Why identity is important when writing a POC
Though most people would say that I'm African American.
Because of me being AA - I am a minority.
But are those three things - me being black, African American, and a minority apart of my identity?
The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group.
Notice the parts that I underlined. This wasn't the first definition that I found for identity, but I thought it was the most accurate one. That is not to say everyone will agree with this meaning, it's just that as a whole...people often tend to group people together by both personal characteristics (what they look like) and behavorial ones (how they act). As a result of that - stereotypes come into play.
I'm sure everyone is aware of the tv show on HBO called Girls. I never watched the show but every article I read about it mentions that the show centers around the lives of a group of girls in their early 20s. When it first aired, a lot of people were angry because the majority of the cast was white, and since it takes place in New York, an extremely diverse city (from what I've heard), you would think that there would be a little more diversity in the cast.
Getting to the point, the writer of the show, Lesley Arfin tweeted this a few months ago:
“What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME.”
She has long since removed the tweet but many bloggers have seen it, many have taken it apart, analyzed it, and often called Arfin racist for tweeting it.
I'm not going to go into what I think of what she said because there really isn't a point, and to be completely honest, I haven't seen Precious. I might watch it one day but judging from the clips I've seen onYouTube, and the descriptions of both the book (Push) and the movie that I've read, I can honestly say that there isn't any "representation of ME" either. Sure I'm black...but does that really count as representation?
I never really understand that. When people throw POCs in a book or movie they expect POCs to relate to those characters just because they are POCs. That may not be true of everyone, and it might not be true at all but...if that weren't the case, then what exactly is the point of tokens?
Whenever I read articles about race and the media, I look at the comments. I try to read all of them because I want to know what other people are thinking. Some people agree that there is a huge discorrelation between race and media (this includes books and movies) but others don't understand why there needs to be a large representation of minorities in any media since America is comprised of mostly white people. On a side note, I think that is completely inaccurate. In all my eighteen years of living, I've never had someone come knock on the door to take a census. I don't even know how they perfrom censuses nowadays, but it seems to me that unless each and every door to each and every house and homeless shelter in America was knocked on, the percentages of each group living in this country is wrong. Maybe not but whatever.
Why does it even matter?
Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic wrote “We exist — whether HBO adapts our stories or not.” He was referring again to the tv show Girls but I think that quote can be applied to every show, movie, book or what have you. We do exist. POCs do live in America (and in other countries around the world), and regardless of the number, there is no denying that we're here and that we deserve a fair representation in media.
Going back to Precious not being a "representation of ME" thing. It's not a representation of me. I can't relate to being illiterate. I can't relate to being a young mother...I can't relate to living in a bad neighborhood...I can't relate to being abused by my mother... so therefore I'm not represented either. Push and it's movie, does however, represent many young girls around the world regardless of who they are, and what language they speak. Not all teen mothers are black. Not all young black girls are illiterate. A lot of people experience abuse, and grow up in rough neighborhoods.
These are all universal issues.
I can't really say if that is what the movie or book is about but...what I can say is that the book covers issues that go beyond something as insignificant as skin color. Because that's all race is. You can disagree with me, but race is a concept. It's a social construct and it's used to separate people and group those who 'look alike' together. Because of this construct, people lose sight of the fact that we are all human, and that we all, no matter what we look like, have a story to tell, one that someone who may be different from us can relate to if they look beyond the supposed 'identity' of the character.
So...why is identity important when writing a POC?
Well, because, the identity has nothing to do with the POC being of color. It has nothing to do with any outside characteristic, but is has everything to do with the individual, and how they identify themselves. I'm black but that has nothing to do with the way that I act, it doesn't affect my decisions nor does it decide who I hang out with, or the way I view life.
I also don't like being called black because technically I'm brown (never really understood the whole white and black thing). But then I also don't consider myself African American. Because I'm not. People have argued with me back and forth saying things like 'well your ancestors came from Africa' and 'you're dark-skinned which means you're of African descent'.
Just like America - Africa is comprised of many different cultures and people. A Nigerian is not the same as an Egyptian. Both places are in Africa, yes, but they are completely different. You don't have to take a trip to Egypt or Nigeria to know that.
Also, the key word is culture. I'm more American than I am African. I think it's offensive to say that a whole group of people who were born and raised in America are African, when Africans and 'African Americans' are nothing alike. Charlize Theron is more African than I am. She's from South Africa and she's white...so I rest my case.
Really, it's just my personal opinion. But at the end of the day being black or African American has nothing to do with who I am. Being American has nothing to do with who I am. I am an individual. I have my own mind, my own thoughts, my own likes and dislikes. Those among many other things are what make up my identity.
I'm tired of being seen as a color. I'm tired of seeing stereotypes in both books and on screen. I'm tired because none of it is...a representation of me.
When I'm reading a book or watching a movie with a POC I don't want it to be about what it's like to be a POC because there's no such thing as a 'minority experience'. Everyone who is of color doesn't go through the same trials and tribulations. Some don't even encounter racism and aren't struggling with being of color. Our skin color doesn't govern our lives, and so it shouldn't in media. Sure racism exists and there are people who deal with it everyday but...there is so much more to people of color than having to deal with something, as I said, as insignificant as skin.
C. S. Lewis once said "You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body." I'm not sure what he meant when he said (or wrote) that but... to me that quote means that we are more than just the outer shell. Sure we have a body that makes up our physical selves but who we are on the inside is much more important, much more significant than who we are on the outside.
Now there are people who would say after reading this post...what's the point of putting more POCs in media if we aren't our outer appearance, if we can all essentially relate to each other? Well, this might not be the best answer to that question but...why not? If we can all essentially relate to each other, why not have a show with four Hispanic girls living in New York City, why not have an Asian woman play the female version of Dr. Watson (okay...there already is. Is anyone else excited for Elemental?) Why not have post-apocalyptic shows with more than one black person on it?
Why can't diversity and media walk hand in hand with other?
I don't care if the majority of people in America were purple...people read books and watch movies to escape from the world around them. Even if the world around them isn't diverse, that doesn't mean media shouldn't promote diversity. Let's face it...the reason for racial profiling and animosity between races is partly because people depend on stereotypes instead of actually talking to a person and forming their own opinions about them.
Those stereotypes came (partly) from media, so if there were more accurate representations of POCs in media (books and movies included), I'm not saying that it would change the world, but it would get people to see that everyone...no matter what color they are...is human; that diversity isn't a bad word.
You guys should check out this post YA Author Sumayyah Daud posted on Tumblr, if you haven't seen it already.
Thanks for reading.