In 2012, a study examined the correlation between TV watching and self esteem in children, and came up with some not-so-surprising results: white boys who watched television had higher self esteem, while white girls, black girls, and black boys who watched television had lower self esteem. Both lack of representation and associations with undesirable behavior contributed to the low esteem outcomes, while, on the other hand, white male characters were far more often associated with strength, logic, and accomplishment, as well as a more varied set of character traits.
Last month, Justin Simien’s film “Dear White People” premiered across American theaters. Days before its official release, the film had an early screening near Princeton University campus as a part of Princeton’s black alumni reunion weekend. Since that showing, and the subsequent nation-wide release, several members of The Stripes have watched DWP and weighed in with their impression. Continue reading
“Who cares?” says Jerry Seinfeld about diversity in comedy.
I do. In early February, Jerry Seinfeld made remarks about his role in increasing diversity in media. He states: “People think [comedy] is the census or something, it’s gotta represent the actual pie chart of America, who cares?” I believe complaints about minority representation in media are not particularly calling for creators to diversify as an obligation, but question how the media is not reflexive of our diverse society. Continue reading
Lupita Nyong’o. The name of the Kenyan-born actress is on everybody’s lips after she won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress last night. Nyong’o plays the physically and verbally abused slave Patsey in Twelve Years A Slave, and her acceptance speech reflected the grace, intelligence, and humility that she has demonstrated throughout the awards season. Her performance as Patsey is gripping and formidable, one that leaves you still reeling as you leave the theater. Continue reading
When I was a child, I wanted to be a writer.
My reasons were not heroic. I did not initially see writing as a way for me to think about my role as an African immigrant in America. As a child, I did not fully understand how the lack of black heroes and heroines in the books I read affected my writing and my self-worth. For me, writing served was just a fun outlet.
I remember the first time I listened to Childish Gambino. It was my senior year, his album Camp had dropped that past November, and while surfing the web, I came across his music video for “Freaks and Geeks.” Although at first I was confused as to why Donald Glover from Community was filming himself rapping and moving sporadically (was that dancing?) around some random warehouse, I was quickly won over by his flow and his wit. Halfway through the song, one of his lines caught me by complete surprise. I paused the video and replayed it to make sure I had heard it correctly: “Love is a trip, but fucking is a sport / Are there Asian girls here? Minority Report!”.
What?! Did Asian girls just get a shout-out in a rap song?! I listened to the rest of the tracks in Camp, and there was no denying: Childish Gambino had yellow fever.
My favorite thing to do when I want to take a break from the “real world” – work, school, politics, the news, etc. – is to immerse myself in non-serious things I love. For me, these things mainly include music and pop culture: specifically, boybands. Continue reading
In seventh grade I attended a poetry slam at the College of William & Mary performed by two women speaking about what it was like to be labeled “Asian.” They brought words to a sentiment I had been feeling my whole life. They reminded me that I was allowed to be angry, that it was okay if I was frustrated by others’ need to place me in a box.
Ever since I can remember, within five minutes of meeting someone new, they never seem to fail to ask me the wrong question: What Are You? Their eyes squint unapologetically at me, and I can see the gears of their mind turn gracelessly to a halt by the inability to put a finger on the answer to their somewhat thoughtless question. What they mean to ask is what is my race, ethnicity, heritage, culture, give-it-any-name-you-wish. I often respond, capriciously, that I am a human being, a girl, a student, whatever bland alternatives to the disheartening answer for which they are truly searching. This usually makes for unfavorable first impressions, but if a label is really all they wanted to know other than my name, I am fine with it.
“What are You?” Quite the serious question to ask someone you’ve just met. As if I were some novelty knickknack in an antique store. As if I were some object they could check off of their “I Spy” list. As if I were a new toy that didn’t quite fit into their preconceived boxes, as if I needed a new box just for me. Trust me, 2 Chainz reminds me that I’m different, yeah I’m different, but does that make me special? When did it become okay to ask a person if they could just kindly sum up exactly where their parents, or their grandparents, or even their great-grandparents happened to be born? Why is it so frustrating when my answer is still the United States of America?
When I was asked this question in preschool I was not sure how to respond. I went home to my mother and she told me to tell them that I was a negress. So I went back to school proudly and mistakenly declaring the fact that I was a tigress. (Maybe that explains why I chose Princeton?) In elementary school when asked again, I would tell my friends that I was black. They would laugh at me and tell me, “You can’t be black, I mean just look at your skin.” How could I prove it to them? How could I tell them about the history of the Cape Verde islands when the only blacks we learned about had been brought against their will on slave ships instead of famed navigators on whaling ships?
Don’t get me wrong. I am proud of who I am. I am proud of the people in my family and the sacrifices they have made to get me where I am today, based on their individual tenacity and hard work rather than their race. What I was not proud of was when my multitude of races could only be explained in such narrow-minded formations. People assumed that when I got good grades it was just because I was Asian but when they found out I was a DJ it was because I was black. I hated it. I hated how they thought that they could pick apart pieces of me to find explanations for my actions instead of perhaps looking at the whole me, the multitude of identities that I possess.
But that’s just it, what the question fails to account for is who I am, which is what they thought they were asking. No. They were asking me the wrong question. My ethnicity can’t tell them that I am a harpist or that I love to watch action thrillers. My race can’t tell them that I have traveled to Peru but never laid eyes on Japan. Maybe in the future I will tell people what I am not. Maybe I will tell them that I am not just another person to fill up the diversity quota of my progressive white friend groups. Maybe I will tell them that I am not in fact a “cool mix,” because I am not an album by their favorite DJ nor am I dog. But above all, I will tell them to look beyond the superficial and ask the right question.
From the exchange of hostile attacks and impassioned defenses over Lena Dunham’s Girls and its lack of minority characters, to the controversy over the delegation of barbarian and slave roles to mainly non-white actors on HBO’s Game of Thrones, conversations about the representations of people of color (POC) on screen have been heating up. Continue reading