A little over a year ago, an Indian-American woman took home the Miss America title for the first time ever. No sooner than the crown landed on her head, people took to Twitter to criticize the pageant for choosing a person of color to be a representation of beauty, intelligence, and what it means to be an American. Some Indians also took issue with her darker complexion. saying that had the pageant taken place in their home country, she would have never taken home that title.
In 2013, Slate magazine published an article advocating for Santa Claus to receive a cultural and racial make-over. Says the article written by Aisha Harris, “America is less and less white, but a melanin-deficient Santa remains the default in commercials, mall casting calls, and movies. Isn’t it time that our image of Santa better serve all the children he delights each Christmas?” But Fox News’ Megyn Kelly didn’t agree. On her show, The Kelly File, she invited three other guests to share their opinions on the matter. During the show, Kelly decided to clear up matters for the kids watching at home and categorically affirmed Santa’s whiteness (never mind that Santa is make believe). Kelly decided to take her comments to another level and stated that Jesus was white just in case anyone was beginning to doubt that a white man could emerge from the Middle East.
For the last two months, communities across the U.S. have been mourning over the death of Mike Brown. Brown, an African American 18 year old, was unjustly killed by white officer Darren Wilson as his hands were raised in a universal sign of surrender. To date, the officer has not been brought to justice and many entities have gone to great lengths to assert his innocence. Many of those same entities, including the media, have likewise been quick to vilify Brown in order to justify his death.
Framing. The power of one individual, organization, or other entity, to shape a person’s perception of reality through the use of language, images, and feelings. The media is one such entity, which takes the narratives and experiences of individuals (and communities), and interprets what those narratives mean for their audience. The narratives are not always necessarily negative; sometimes they can be powerful, accurate and true. But many, many times, the narratives that are being told about a community, about a culture, about a particular race have negative implications, especially when the narrator is not from the community they are trying to describe.
Such has been the case with all of the examples listed above. In the examples listed, a powerful force has defined what it means to be beautiful, what it means to be accepted, what Jesus looks like, whose face is represented during Christmas, who is innocent, and what it means to be black. To be sure, the media isn’t at fault for all of these inaccurate depictions of people and ideas; politics, economics and religion have played a significant role here, too. All have contributed to the common and hurtful depictions of people around this country and the world.
Last year, I watched a TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie entitled “We Should All Be Feminists.” In the context of talking about feminism, she also mentioned that culture is not a constant but changes and is being reinvented, reimagined every day. This talk helped me to better understand the role each and everyone of us plays in creating and maintaining culture. And if we can create it, we can also change it!
In that vein, I present to you a new blog project that I will be hosting this fall: ReDEFINING. ReDEFINING aims to dismantle the dominant, destructive, and inaccurate perceptions of people by crafting a new narrative for ourselves and defining who we are and who want to be. In this series, we will redefine culture, redefine race, redefine humanity, redefine women, redefine undocumented immigrants, redefine beauty, and redefine religion just to name a few. Interested in participating? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. One piece of prime importance: Since the object of this project is for people to offer their own stories, it is important that the blog piece speak to one’s own experience instead of speaking on behalf of the experience of another.
Be sure to follow @ebonyjohanna or #ReDEFINEMeNow so you don’t miss anything.
*Artwork from: http://wineandpaintparties.com/