The Gray Face of Representation
Today’s social issues can be boiled down to the desire for people to see themselves in the media they consume. It is almost impossible to go on Twitter without seeing wars being fought over which shade or which race of our communities should be cast to play whomever in whatever. These identities are important in being seen in our films, movies, and ads. The world is not only “one color” and just as our everyday lives are compilations of many backgrounds it should be so that these backgrounds be represented in content that is made for all consumers. However representation is not this simple.
I myself identify as a college student who enjoys going out with friends, a growing graphic designer, a frequent online shopper, and lover of all things classic television. However, I am instantaneously seen as a petite black girl with curly hair. This is a large part of my identity. I love my curls, the vibrancy of my skin and the way it makes me stick out wherever I go. However, it is not the entirely of my identity or culture. Online I see articles praising the dark women being casted for movies and finally being represented in the “nudes” sections of stores’ clothing campaigns. I see new tv shows and films with all black casts acting as trailblazers for future children who wish to do the same thing. This is great to see and is important to see, however this form of literal color representation has never mattered to me that much. I am more than what is seen on my ID or a college application. I have never been moved by seeing a black little orphan Annie. I have never felt a sense of triumph in seeing an “urban” recreation of “Can’t Buy Me Love” (Love Don’t Cost a Thing). Simply replacing the color within the same storylines is contrary to the progression that we need to see in our country.
I see myself as an artist, a young adult, a zany little sister, a lover of travel, and a person with no clue where life will take her. I see myself as a fashion connoisseur, a girl who gags at the sight of cheese but can’t turn down a slice of pizza, and an “almost adult” that can party all night but need to call my mom the morning after when it’s time to face my real responsibilities. This is me; and all these nuances and little habits exist within me. Therefore, when I see simply a black character on screen, I only see a picture of myself rather than my whole story. Relationships can be begun by more obvious connections like race, sexual orientation, or but only through in-depth, interpersonal connections can these relationships be sustained. I feel represented in many characters that don’t look me but are otherwise just like me. I see myself in the in the city-savviness but utter quirkiness of Carry Bradshaw (Sex and the City). I see my awkward fumbles in Jay (Insecure). I see myself in both the strength and insecurity of Pi Patel as he navigates a journey that he’s not sure he can withstand(Life of Pi).
I feel represented, I feel seen, and I feel less alone in seeing characters that think like me and act like me. I cannot relate to all black people. We are a beautifully diverse community and for me to have to feel satisfied by just seeing my likeness on screen is not enough.
And this is not all to say that no one should want to see their physical person on television. And this is not to say that our current system of advertising and film isn’t prejudiced. However what I am saying is that we call can truly benefit from connecting to those that are at first glance polar opposites of ourselves. The world is not just black experiences, white experiences, hispanic experiences or asian experiences. We are all multifaceted creatures that can connect on deeper levels than our color. Our racial, cultural experiences contribute to who we are but they do not represent all that we are.