There are so many reasons why I have stopped expecting to receive “equal” representation from Hollywood and why I believe many other black women should do the same.
The current representation of black people in society is not simply lacking—its effects are devastating. Not only do black people make up a staggering 12.5 percent of lead film roles compared to whites who dominate at 78.1%, but the type of representation we receive in the media often does more harm than good. In fact, according to an article in The Economist, blacks are well overrepresented in media portrayals of poverty.
Proof of the effects of racism on the psyche of young black children can also be found in the popular Doll Test, in which black children were presented with two dolls that differed only in skin and hair colour. When asked to pick the doll that they preferred, the vast majority of children chose the white doll over the black doll. Young black girls growing up in our society will (if they haven’t already) internalize racism and are more likely experience feelings of self-hatred, inadequacy, as well as mental illnesses like depression or even eating disorders. Growing up in a society that constantly tells you—whether directly or indirectly—that you are not beautiful, attractive, desirable, or even valuable as a human being, is akin to abuse.
Thus, we need to make sure black women are represented more in the media. However, we must not settle for mediocre representation or “diversity” done out of tokenism. The future generation of young black girls deserve to be elevated in the same way that every other race of women receives. We deserve a media created for us entirely, even if it has to be done by us.
1. We Shouldn’t Have To Beg For Others To See Our Value
It’s not enough to simply speak out on problematic representation in hopes that one day, white media will finally get our representation right. Why? Because Hollywood is not oblivious to the needs of black women. The truth is that they don’t care. When Hollywood places black women in their films, it’s simply to fulfill whatever agenda they’re pushing. We shouldn’t settle for being the slave, the maid, the sassy sidekick or the overly masculine warrior.
The truth is, for me, it’s an issue of pride. I’m simply too proud of my blackness, dark skin and Afrocentric features to ask anyone (nevermind an entire industry that has historically NEVER had my best interests at heart) to see my worth. I feel that black women shouldn’t have to feel the need to constantly raise our voices and complain over lack of representation. We shouldn’t have to try to prove our worth, beauty and value to anybody.
2. The Promotion We Do Receive Will Always Be Tokenism
Why settle for being one black woman out of ten white women? In such settings, black women run the risk of being outshined and undermined. The Asian film and television industry is almost homogenously composed of those of Indian, Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese descent (and other Asian nationalities), with an annual box office revenue of 7.9 billion USD in China alone and 1, 903 films produced in India in 2016. North American media is slightly more diverse, but barely. They may throw in one black woman to save face, but for the most part, white media is composed of white women and men.
"Well, where do we look for validation and representation, if not from white media? " You may ask. It’s true that there are no equivalent platforms that actively promote and support black women, so we’re left begging for representation from an industry that wasn’t intended for us. I would argue that even if we don’t have our own (yet!) that’s no reason to stoop low and beg for the crumbs that Hollywood is willing to throw our way. Instead, we need to grow even more dedicated to the cause of creating our platforms. The good news is that if more and more black women grow dedicated to the cause of promoting ourselves positively and making a space for ourselves in this world, change will come quickly.
3. Promotes Complacency and Dependence On Racist, Colorist Platforms
The best shot we have of eradicating the influence of racism and colorism on black women communities is to create spaces and platforms where we can control the narrative. In an article on The Arrow, Kelsey Blackwell writes:
“Black people need their own spaces. We need places in which we can gather and be free from the mainstream stereotypes and marginalization that permeate every other societal space we occupy. We need spaces where we can be our authentic selves without white people’s judgment and insecurity muzzling that expression.”
While I agree with Blackwell’s sentiment, I would also argue that we need spaces for black female representation so that we can control and push a narrative that places us front and center. So that we can create and receive a type of promotion that positions us as the commodity—the desirable, the valuable—not simply a token of false “diversity”.
It’s true that it may not be entirely realistic to wait for positive platforms such as these to exist, but it’s our only legitimate long-term solution. The only option that could potentially result in the construction of a system that works to boost the self-esteem of dark-skinned women and children globally. Leaving our promotion up to Hollywood and similar media is dangerous because it means our representation can come and go wherever the tide blows, leaving our fate in the hands of a few powerful executives.
We may never create a powerhouse like Hollywood that provides a full alternative to white-owned media. But, platforms like DDS Magazine and CRWN Magazine work to undo the influence of racism and colorism and to provide healthy spaces for black women to thrive.
In summary, I’m not saying black women should never appear in Hollywood again or that we should ONLY wait for more positive platforms like DDS Magazine to exist. I’m simply saying that black female representation must not end with Hollywood. We cannot rely solely on Hollywood. It may not feel like it, but we do have the power to make a positive change in this world. Let’s stop begging and start creating.
"Grace is a freelance writer and blogger from Canada. Her work has been featured on HerCampus, 21Ninety, Read Unwritten. She is a voracious reader, a dog-lover and a self-professed pop culture junkie. Her other hobbies include watching sappy romantic comedies, consuming too many strawberry-filled doughnuts and people-watching. Grace currently attends university, where she is working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Pre-Law."