The effects of misrepresentation


In recent years, much of American society has made a conscious effort to diversify various platforms, such as film, literature, and modeling. However, there are still some Americans who want to resist this change and some who deny that it’s even necessary.

If anybody reading this article agrees with the previous statement, I encourage you to picture your favorite 2000s throwback movie. Many films produced just 15 years ago have a predominantly white cast. The actors of color were typically limited to the supporting role, had little character development, or were cast as an overused stereotype.

It is crucial for children of all races to see characters that look, talk, and act like them on the big screen. Having role models that they can relate to in those ways boosts self-confidence and self-acceptance. Scriptwriters need to break out of the one-dimensional roles that minorities are so often cast in and expand into characters with a wide variety of experiences.

I would say that America truly began to push for increased representation around 2016. Despite our country’s efforts for the past three years, it is painfully obvious that for nearly 250 years, white people were paraded as the cause of all this country’s achievements. While laws and policies have since been put in place to combat such blatant discrimination, many people still have ingrained prejudices as a result of a system that is still very Eurocentric.

It’s no secret that many private and prep schools are predominantly white institutions. Thus, it often falls to minority students to educate their classmates about their culture. However, this is not their job! When a student steps into school, their one and only job is to learn, especially in a place where families are paying for a better learning environment for their kids. 

Putting this pressure on minority students can distract them from their schoolwork or cause emotional distress, which is unfair to them in many ways. In many situations, they are forced to deal with hurtful comments even while inside the classroom. Some teachers are not sufficiently educated about topics pertaining to race, which causes their inability to provide an appropriate response and be an ally to their students. In some cases, the ignorance present in children and adults breeds animosity and causes people to lash out. These actions can be classified into two categories: microaggressions and macroaggressions. 

While there are formal definitions for both of these terms, I think it would be more helpful to refer to them colloquially. A microaggression is that small action or comment that just doesn’t sit right with you, while a macroaggression is a much more noticeable and blatant display of discrimination or racism.  One way to remedy ignorance is to integrate diversity into movies, books, and magazines targeted at a younger audience. While films like “Black Panther” and “The Hate U Give” are stunning and address important topics, you’re not going to sit down and watch either of those films with an elementary schooler. Even though that age group is still largely influenced by their parents, it is the experiences of their younger years that will subconsciously influence their opinions and viewpoints as they grow and mature.

There needs to be a broader market for books and movies with diverse characters for younger children. Elementary and middle-grade writings tend to focus on less serious topics, such as things like having a crush, attending the first day of school, and shifting friendships. Seeing characters of other races go through normal life challenges such as these would help to remove a racial barrier and make it easier to relate to others.

The book “Tiny Stitches: The Life of a Medical Pioneer” is a step in the right direction. After 72 years, Doctor Vivien Thomas is being publicly recognized for his surgical innovation that was falsely credited to two white doctors. Dr. Thomas invented a procedure to remedy cyanotic heart disease (blue baby syndrome) in 1944. “Tiny Stitches” is a picture book that gives him the recognition he deserves while still presenting the content in a manner suitable for children. 

It would be especially helpful to diversify books in classrooms. Teachers could facilitate discussions about the depths and intricacies of each character. This could help to redefine some of the one-dimensional stereotypes that exist about certain characters. They would also serve as moderators to make sure the conversation didn’t get out of hand or turn negative in nature.

I truly believe that diversifying books and movies from a younger age, as well as facilitating conversations about race would severely limit the number of microaggressions in school. Even if the comment didn’t have hurtful intent, that doesn’t mean it didn’t have a harmful impact. In terms of representation, America still has a long way to go in many areas, but it has been changing for the better recently and I’m hopeful that it will continue in this direction for years to come.