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Are you constantly worried about being perceived as racist whenever you’re interacting with a person of color?
Do you find yourself dialing WAY back on your social liberties when around minorities so as not to offend or come off as obnoxiously White?
Do you feel a twisted sense of guilt whenever a race-related incident pops up on your social media feed?
Well, I’m here to tell you it’s alright. The issue of race is one that has been bumming out the American public for generations. It is an issue guided in large-part by federal policy and the voices in media that shape social perception. While change continues to come and go in its usual rhythm, we often come back to the same systemic obstacle that’s been harassing our civil ecosystem since forever and a day: misunderstanding.
This past year there have been numerous incidents pertaining to race, from shootings by police, to riots in Baltimore; from Super Bowl protests, to race appropriation in music. Race is still an area of heavy contention, and it hardly feels like much has changed in the last 20 years (although if White guilt was a stock it would be at an all-time high right now). We’ve had peace rallies and we’ve passed legislation, but media representation still appears to be heavily sided towards despair and misdirection. If there’s one thing that could effect change in a more meaningful way, however, it is the all-encompassing role of the arts.
“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” – Harper Lee
For most, this quote may seem self-evident, but I feel like she was on to something more profound in her observation, something channeling a deeper recognition of our collective humanity. If you have ever been to the 9th grade, you’ve probably read (or skimmed) her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee, who passed away this past Friday, has had and continues to have impact schools across the country with her work. Yo, my girl Lee wrote ONE book in the same year Kennedy got elected, and it still resonates with the social conscience of today. Well, essentially one book (I’m not gonna talk about that other one).
I’m not saying Lee’s work totally changed America, but it invited heavy ideas and concepts (that were rarely ever talked about in such settings) into classrooms and homes across the States, and helped mold society’s perception on a weighty issue. Similar artistic efforts by minorities that seem to strike like lightning against convention haven’t retained their impact for half as long as Mockingbird, and it seems this is due in large part to the fact that many of these writers and composers aren’t White.
The works of minority figures in the Arts like Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Rakim Allah, and Spike Lee (but like the old Spike Lee), may be stories heard on a comparable scale to other White artists, but while their names may be known (or unknown, you racist), how familiar are you with their work?
How many shades of the racial rainbow will be seen at the Dolby Theatre on Oscar Night?
You know what the real problem is about #OscarsSoWhite?
It’s not that no black or minority creatives were nominated this year, it’s that the entertainment industry has blocked the same opportunities for a minority’s voice to be heard in film or television. These stories aren’t really valued in the same way. We shouldn’t have to make a movie about slavery or athletes to make Black lives matter. The issue at hand is that what is being produced is not representative of the current makeup of American culture.
“There isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”- The illustrious, Mr. Rogers
As minority groups move to be more significant contributors to the social makeup of this country, it’s crucial that we pay attention to these voices, and realize that they aren’t here to isolate White people, but inform y’all as to who we are. We’re really not all that different, but we do share experiences different from the conventional narratives popularized in film and on TV. We’re starting to see change with truly awesome shows like Master of None, Broad City and Jane the Virgin and works from some great minority directors like Ava DuVernay and Steve McQueen.
I’m not sure that we can affect change the way we did 50 years ago. The revolution will not be live anymore, it will be on our screens and devices, which we’ve so integrated into our social lives. It is here where the opportunity lies to spread the message of who different people are, where they come from and what stories we share. Let’s enjoy each other for we are and what we want to be perceived as. Let’s stop treating race as an issue, and move it to a place of empowerment, and a celebration of who we are. It might take some time, but until we’re all ambiguous-raced stunnas, we’ve got to fight for our stories, because they’re America’s stories.