What Do We Want?

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

One of the things that is constantly on my mind while I am blogging here is, “What do we want?” It’s a question regularly flung at groups outside of the dominant culture when they launch a complaint against some effort to appease them. But I, too, often ponder what the end result, the ultimate ideal, would be for people like me who write about race and the readers who digest the work and diligently comment. While I recognize that the question itself is huge and can have a whole slew of answers, I tried to come up with some of my own in order to get the ball rolling.

The sad part is that this was a practically impossible task. In attempting to answer, I simply came up with more questions.

How can I put into words the future that I want for children growing up generations beyond mine? How can my own personal wishes even be reflective of what may be useful, necessary, or even relevant in a time that I cannot see materialized in front of me?

But then I thought that maybe there was a way to synthesize some of the things that the voices here express all the time into a set of values that we want for the future.

1. Fair and Equal Media Representation
Let’s face it: people of color in film, print, and televised media are not fairly represented, if represented at all. We often fall into a set of stereotypes, simple tropes that have been regurgitated for centuries. Some of them are so widely used and accepted that they are sometimes completely impossible to discern, particularly by those who do not have a vested interest in studying, writing, or thinking about this stuff in the first place.

But even then, the frequency of these stereotypes is tiring and affects us all in ways that are beyond our powers to remedy just in creating awareness. In fact, sometimes, the awareness itself can be dangerous. It makes viewing any form of media a tiring process, one from which all joy has been removed, any element of comedy or surprise absent. Additionally, viewing films, watching shows, and reading the paper and magazines can make us hyper aware. We can then suffer from media fatigue, a side effect of which is perpetual unhappiness regarding any and all portrayals of people of color in the media, even the ones that may be worthwhile. We begin to pick apart even the most honest attempts at creating change or presenting fair portrayals of communities of color, which results in even more stereotypes, one of them being that people of color are constant complainers who can never be satiated.

My take-away is that people simply are not trying hard enough or that they remain unaware of the stereotypes they present in their work because it is so deeply ingrained in our collective unconscious. Stereotypes have become an inseparable element of our society. Until that is deprogrammed, an ideal in itself, and the end result is one in which people of color are proportionately and fairly presented in media, my job remains active.

2. Visibility and Equal Access to Resources
Because one of our main foci of otherness in the States is race, based primarily on our (in this case, US American) history of oppression, we sometimes become distracted from the other issues that impact our daily lives. The struggle for access to resources is real, and one that is suffered by multiple groups of people. The lines of otherness cross more frequently than many realize, exceptions of course being those who are directly affected. For example, take someone who is a poor immigrant of color with an untreated mental illness who participates in a non-Christian religion and identifies as transgender. There is limited written work on this person’s experience and even less recognition of the fact that ze may exist in our society. The sense of otherness results in invisibility. This person may fly under the radar of the organizations that may deal with race or gender or other identity politics, and certainly not be considered by more mainstream or government entities.

In addition to the issue of increased recognition by organizations for resources, there is the issue of very basic needs, like housing, education, and food. In our present state of affairs, these resources are placed very low on the priority list for the poor, for example, a population of which many people of color are disproportionately a part. As a result of multiple factors, some of them being negative overall opinions toward certain POC groups, unfair media portrayals, and ultimately a general disregard for the value of POC’s lives, their concerns are often overlooked and not addressed. One of the things that many people seek and have been fighting for over the course of centuries is an acknowledgement and granting of access.

3. To Be Seen as Individuals
In my personal experience, many people base their perceptions of people whom they do not know on what they have seen on television, in the news, or heard from others. Of course, their own set of experiences with people from certain groups also influences their behavior around them in the future. This is not an abnormal response, nor am I condemning those who take a Pavlovian approach to dealing with people who are different from them in some way. However, one of the main goals as expressed by both the writers here at Racialicious and many of those leaving comments is that this reaction is something that needs to cease in order for people who are not of the dominant culture to be seen as individuals, people with varying sets of values, ideas, and ways of life.

Whenever I see a negative image of black people or Southerners or women (in other words, sometimes watching 30 Rock makes me go into a figurative aneurism), for example, I get worried. I fear that when people see me, they think one thing based on a set of misconceptions, and correct and/or add on more with time, even as they begin to know me better. It’s something that I wish could be deleted from our way of thinking, this dominance of stereotypes. Some say that this problem can be solved via increased exposure to the “othered” group, but depending on the circumstances of that exposure, it may actually have the opposite effect, resulting in further gross errors in stereotyping of a group.

To further this idea, I also hope that one day, the behavior of various groups of color, the images in the media, and the individual interactions people have with each other will no longer bear the weight of being deciding moments. I want to see a society in which comedians can perform a skit related to a group of color, for example, poking fun at stereotypes, without worrying that a person of another group and/or the dominant culture and media will exploit that moment by cementing it as truth and not recognizing its comedic value and not anthropological importance. One day, can a movie like Precious, a comedian like Dave Chappelle or Margaret Cho, a reggaeton artist’s political affiliation, a lesbian’s voting choice all happen without being associated specifically with members of the group to which that person belongs?

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With all this said, I now wonder what your expectations, as readers of Racialicious, are at the moment. What are your personal hopes in terms of race or other identities that are often marginalized? Where do you see the country in which you live progressing or regressing to? And is there something you are doing personally to further these expectations?