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the importance of representation
The effects of underrepresentation and how its influencing the dynamics of society
February 15, 2022
The media has always had a profound influence on how people look at the world, the people in it, and themselves. When correctly presented, the media can help viewers understand cultures, people, and religions both similar and different to theirs. Ethnic-racial representation is something that many people look for in the media but can’t always seem to find. It’s often overlooked in various aspects, but the truth is that its importance is non-negotiable because its increasingly beneficial for a positive social and personal life.
The benefits of representation are life changing for many. In a country as diverse as America, it’s a shame that people who don’t fit the typical American identity don’t get to see themselves accurately represented. Often when people don’t see their race or ethnicity in the media, they don’t get a chance to realize how truly special and valued their identity is to the rest of the world.
So the question rises, who and what is in dire need of representation? The answer is everyone and everything, but one area is children’s media. When kids start going to school their minds are already so overwhelmed with wanting to fit in and be like their friends, and while this behavior is usually normal, its so much easier for young kids to be sucked into a cycle of wanting to be the “normal” person portrayed by the media.
Children’s shows and cartoons should show that what makes someone “different” from others is a strength instead of a weakness. This lesson is especially important in todays world where children are exposed to the media like never before. When kids don’t get a chance to feel like they are valued, there’s a risk of them carrying a feeling of being inferior and “imposter syndrome” with them into adulthood.
The new generations show the world what to look forward to in the future, so they need to be set up for success. Kids shouldn’t be sheltered, they should be taught that people are different and that it’s important to know why. They should know of a difference, but not treat differently. It’s incredibly important for kids to feel seen and be curious in and out of their homes.
Whether people like it or not, the grasp the media has on the world is drastic. The influence it has on the country includes everything from news stations painting other countries in whatever way is most accommodating, to a standard talk show. So if the media is such an influential part of most people’s lives, shouldn’t it be making a positive impact? Both kids and adults want to be able to look up to someone. When they are watching their favorite cartoon or movie, they want to be able to see aspects of themselves in their favorite characters. An absence of this is showing that the media and internet are continuing to leave a mark on everyone, and it’s not always beneficial.
The problem with most attempts of representation in the media today is that it’s one sided. Instead of showing the beauty of different ethnic groups, they’re painted as outlaws, criminals, and in negative lights just because they aren’t the majority. This negative portrait can be detrimental to the viewer’s outlook on themselves as well as their appreciation for others. While the world is slowly getting more inclusive, these outlooks are still changing the state of society. It can be so exhausting for a viewer to constantly see people who are like them being painted with dishonor, it doesn’t allow them to be proud of their people, but rather annoyed and unhopeful.
The world of cinema is constantly assigning carefully picked out characteristics to certain demographics and sticking with it. This is dangerous because to an unknowing viewer this might seem like accurate reflections of the people being negatively portrayed. Actors who are ethnic minorities or people of color, are often made to portray their character in a stereotypical light, often being the “funny character” with a broken accent or made to seem threatening or unintelligent. The character is often washed down to be accommodating to a majority of Americans in order to prevent making anyone uncomfortable, but what’s uncomfortable about showing ranges of life from all around the world? If someone has a problem with diversity, that’s their issue, not everyone else’s.
The worst part is that there are films and shows showcasing true appreciation, but they aren’t given the same platform as the ones that aren’t. This proves the point of media companies only showing diversity when it’s in their favor.
The media isn’t the only place where representation is needed. Schools are also an extremely important environment. Schools are a place for all kids to have a chance to receive an education. A school that allows the discussion of culture can fuel the success of the student body. When students don’t feel outvoted compared to their peers, especially in schools struggling with lack of diversity, a door is opened to all kinds of possibilities. An education system that allows kids that deal with stereotypes and prejudices to have truly equal chances results in the world getting millions of success stories.
Representation of all people, no matter color, ethnicity or origin is needed to create a country that can truly be “for the people.” Why should one have to deal with feeling inferior in their own country? If the number of harmful stereotypes being accepted as a casual part of life were even slightly decreasing, these hurtful notions wouldn’t be pushed onto the public as strongly.
While an increase in positive representation wouldn’t get rid of hatred powered by stereotypes, it would significantly decrease it. The media truly controls everything, and the last thing needed in this world is more hate. It’s important to have outlets where all voices are heard and amplified. In a country as diverse and multicultural as America, there’s so many ideas and practices that could benefit humanity as a whole. In order for true appreciation of all people to shown, they need to be represented as who they truly are, not as what’s most convenient.