The media reflects the values of the society around it. For the longest time, black voices and stories were not valued or represented. As representation started happening for the black community, it was filled with hurtful stereotypes and far-off misconceptions. I would say within the last five years we have seen more representation of the black community and actual value has been placed on the stories being told.
Representation matters within the slightest things, but affects our entire psyche. When we were children, we looked to society and the pop culture around us to begin to form our own identities and find our niche in the world. However, when all we’re shown are different depictions of whiteness, it subconsciously tells us that we aren’t enough to be a part of the majority.
In recent years, Hollywood’s push for diversity has seemed insincere and usually ends up with a multitude of characters playing a stereotype rather than an actual depiction of black and minority voices.
For me, learning about my culture and taking a deep dive into it has been extremely enlightening. I was usually in predominantly white spaces with few black friends so it didn’t feel like what I had to say mattered or would be as accepted. It took me longer than it should have for me to want to learn about my culture and actually begin to research the lies and half-truths about history and blackness that are still thrown around.
James Baldwin was the first black artist that I could identify myself with in his writings. After I found out about his work, I looked into other prominent black figures from the past and now and I curated my own list of black artists whose work is important to me. It finally became important to me that I was able to see myself in the world around me as more than just a character added for funny commentary, hoping my name wouldn’t become a hashtag on Twitter. I learned that just because the media or society didn’t value an accurate story about a black woman’s experience in America doesn’t mean I should discredit my own or other girls’ like me.
Lately, accurate depictions of black people and minorities have been seen more in media and the arts which is really amazing to see. I’m grateful that black kids will be able to see themselves in Oscar-winning movies and shorts and envision themselves as an important main character — not just an add on.
I think it’s a glimmer of hope for where our society is heading. There’s so many people I look up to and am a fan of because now their voices are able to be heard and validated. It makes you feel like you can do what they are doing and that is exactly how it should work to influence a new generation. Often these voices are still drowned out and I think it’s important for us as supporters to share what these voices have to offer.
Being able to identify with someone is a crucial part of our human experience. It is unfortunate that so many people don’t grow up seeing themselves in much of anything. I love that as a society we see this and are able to make strides to improve on representation for generations to come.
We shouldn’t always have to go hunting to be understood. Since I experienced the difficulties that I went through to see myself, I do strive to be a role model for the young kids in my life. I think it’s incredibly rewarding and allows you to see the influence of accurate representation on the young people of today.
Ellyse Logan is a sophomore studying international business. Follow her on Twitter @ellyselogan.