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When We Watch TV

Updated: Jan 9

by Skye Patton

Television has made a massive impact on our generation. We grew up with a wide variety of movies and shows, and the entertainment industry continues to grow exponentially with the constant advancements in technology. However, with the large range of genres and the endless amount of movies and tv shows released each year, one element has always lacked, and that is real POC representation.

Hollywood has tried to implement POC characters into their movies and shows over the years. It doesn’t seem to be a priority of theirs though, as those characters tend to be static side characters and/or characters fueled by stereotypes and an overall incorrect portrayal of cultural differences. As a brown woman of color, I’ve had to rely on a handful of cartoon characters to feel represented, and I often yearned for someone on TV who had a background like mine. I know others feel this way as well, so I decided to create a survey to ask other POC how they felt about representation in television.

Mostly everyone has seen the same race as them on TV, but the same percentage of people, 83.3%, have said the character was stereotyped or given specific characticutres that resembled discrimination. 16.7% were unsure if the character was stereotyped. This is a very sad reality for POC simply trying to watch television. To tune into something for enjoyment just for it to make fun of your community is something no one should go through, yet the truth is just the opposite. Young children of color watch these stereotypes and have no choice but to believe it when it's constantly repeated in everything they watch.

I asked if the participants could remember a time they tried to fit stereotypes to become a character because that is how they believed they were supposed to act. There were different responses based on their race and place of living. Here are some of the responses:

“I try to act like I’m smarter because I’m Asian.”

“Even though I do like playing basketball, I did only get into it because I was constantly told that I had “the build for it”. It also didn’t help that almost every dark skin black character in the media plays basketball.”

This reveals the lack of different kinds of minority representation. Asian characters are only known as smart, and Black characters, especially dark skin Black characters are seen only for their strength, namely in sports. Hollywood seems to believe we only have one identity, feeding into the monolith assumption. This hinders POC from growing into their true personalities as they believe this box is all they have. If they don’t fit the other characters they see, then who are they?

Sometimes, this lack of representation leads to POC having no choice but to turn to the white characters, as they are almost always the main characters on TV. I asked if the participants ever tried to embody white characters to be perceived differently by others and distance themselves from their ethnic community. 16.7% said that the white character just so happened to be their favorite character, and that there was nothing more to it. The same percentage said they tried to become more like white characters because white characters are always the main character and they wanted to feel that attention. 33.3% said that they wanted to distance themselves from stereotypes imposed on characters who looked liked them, so being the white characters would make them more palatable to everyone around them. 50% said that they have never pretended to be a white character, which demonstrates such strength to be able to fight the oversaturation of white characters in the media. The rest of the percentages stated their own conclusions to this question, where they talked about how people from other countries view western media and believe those stereotypes about people, making it harder for the participants to live in other countries without having stereotypes thrown at them.

^An example of colorism, recasting dark skin character to light skin character

Many POC have their own opinions on representation in the media. It is a conversation that is met with heartfelt stories of their childhood experiences and how the lack of representation has changed them in their developing stages. As the years progress more outrage over the lack of seeing POC have slowly changed Hollywood and the general media overall. A prime example of this is Charcoal Magazine, where we make sure to continuously highlight artists of color so they have an outlet of expression and a chance to be noticed for their hard work. We will always advocate for more representation, and soon many more will follow.