When I first applied to be an opinion columnist, the application asked one question which will forever stick out in my mind, “What do you want your column to be known for?” I answered, “I want my column to provide a voice for Asian Americans, because we don’t often get to hear the perspective of the most silent group in America.”
In that vein of thought, I wanted to provide a voice, not only for Asian Americans, but for all people who were silenced out of fear or oppression. I knew what it felt like to be torn apart by the burning desire to say something and the crushing disappointment of not being able to. The rage eats you alive.
I think it is time that I talk about something I have considered for a while. That is the lack of marginalized voices in the media.
It is no great secret that the white perspective fills everything we see and read these days. From the highly homogeneous casts of Hollywood to the journalists on CNN to even the popular literature we read, the faces we see and the stories we hear are predominantly white.
Whenever I discuss this issue with my friends, they always say the same thing: “Well, yes, it’s annoying. But it’s not a serious matter; things could be worse.” I completely disagree. In fact, I think that the lack of minority voices in the media and popular culture is incredibly dangerous and harmful to our society.
What we see on TV, what we read in books, what we hear on the radio — these are the first things we ever experience growing up and they shape the way we think and act. They continue to shape us long after we even realize they still have an effect by normalizing certain things and ostracizing others. What we see on the screen translates into real life.
And this has an enormous effect on the way marginalized groups experience life. It is the reason why Asian Americans often grow up with identity crises. Because Asian Americans generally do not see themselves on-screen — or if they do, only as foreigners — they feel they do not belong to the very place that is their home. And the majority of the U.S. population too has no problem calling Asian Americans foreign because they experience the same lack of Asian American representation.
It is the reason why black people are often stereotyped as criminals and thugs and why this stereotyping leads to their maltreatment. Because black people are portrayed so frequently as violent and unintelligent, the public becomes accustomed to this type of thinking and so acts accordingly. It often leads to black people’s own inability to overcome their self-doubt.
When the marginalized leave it to the majority to tell their side of the story, their narrative is either completely neglected or warped (see: cultural appropriation, the media shaming of Trayvon Martin, the glossing over of Japanese-American concentration camps in history books). This is because the majority often cannot see nor understand the inequalities that the marginalized can. I had a professor who made the best analogy: “When you are not handicapped, you don’t see all the conveniences you have. You don’t have to think about these things. It’s only when you are handicapped that you can see the differences.”
We do not live in a post-racial, post-prejudice world. Once, a commenter on my article told me that young people nowadays make everything about race. He obviously had never experienced what I have — the eye-pulling, the ching chang chongs, the “Go back to China”’s. I never wanted to make it about race; that was done for me the moment I was born. But many people are unaware of this type of inherent inequality unless we who do know it speak.
When the marginalized don’t step up and say something, then we as a whole can never make progress. The marginalized have to be the ones to lead the way because they are the ones who see the pitfalls in the path.
Riz Ahmed, one of my favorite actors of the moment, says that “the places where you stick out the most, those are the places you have to stick it out the most. Because it’s only in those places you can effect some real change.” It’s uncomfortable and disheartening to see so few minority voices, in the media and in popular culture, but that is why it is all the more necessary that we push our way into the mainstream. It is the hope of improvement and the hope of a more inclusive story that keep me writing even in the face of rejection.
AMY CHAN is a College junior from Augusta, Ga., studying Classics and English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Chances Are” usually appears every other Thursday.
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