Let’s talk race. I am a Black man in America. I went to private schools from elementary school to high school and one semester of college. Something that I always noticed was this: there are a LOOOOTTTT of White people and almost no Black people. When I was younger, it didn’t bother me as much… until I got to 5th grade. In 5th grade, I can remember seeing a video about Sojourner Truth, and I was shaken by it. Why? Gee, I wonder why the Black kid was shaken by watching something about a woman who was a slave where they talk about how she was beaten? I really don’t know why (insert sarcasm here). Then, I get to high school, which I’m not going to act like I hated. I grew a lot and I still got much love for the Prep. However, I definitely started to be way more aware. Not just of the racial difference, but of the socioeconomic difference as well. I was fortunate enough to go there, but I also had to do work-study to stay, and I was just super smart. However, being a Black person in a sea of White people was and is difficult. Sometimes, you just want representation, which is something a lot of White people don’t understand. Before ya’ll say, “Why does it matter to you?” Or, “This is reverse racism!” shut up. This article is titled, “Why Representation Matters” and if you think that THIS is reverse racism then you obviously don’t know what racism is. Here’s the thing, white people, you have representation. Unless you are going to Atlanta, Detroit, or Compton, you all have some good representation. You can turn on the TV and see yourself represented. In the boardrooms, you can see yourself represented. At most colleges (unless you got to a historically black college), you can see yourself represented and let me tell you why it matters.
You feel empowered and important
When you have little representation, this truly messes with you. Sometimes, I joke that there aren’t a lot of Black people when I’m one of the only ones in the situation, but there is a subconscious thought that goes through your head. For example, if there’s any type of issue, I feel I can’t speak up about it, because I don’t want to look like the ‘angry Black man’ and then what if someone tries to say that they feel ‘threatened’? Then it’s all over for my Black ass!” Also, you think, “I don’t know if I’m even that important.” Especially when you take in all the media that mainly shows White people in these great hero roles and you have a recipe for a Black person not feeling so great at a subconscious level. However, when you are represented in a good way, you feel like you are THE shit, as opposed to feeling like shit. Emphasis on, “in a good way”. Black people have been portrayed as thugs, uneducated, and slaves for far too long in an era where our last President was a Black man. When that’s all you’re shown, it starts to eat at you. I know a ton of people were trying to downplay Black Panther as “just a movie”, but it wasn’t just that. Not only was it portraying Black people as intelligent, heroic, funny, and strong, it portrayed Black women as the heroines that they are. Additionally, it portrayed the villain in a way that you could actually relate to him. Everything he said [you’ll have to see the movie] made perfect sense and I loved every minute of it. So yes, we treated it like it was a big deal because it was a big deal. It made us feel empowered and important.
You feel more comfortable
I get a little uncomfortable when there are no Black people around. I’ll be real, there are times when you start thinking some crazy sh*t. You’ll be the only Black person in a sea of White people and think, “This could go left really fast.” But when you are around your own people, you start to feel this sense of comfort. When you’re somewhere where everyone looks like you, it feels like you can actually get loose and be yourself. When you’re around more Black people, you find more people that feel the same way as you and share your interests as well.
Sometimes, it just feels GOOD
To put it in perspective, I’m from Indianapolis. Although Indianapolis has more melanin than other cities in Indiana, it is still in Indiana. For my spring break, however, I went down to Atlanta, and I loved it. There were a lot of things to love, but the reason I enjoyed it so much was because it felt good to be represented. All my life, I have been “the Black friend” or “that Black guy”, and White people love to get uncomfortable when I point that out. Well, take that discomfort you have about what I am saying and multiply that by 407, and then you’ll begin to feel how I feel actually living in the discomfort for most of my life. In the amazing ATL, however, I felt like I wasn’t in the minority and that sh*t felt GOOD. I loved having people that looked like me all around me.
You don’t have as many insecurities
So, my favorite superhero of all time is Static Shock. Why? Because he has the coolest powers to me (I love electric powers) and he was just cool. Plus, his show was the SHIZNIT. But do you know what was cooler than all of that? He is Black. That was something that you didn’t and still don’t see a lot of. Not seeing yourself that much can lead to some disparaging subconscious thoughts about yourself. Think about it like this: you’re a kid, all the cartoons you see are of White people or White looking people, and the Black dude is typically the sidekick, or in some anime, a gross caricature (don’t get it twisted though, talk bad about me or anyone for liking anime and you can catch this fade). You start watching some famous sitcoms, and you realize that you don’t see too many Black people. Commercials oversexualize women…White women. This over-sexualization of White women gives people the false impression that physical attraction only looks like that. Yes, it gives all girls unrealistic beauty standards and gives all boys unrealistic standards of what girls look like. However, it’s more painful and damaging for that little girl of color who only sees that White woman as what society deems as attractive. Subconsciously, that translates into that little girl thinking of herself as “less than”. I hate the fact that I had to type this, and I wish that I wish I was making it up, but yes, this actually happens. There is something subconscious that goes on in the minds of people of color. Some white people pretend like they don’t see skin color, but it is a reality that we simply cannot escape.
So yes, representation matters. Black Panther matters. Static Shock matters. The children who don’t think they are beautiful, smart, or good enough because they don’t see enough of themselves in the media all matter. The adults who are still struggling with identity issues and still don’t believe that they are amazing individuals who can shake this world up matter. The people who actually get how lack of representation affects people of color matter. And, of course: #BLACKLIVESMATTER. It matters to how we see ourselves. It matters to how we see the world. It matters to how we see ourselves in the world. Most importantly, it matters to our mental health.