Racial representation matters.
I didn’t realize until I was 32 how much poor racial representation in the media, and throughout my education had affected me.
It wasn’t until I dove into my life story while writing my chapter for Women Who Influence that I noticed that not seeing people like me in positions of authority and influence was a common theme in my life.
I went to 99% Latinx schools and nearly all my teachers and administrators were white. Even at UCLA where I studied primarily Mexican Literature, the head of the Spanish department was Dutch. And in the media, sure there was Salma Hayek and other beautiful Latina women, but I didn’t look anything like them, so it seemed like a fat chance that I could have a similar position.
Subconsciously I got the message that I, as a non-sexpot born in Mexico female, wasn’t truly welcome or wanted and that a position of power and influence was out of my reach.
So many people of color have arrived at the similar conclusion.
Some of your reading this might be thinking, “That’s ridiculous! Anyone can be what they want in this country. You just have to work for it and put yourself out there.”
But how many of you who were thinking that automatically scan a room, a bus, a restaurant, the pages of a magazine, a social media feed, a website, a speaker lineup, anything you’re looking at, or any place you’re in to see if people like you are represented, or to gather info about how friendly a space is to people like you?
I mention this not to call people out or to make anyone feel bad, but to show you a perspective that you may not be aware of. I know very well that all people have felt unwanted or out of place at some point. But this is a consistent occurrence for people of color. And the practice I mentioned above is an automatic practice for many of us.
When we don’t see ourselves or other people of color we wonder, even if for just a second, if this space is for us or if we’re welcome there.
Research supports this sentiment.
A children-focused study co-authored by researchers of Indiana University and the University of Michigan showed that white boys felt really good about themselves while watching TV (which heavily favors white male representation), but girls and boys of color felt lower self-esteem as they watched. The researchers drew the conclusion that lack of representation was responsible for those feelings.
My message is this: Images are powerful. They show us what’s acceptable, and what’s desired and wanted. And that’s why diverse racial representation matters.
How You Can Be Part Of the Solution
Right now we’re in a wonderful time in which people can create their own platforms thanks to the internet. That means that there are more people creating content and putting images out there. Which presents an incredible opportunity for more people to be part of the solution.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely because you believe that racial diversity is important. But beliefs don’t change anything if they don’t come with action.
If you have a platform or following of some kind, I urge you to be as intentional with the images you use as you are with the words and copy you use to attract your audience, customers, and buyers. And I urge you to be intentional to expose your audience to a diverse group of people and voices.
Because when you don’t, you’re inadvertently reinforcing the idea that people of color aren’t welcome or wanted in your circle and alienating people of color who would have loved to be part of your tribe, even if that’s nowhere near what you intended to do.