tl;dr: According to My TV, There Is Greater Racial Diversity in Jordan than in the United States

Disclaimer: I am approaching this topic from the point of view of a white female, living in one of the whitest metro areas in the country. Additionally, this post will primarily, but not exclusively, focus on the the representations and stereotypes of African Americans in the media (mostly because this is where all the data is). 

When I studied abroad in Jordan, I overheard a Jordanian woman telling an American that Jordan has greater diversity than the United States. Considering Arabs make up approximately 93% of Jordan’s population, this is a wildly false statement. However, I can understand where this woman may have gotten the impression that there is no racial diversity in the United States: American television. American TV–particularly American reality shows–are very popular in Jordan, and our TV shows and films are widely (and cheaply) distributed in downtown Amman. And, guys? Our media tells a vastly different story from our reality.

This UCLA report, published in 2014, found that:

  • Among film leads, minorities were underrepresented by a factor of greater than 3 to 1.
  • Among film writers, minorities were underrepresented by a factor of 5 to 1.
  • Among broadcast comedy and drama leads on television, minorities were underrepresented by a factor of 7 to 1.
  • Among the creators of cable comedies and dramas on television, minorities were underrepresented by a factor of 5 to 1.

A few weeks ago, we discussed representations of women in media, but didn’t touch directly on women of color. You think that post’s statistics were shocking? Check this out:

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Among the top 500 grossing films of the past 21 years, only one live action film has featured a woman of color. And while I love Whoopi Goldberg and Sister Act, the film is kind of ridiculous, and not without problematic racial stereotypes (the sequel is actually much better when it comes to representation of minorities).

The Academy Awards reflect a similar, disturbing trend:

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Halle Berry is the only African American woman to have won Best Actress in a Leading Role. Not only that, but she is the only woman of color to have won the award. Only four African American men have won Best Actor (one Latino actor and two Asian-American actors have done the same). So not only are people of color underrepresented in the highest-grossing films, but there is also a distinct lack of representation in the most critically acclaimed films.

The above infographic also reveals who the largely white voters are willing to crown victor when a woman of color does win. The “Mammy” stereotype is a deeply troubling and common stereotype. Other African American women have won Academy Awards for roles as criminals, slaves, and welfare queens. All of these women are great actresses who deserve every drop of praise they have received–I especially admired Lupita Nyong’o’s performance in 12 Years a Slave–but where are the awards for women of color in roles that have nothing to do with the color of their skin? Well, as The Representation Project shows us, these roles are virtually nonexistent.

You would think this lack of diversity in big budget and awards-garnering films would imply that theater-goers are not interested in stories featuring people of color, but fluctuating television ratings tell a different story.

The 2014-2015 television season has the most diverse lineup in years. Not only that, but some of the most diverse shows on network television are also the most popular: Empire, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, and Jane the Virgin are all doing quite well in a television season that has seen other shows (in particular romantic comedies) drop like flies. How to Get Away With Murder, Grey’s Anatomy, and Scandal are all ratings beasts, and all feature excellent gender and racial diversity.

However, some TV critics have suggested that this diverse line-up only exists because TV ratings are so low (and that comparatively, it’s not even that diverse). Networks are casting about for an audience, any audience, that will turn on their TVs between 7 and 10pm. And shows with minority leads are cheaper to produce, and have a wide audience. The same thing happened in the 90s–I remember the diverse lineup of shows of my childhood: Kenan and Kel, Sister Sister, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I watched most of these shows in re-runs, but they were all hugely popular when they were airing week to week. But when the networks with multicultural shows started to make more money, they started to produce more and more white (usually white male) led shows. For a more complete understanding of the situation, I would recommend reading Flavorwire’s “Are This Season’s Diverse Shows Ushering In a New Era of Multicultural Television?” 

My favorite quote from Miss Representation applies equally well to the problematic representation of people of color: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Here’s the evidence:

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But it goes further than a lack of jobs and political leadership. We talked last week about institutionalized racism and implicit bias–biases that are often perpetuated by the media. In the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO last summer, traditional news outlets partook in a smear campaign against Michael Brown. It was subtle, but CNN, Fox News, and other outlets chose to focus not on the tragic death of an unarmed teenager, but on Brown’s theft of cigars, stating that he was “no angel.”

In my last post, I cited a number of jarring statistics: one out of three black males will be incarcerated in his lifetime, prison sentences are (on average) 20% longer for black males than for white males (for the same crime), black students are three and a half times more likely to be suspended than white students.

Isn’t it just possible that a lack of people of color in the media, the presence of damaging stereotypes surrounding people of color who do manage to get on TV, contribute to the treatment of victims like Michael Brown, and these awful statistics? Because it couldn’t be more clear to me.

I realize I didn’t include any videos in today’s post. Don’t worry though–I’m planning a post for tomorrow that will heavily feature videos and film recommendations.

tl;dr: Institutionalized Racism, It’s A Thing

Disclaimer: I am a white female who comes from an upper middle class family. I live in one of the whitest cities in the country, and I used to live in one of the worst states for African Americans to live in. I recognize that I am approaching this topic from a position of privilege, and that a discussion of race from my perspective is not without holes. So I want to say that my goal here is not to act as an educator, but instead recommend videos and articles that have helped me to understand the presence of racism in this country and my own implicit biases. All of which have helped me to put current events into perspective. I hope they do the same for you. 

This past Saturday was the 50th anniversary of the historic march on Selma, Alabama.

