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Why Black Representation in Media Matters

Representation is a vital issue in all forms of media. In honor of Black History Month, let’s break down its importance and explore the ways we can all celebrate the beauty, creativity, and experiences of all black people.

First—what does representation actually mean?

rep·re·sen·ta·tion (noun)

  1. the actions of speaking or acting on behalf of someone or the state of being so represented.

  2. the description or portrayal of someone or something in a particular way or as being of a certain nature.

Why is representation important?

Representation is important because it can display the experiences of people who may feel that their voices are not heard. It gives the opportunity for stories to be told for some underrepresented or misrepresented communities. Since media is a powerful tool for storytelling worldwide, it is the perfect way to speak on experiences that may fall through the cracks or speak on behalf of those who are not always given a platform to do so.

Who does representation affect?

Representation can impact anyone and everyone. Typically, representation is a larger issue for marginalized groups of people, with people of color falling under that category. We are all multifaceted individuals and this is why intersectionality is so important to understand and celebrate. It is so vital to have these faces and stories are reflected on screen or through other mediums as well.

Where does representation show up in media?

It is crucial for representation to be displayed in all kinds of mediums throughout media—whether that be through television, movie characters, authors, singers, artists, or even your favorite online content creators or bloggers. These creative, innovative, artistic and impactful individuals can be exceptional role models for all. In particular, it’s essential for younger people to have ones that they look up to, especially ones that look like them. This can build character, confidence, ambition and be inspiration for anyone to follow their wildest dreams.

Shows like black-ish, Atlanta and Dear White People all touch on the intersectional experiences that black individuals face. Monumental movies like The Hate U Give and Black Panther are changing the game. Artists like Kendrick Lamar, Solange, SZA, Childish Gambino, Jay-Z and more are utilizing storytelling through their music. Authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Angie Thomas have incredible pieces of work that showcase black experiences. Athletes like Serena Williams, Russell Wilson, and Simone Biles are phenomenal examples of athletes that defied the odds and became incredible role models for millions of people. These lists could go on and on.

How can representation improve?

Historically, the representation of black people in media was either lacking, stereotypical, or just used to “meet a quota”. With hashtags such as #OscarsSoWhite a few years ago, this perfectly encapsulated the issues surrounding the unbalanced or unfair opportunities and exposure in media. However, in the past few years, we have seen some major strides in representation (and we hope that this continues to happen)!

When one is able to relate to the faces they see on screen, it not only can build confidence in their character, but it also lets them know that they are heard, seen and appreciated.

This can go beyond media as well and travel into other aspects of our lives such as politics, sports, educational institutions and more. Lastly, an important reminder that representation for all underrepresented groups is extremely significant and does not just apply to black representation. Representation for all people is what we all should strive to achieve.

Natalie Gray

Washington '19

Natalie is a senior at University of Washington majoring in Media and Communication Studies. Natalie is a social media contributor at HerCampus Washington and enjoys fashion, editing videos, cooking, blogging, and petting every dog she sees.
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