#Represent

January 19, 2017

 

On why representation matters

 

I'm not sure if you're aware- but there are some stereotypes about black people going around. Women as well. People of the LGBTQ community. Muslims. Illegal immigrants. Asians. And Christians too. Good PR matters for everyone. 

 

When I was little my mother only ever bought me black Barbies and black baby dolls. My first cabbage patch doll was black and to my delight she had an outie belly button like me. Pocahontas was my favorite Disney princess because as far as I was concerned she was brown and that meant she was black. 

 

Prior to attending a 'liberal' college I went to private, mostly Christian schools where I made up the handful of minority students in attendance. And despite my best efforts to pinpoint when I developed it, I had a 'professional' voice that I could switch on and off before I ever had need of it in an interview. 

 

There are expectations of you as a black person and as a black woman that have a presence in the room before you ever arrive there. Somewhere along the way I picked up the burden of being anti-stereotypical to redeem my entire ethnic group from the travesties of what whitewashed history, years of propaganda, and what we ourselves have done by not knowing our history and ignorance. 

 

Many times in conversation or simply when someone has made what they assume to be an offhand comment about affirmative action or 'those people', I get a little testy. Mostly because I wonder if they realize that they are surrounded by mirrors reflecting their image and lauding their type of skin or hair as beautiful. Media is indeed a powerful thing. To not see your image or identity represented in media is called symbolic genocide. That is to say, you don't exist to us the power players and you don't matter. On the flip side of that, media has the power to tell you who you are, where you belong, and what role you play in society. It's called socializing. 

 

Loud black friend. Token sidekick. Hyper-sexualized love interest. Comedic relief. These are the caricatures. It's why people can be so taken aback by me and remark, 'You are so articulate!' One guy in the line a Publix who was otherwise minding his own business bagging, snapped his head towards me with his mouth hanging agape as I asked my mom about dinner later. 

 

Make no mistake, we speak relaxed English at home. I drop some letters when I'm with friends. I know I don't have to battle stereotypes there or carry the weight of pushing back on centuries worth of systemic racism in my circles of influence. But I still do my duty daily no matter how heavy. 

 

Simone Biles and Simone Manuel are a big deal. Marilyn Mosby is a big deal. President Barack Obama is a big deal. FLOTUS is a huge deal! No not merely because they are black, but because they are black and excellent. They earned their spot and proved we can. We, meaning minorities whether in size or power. Representation invites people to a table where they were previously excluded from, whether intentionally or otherwise. 

 

When I have a son, I will inevitably ask him what he wants to be. If we lived in the 18th, 19th, or even 20th century his options would be limited. Being president would be a longer shot than it is now. I will be able to point my daughter to other women and people of color who have fought for her to have a say and a seat at the table, whichever of her choosing. And if either of my kids are called to be trailblazers for others, I can't say that there is any way they could make me more proud. 

 

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