Why "Diversity Day" Shouldn't Just Be An Episode of The Office
Aside from being some of the most popular TV shows of last year, what do Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Pretty Little Liars have in common? If your answer is that they all feature a predominantly white and/or male and/or heterosexual cast, then you are absolutely correct. This is not to say that those shows aren't amazing; they are! The real problem isn't with the plot or the acting or even with the characters themselves. The issue is that they directly relate to a majority of American society, but completely exclude minorities of all kinds.
Ironically, these minorities together form a significantly large group. According to the U.S. Census, 37.4% of the American population (or approximately 74,942,150 people) aren't white. Around 9,000,000 people identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. And more than half of the American population is female. So it’s not surprising, then, that the lack of diversity in media has a negative effect on people with underrepresented ethnicities, gender identities, and sexual orientations in America today. Another issue? This absence also prevents different groups of people from relating with each other.
The first step to fixing this problem is realizing that there is a problem—a really big one, actually. Since being introduced to America in the 1950s, television has be dominated by white, heterosexual men. According to a 2016 report, out of 11,306 speaking roles in film, men dominate the screen over women two to one. Here’s another unfortunate fact: Of those polled, only 229 identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Plus, out of the 229 people, 27.9% were female and 21.1% were of underrepresented ethnic or racial groups. These numbers show how limited the honest representation of some groups really is.
Not exactly good news for a young person trying to navigate life and discover who they are, while also being addicted to TV shows and movies that don't feature people that look like them. Research shows that lack of diversity is a likely contributor to a decrease in self-esteem and confidence in girls as young as 7 years old. 7 years old!
So what can we do to fight this issue, besides cutting out TV and media entirely? The good news is, there are plenty of great, less melodramatic options. Simply just actively seeking out diverse media is a good start. Watch a documentary about Korean culture, listen to an all-girl punk band, or read a book about the struggle for LGBT rights in the 1970s. And if that's not enough, create your own diverse media: start a feminist podcast, or write a poem or essay about diversity (like the one you are reading!). Easiest of all, just talk to people. Everyone has their own ideas and beliefs that are partly shaped by their culture, background, and lifestyle. We could all benefit from hearing a new perspective on a topic—literally any topic. You'll undoubtedly learn something new...which is more than I can say about watching yet another TV series starring straight white men.
By Niara Brown, 17