Before the Oscar-nominated film came out in 2014, I had never heard of Selma. Sure, my school celebrated Black History Month, but while we did learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, and George Washington Carver–that was it. No discussions were had on police brutality, and very little was taught about African American achievements outside of the civil rights movement. Even in the context of the civil rights movement, I didn’t learn enough. I didn’t know anything about Malcolm X beyond the “he was a more contentious MLK” rhetoric until I saw the Denzel Washington film in college. This is on the one hand a pathetic reflection of our school system*, and on the other, further proof that media can be a powerful educator.

Despite the ignorance regarding race and racism that I know is not unique to my own experience, many in our society seem to be reluctant to talk about it. When people do try to discuss race in the context of police violence, criminal justice, or everyday experiences trying to get a taxi, they’re accused of “playing the race card.” The same people are likely to say things like “I’m color blind” or “If we just stopped talking about race, then racism wouldn’t exist.”

Stop. Just stop.

Nothing will change if we stop talking about race as though the consequences of racism were not real:

To quote Jon Stewart: “Race is there, and it is a constant. You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how f#%*ing exhausting it is living it.”

So let’s talk about race. It is just as important to talk about today as it was in 1965.

First things first, I want to address a few myths when it comes to discussions on race and racism:

“Color Blindness” is Not a Thing** 

One of the most important lines from this video: “When people insist that we are color blind–what you’re saying is that their [people of color] experience is not real.”

Recently, a study conducted by MTV (yeah, I was surprised, too) found that millenials are shockingly ignorant when it comes to racism in America. I would strongly recommend reading this Slate article that analyzes the study’s findings. Among other things, the study notes that:

  • A majority of millenials believe that our generation is post-racial.
  • 48% of white millenials believe that discrimination against white people today is as big a problem as discrimination against racial minorities.
  • 73% of millenials believe that ‘colorblindness’ is something to strive for, yet confusingly:
  • 81% believe embracing diversity and celebrating differences between the races would improve society.

Some of the contradictory statistics in this study might put into question millenials’ ability to read and comprehend basic polling questions, but that doesn’t really make me feel any better.

More resources:

If You ‘Don’t See Race,’ You’re Not Paying Attention

Colorblindness is the New Racism

Also Not A Thing: Reverse Racism

You may have already seen the above video–it was floating around the Facespace a while back. In it, comedian Aamer Rahman does an excellent job defining reverse racism if it did exist, eloquently discussing the relationship between racism and power.

This is one of my favorite scenes from the film Dear White People:

I strongly recommend watching the full film, and I’m going to talk about it a lot more next week. In this scene, the main character, Sam, has a brief and excellent monologue that perfectly explains why “reverse racism” is not a thing. She says, “Black people can’t be racist. Prejudiced, yes, but not racist. Racism describes a system of disadvantage based on race. Black people can’t be racist, since we don’t stand to benefit from such a system.”

Or, as this everyday feminism article puts it: “Yes. Any person of any identity can be an asshole to any person of any other identity. But that doesn’t make it oppression. It doesn’t even make it racism or sexism or heterosexim or any other -ism.”

tl;dr: Prejudice ≠ Racism.

More resources:

7 reasons why reverse racism doesn’t exist

If You Think ‘Reverse Racism’ Is Worse Than What Blacks Face, Read the Ferguson Report

Now that we’ve talked about things that are not things, let’s talk about some things that do exist:

Cultural Appropriation

In recent months, this has been most commonly discussed in regards to artists like Iggy Azalea (also this) and racist Halloween costumes. Here’s Akilah, Obviously*** to explain the concept of cultural appropriation:

In a similar comedic vein, the Dear White People creators envision a future black history wherein twerking has been entirely appropriated by white people:

More resources:

5 things white people need to learn about cultural appropriation

The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation

White Privilege

Even Megyn Kelly from Fox News–who says some pretty terrible things in the following video, in addition to the positive message I’m getting at–understands that white privilege not only exists, but is pervasive in our society:

When the woman that claims that Santa just is white recognizes the existence of white privilege–with genuine conviction–stop fighting it. It’s a thing.

tl;dr: Read this comic:

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More resources:

Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack

Institutionalized Racism and Implicit Bias

In the video, Hank talks about The Implicit Association Test, which covers a variety of topics outside of race, including gender, violence, weight, etc. The IAT is a great primer on learning more about yourself and your own biases. Mother Jones does a great job of explaining what it is and the implications of its findings, especially in regards to race.

Unsurprisingly, Hank’s brother John Green does a great job explaining how institutionalized racism and implicit bias affects society:

One of the most important quotes from the video: “To deny the existence of systemic racism is to deny a huge body of evidence indicating that racial bias affects almost every facet of American life.”

More resources:

Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?

Undercover job hunters reveal huge race bias in Britain’s workplaces

My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK

Finally, here is why institutionalized racism, implicit bias, white privilege, and cultural appropriation are so important to talk about:

Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tony Robinson, and so many others.

Institutionalized racism, and all that it entails, can have fatal consequences.

I know that considering my readership (Hi, Sam), I’m largely speaking to the choir here. But I still strongly recommend you check out the videos and resources I cited above. You just might learn something new–I know I did when I was writing this blog post. If you’ve already seen these videos, try sharing them with a friend who may have missed them (if you like the videos that is. If you don’t, let me know in the comments!)

Some progress has been made since Selma, but not enough:

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We can all do better.

So, this week we’re going to be talking about the effects of institutionalized racism in our society. I’m going to talk about some of the most devastating statistics in John’s video, including the black male achievement gap and mass incarceration in the United States. Next week begins my series of posts on the representation of people of color in the media, so watch out for those.


*To be fair, I attended private school. I can’t speak for the United States school system as a whole, but I get the impression other schools don’t treat Black History Month much better.

**Black/White color blindness, that is. Obviously, red/green color blindness is totally a thing.

***Watch Akilah’s videos! She’s great!