are represented in the media is in a mug shot, on the news, or if they have a football, basketball, or microphone in their hands.
The media doesn’t want to show black people in a positive way, but they will keep giving shows like Real Hip Hop Wives (or whatever it is called) more seasons. The media loves to show black people in this light. Proving the stereotype that black men can only be famous for sports or rapping and black women are only good for drinking, getting cheated on, and tearing down/fighting each other.
Also, can we please stop having white people play POC in movies or cisgender folks play LGBTQIA+ roles when there are plenty of more than capable POC and LGBTQIA+ actors. This also includes taking roles away from real people who have disabilities to have them played by people who don’t have disabilities.
Why is representation so important?
The quality and quantity of portrayals of a group in mass media has a huge effect on public perceptions and sends a message on their vitality in society. Sometimes these representations in mass media are the only representation society has for some of these marginalized populations.
Being underrepresented and left out of images can lead members of these groups and communities to believe they do not belong in dominant spaces where they are scarcely represented. This invisibility puts these people at a psychological disadvantage compared to groups that are commonly and positively represented in mass media. It deprives members of that group of messages and strategies on how to be a person (Leavitt, P., Covarrubias, R., Perez, Y., & Fryberg, S., 2015).
People of color (POC) are sooo more than this. Let’s show our kids that they can grow up to be successful without playing a sport or showing their a** (not that I believe there is anything wrong with either). I just want to see more men and women of color in the government, health care systems, and police systems represented in the media.. and I don’t mean that women Trump picked who believes the government is full of lizard people (where do they find these people).
We need to be able to see stories about back people being in love, going to college, their high school drama, etc without it being about them “being black.” This is why I am so thankful for shows like Blackish and Grownish. It was the first time I was able to see kids and families struggle with things I was too. I want to normalize PoC living. Marginalized populations deserve to see people that look like us and hear stories that we can relate to.
Kids need to see that we can save lives and be heroes too. And this is why it is so important for people of color to see characters like Black Panther. How wonderful was to see Africans represented in such a beautiful way (which makes you wonder why people were so upset)? Let us see ourselves as something besides slaves or gangsters in a movie.. even though I understand that those are IMPORTANT stories that need to be told as well.
“We’ve got to keep telling out stories because our experiences are so broad and rick and multifaceted there isn’t just one way to be black… The more stories we share the more reflective we can be of the whole diverse African-American community.” – Oprah Winfrey
Society tries to put us in a box for the way they feel blackness should be based on stereotypes. We’re told the way we should speak, dress, the things we enjoy, the music we listen to. But we are all so different and unique. Believe it or not, some of us listen to other music besides Hip Hop and Rap. Some of us like anime and not all of us can play a sport. There are Black Witches, Blerds (Black Nerds), Black Republicans, bohemians etc.
What you can do to help as a helping professional?
- Try to be aware of the overt and covert messages being sent by mass media and challenge these messages.
- Advocate for contemporary and accurate representations of marginalized groups and communities by creating safe spaces for them to share and see their stories
- If you are not apart of these groups, avoid appropriating their culture.
- Making sure not to use derogatory terms and statements and practice “calling in” others who use this language.
- Research and educate yourself on marginalized groups and communities and correct others when they spread misinformation.
- You can be aware of organizations that support marginalized groups and communities. You can donate money or time if you can. If you cannot you can share resources and educate others on the things they are doing.
In conclusion, everyone is different. Don’t believe everything you see in mass media about groups you have little contact with. Don’t assume you know someone based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Do your best to be an ally and advocate for marginalized groups and communities.
Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by my page. I write about the things I’m passionate about & I’m excited to share those passions with you.
Please subscribe & follow me on Pinterest 🙂
Akintola, T. (2018, February 06). Why black representation matters. Retrieved August 26, 2020, from https://westerngazette.ca/features/special_editions/why-black-representation-matters/article_9fc86cfa-0a8c-11e8-b000-3b5afb299305.html
Gover, K. (2017, November 22). Five myths about American Indians. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths/five-myths-about-american-indians/2017/11/21/41081cb6-ce4f-11e7-a1a3-0d1e45a6de3d_story.html
Leavitt, Peter A, Covarrubias, Rebecca, Perez, Yvonne A, & Fryberg, Stephanie A. (2015). “Frozen in Time”: The Impact of Native American Media Representations on Identity and Self-Understanding. Journal of Social Issues, 71(1), 39-53.
Punyanunt-Carter, N. M. (2008). The Perceived Realism of African American Portrayals on Television. Howard Journal of Communications, 19(3), 241-257. doi:10.1080/10646170802218263
Tawil Yasmina is an artist and film lover currently living in Brooklyn, Y. (2020, July 03). What Exactly is Media Representation Anyway? Retrieved September 16, 2020, from https://arabfilminstitute.org/what-exactly-is-media-representation-anyway/