#RepresentMe has become a popular hashtag centered around the conversation of Blackness portrayed through mainstream media in America.
Many people have come forward expressing their frustrations of feeling poorly represented, and how that negatively impacts their day to day lives economically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. When will Black America’s story truly be told?
In a survey, 91% of 1400 Americans between the ages of 18 and 54 regularly engaged with pop culture mentioned they believe society is powered and controlled by the media. Mainstream media’s influence over America is a complex topic, but the evidence time and time again supports its prevalence in American culture–and also the international perspective of America.
The media has always had a hold on the way people think in terms of their desires, whether through the newspapers and magazines and radio, like before the television was invented, or through social media, movies, and google, in today’s time. As an American myself, I can’t think of a time I desired something outside of societal conditioning, as I grew up in the 2000s; An era that was unlike previous decades. I grew up with cellphones, smart tvs, social media, IPods and IPhones. This made the media accessible to me as a form of education–playing a huge role in my personal development.
Reflecting in hindsight as a young adult now, there are a lot of narratives I’ve been exposed to in the media that have made me who I am today. And one of them being the way Blackness is portrayed in American mainstream media.
“Movies and television are often an escape from and a reflection of life unfolding. They also can play an outsize role in shaping and reinforcing cultural beliefs and attitudes about race, both in the United States and internationally.” -Mckinsey.com
Blackness portrayed in mainstream media is the reason Blackness is binded to oppressive stereotypes. The same stereotypes that cycle generations after generation. I used to watch the reality TV show Cops, and Black men were often represented as thieves, drug dealers, and violent criminals. When you add in the news that would highlight these same narratives through the absence of positive representation, along with the influence of the rap industry–ran primarily by white record labels, you have consistency. The narrative that lacks consistency is one that uplifts the Black reputation in a way that is inclusive of the vast forms Blackness presents itself.
“If all you knew about black families was what national news outlets reported, you are likely to think African Americans are overwhelmingly poor, reliant on welfare, absentee fathers and criminals” – ColorofChange.org
Then, there are the direct stereotypes of the Black man. Thug. Criminal. Violent. Intimidating. Threat. Uneducated. And then, there’s the Black woman. Angry. Ghetto. Undesirable. Unappealing. Lustful. Combative. Uneducated. The stereotype uneducated is a long-time narrative faced by both Black men and women. Though, with white America being at the forefront of American education, who is really to blame if this is an honest result?
It’s no coincidence mainstream media portrays Blackness through a singular tight knit image. The effects of this is Black America eventually accepting and embodying the narrative pushed by non-Black platforms to society, or fighting the narrative and facing societal push back. The result is breaking the ability for Blackness to be self prophesied and expressed, whilst simultaneously enforcing a narrative that fuels white supremacy.
When a young Black person is consistently exposed to these narratives–especially as a form of education, it becomes a weapon. A weapon against the love we, as Black Americans, have for ourselves, our self worth, our faith, and inevitably, our lives.
It took me years to unlearn Blackness through the boxes I was presented through American institutions throughout my developmental stages and ask myself the question, who am I?
When I realized the concept of Blackness through the lens of America was racist itself–subjecting me to a color rather than to a human, I realized that narrative wasn’t my story. It’s white America’s story.