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Africa is a barren wasteland with a poor economy, starving people, bad politicians, and poverty.
These are the things that I grew up hearing as a child with a Kenyan mother and a Ugandan father. People assumed that just because I had relatives from Kenya and Uganda, that I lived in a hut, had no electricity and was a starving child. After that, I would politely correct them that I was not starving, I was born in WakeMed Hospital and that the worst problem I had as a nine-year-old was that my parents wouldn’t let me watch Spongebob Squarepants.
There are lots of unfair and inaccurate stereotypes about both Africans and African-Americans, and when information is portrayed about them, it’s often skewered extremely to the left or extremely to the right. The movies with predominantly black casts aren’t relatively known or talked about.
During my time with you, I plan to talk about why Africans and/or African Americans are misrepresented, how this impacts us a people and the solution for solving discrimination and misrepresentation.
First, let me begin with exactly why Africans and/or African-Americans are misrepresented in media. Dating back to the times of the Civil Rights movement, black people were fighting for their chance to be equal and perceived as equal to their white peers. While African-Americans are said to be equal to their white counterparts, there have been studies done that show that maybe the opposite is true. In an article by the Washington Post called “How the News Media Distorts Black Families”, a study is mentioned where a research team “examined more than 800 relevant stories published or aired from January 2015 through December 2016, encompassing coverage from national broadcast and cable news outlets such as ABC, CBS and MSNBC; national mainstream newspapers like The Washington Post, the New York Times and USA Today; and online news sites. In both written and television reporting, the researchers found that the news media systemically misrepresented black families.” So we know that black people are seen unfairly. But why though? News stories. How many stories have we heard about some police officer in a faraway state being shot by a black boy or man? How many black people have we arrested simply because they match the physical criteria for the shooters? Oh, and by the way, the only criteria is being black. So if black people are seen in media mostly committing crimes or as high school dropouts or as active killers, what are you going to think the next time you see a black person-a black student- isolated in the hallways?
In another article by the Atlantic, they explain the reasoning behind another major offense: believing that over half of the overall population that is in poverty is made of black people. In short, the media basically states that “black” is really an alternative way of saying “poor”. Some other things that the article said were that other studies were run, and the results were less than satisfying. Black people were seen as lazy and undeserving of America’s great welfare plan. Welfare plans benefit American citizens who are in poverty with cash payouts-obviously unpopular to those who think that African-Americans have a bad work ethic: “ In 2008, only 37.6 percent of Americans considered black people hardworking, whereas 60.9 percent said the same of Hispanic people.”
If boundaries like this are placed in the media, people’s perceptions will be unnecessarily warped-and only for the reason that media is simply fixated on the fact that the people who don’t look like they do are going to be placed in a negative light, and everyone will be exposed to that. If over half of the media portrays African-Americans poorly and incorrectly, how do you think yours and your peers’ perceptions will change? If perceptions change, then thoughts will change will change. Words will change.
As you can very well see, I am an African-American. I told you at the beginning that people see me different because I’m black and because I’m female. Now let me tell you a story about something that happened to me. Last semester, I took English 1 Honors, which was not a fun class for me. It requires deeper thinking and more independent work. That wasn’t the difficult part, though. The difficult part was the boy who sat in front of me. I’ll call him Dylan.
He was a boy who made it very clear the first day that we were not going to be friends. Fine by me. But when he turned around and saw the cover of my English binder, he smacked his forehead. I wasn’t embarrassed about what was on my binder; I was more upset that he would make another stupid comment about it. On the front of my binder was a picture of Poe Dameron from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He is a pilot for the Rebellion. His picture is still on the binder, on my wall in my room and also the image of the Star Wars calendar I got for Christmas.
So when Dylan turned around and smacked his forehead, I was on red alert. “A black person,” he said, “can’t like a Mexican.” He sneered the words ‘black’ and ‘Mexican’ like he didn’t want our teacher to catch him cursing.
I didn’t understand what the problem was with the picture. It was well drawn and clear, so why did it matter? He’s not even Mexican; he was born in Guatemala. But Dylan said it like we were outliers or something. Like people who aren’t white are outliers or pieces of data in a study. I was used to him making fun of my obsession with Star Wars, but not of him making fun of my racial standing.
If we don’t take action and tear down the racial boundaries in this country, we won’t be able to live as humans. We’ll lose the ability to communicate properly and civilly. We have to learn that there are people who aren’t like us-but just because they aren’t like us doesn’t mean we treat them or see them any differently than the people who do look like us. So here’s the solution: representation, the proper kind. We need movies with casts that are predominantly black or other races besides white people. One came out pretty recently. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s called Black Panther.
Black Panther is an excellent example of a movie with a predominantly black cast. There are only two white actors in the whole movie, and Ryan Coogler, the director, is also black. It takes place in the fictional African city of Wakanda. It features beautiful scenery, fabulous architecture and the most important metal in the MCU: vibranium, used to make Captain America’s shield. It’s a movie that America desperately needs right now: “It’s a movie about what it means to be black in both America and Africa—and, more broadly, in the world. Rather than dodge complicated themes about race and identity, the film grapples head-on with the issues affecting modern-day black life. It is also incredibly entertaining, filled with timely comedy, sharply choreographed action and gorgeously lit people of all colors.”
So, if we keep making movies from the black perspective that’s not about drugs or crime and show them to people, show them to our kids and tell them that there are different colors of people, but that’s not a bad thing, I think we’re well on our way to making things better. I highly encourage you to see Black Panther.
Can I be real for a moment here? I’m kinda sick of all-white movies. I’m sick of black people being seen as lazy and dangerous. I’m kinda sick of not having dolls with dark skin and bodies that look real. I’m kinda sick of the fact that little girls like past me will grow up with white friends and view themselves inferior because of their skin.
I’m sick of misrepresentation. Even though you probably cannot really relate to seeing people who look nothing like you, I can.