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Pop Culture with Aminah: Influencers Say the Darnedest Things, Part 3: What it’s Like to Not Be Seen

A photo of the author as a child
Photo courtesy of Aminah Jenkins

This article is the final in a three-part series meant to examine the reasons behind prejudice in entertainment and understand its impact. Read the first one here and the second one here.

One of my favorite parts of myself is my ability to think outside of the box. My earliest recollection of my vivid imagination was when I was 6 years old. My dad and I were driving to Tennessee to visit family, and the radio was playing. Whenever I listened to a song back then, I would imagine that I was in a music video. That particular day, a song by Jesse McCartney came on. I remember constructing a scenario in my head the same way I always did — he was singing to me while I sat and listened. I imagined the outfit I had on, a red dress and dark brown heels. But suddenly, my brain thought you should make yourself white. And I did. I rationalized my decision by thinking that’s what the girls in music videos look like.

At 6 years old, I had already justified my exclusion from representation in entertainment — and I saw nothing wrong with it. Occurrences like these aren’t uncommon amongst BIPOC children. Take experiments like the doll study, where children of different races were given a white doll and a dark skinned Black doll and asked questions about how they perceived it. Almost every child — including the Black children — said that the Black doll was the ugly and misbehaved one.

So much of what we see impacts what we know. Almost every TV show I grew up watching had white actors. Even with shows like The Proud Family and That’s So Raven, I always knew that I wasn’t the norm. I envied my white classmates who were able to see themselves in every aspect of life. Nowadays, TV shows aren’t the only source of entertainment children have. The rise of social media platforms has created captive audiences for influencers to engage with. Black and brown children aren’t just seeing that they’re not represented — they’re seeing that their existence doesn’t matter to the people who are. Constant exposure to white influencers who give half-hearted apologies when their racist pasts come to light had created a narrative that these actions are the norm.

Americans often associate racism with extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or the Proud Boys. They view systemic racism as easily identifiable policies (i.e. segregation) that are fueled by prejudice. The reality is that racism is systemic and individual. Systems function the way they’re supposed to, but culture is perpetuated by people. These aren’t old ideas. People currently in the entertainment industry have been called out for how they treat the Black people they work with. These are the same people who make decisions about what we see, how we see it, and who we see in projects. They normalize whiteness by refusing to address how it permeates their decisions.

Our generation has access to a lot of information. We are constantly gaining knowledge about our world but not unlearning behavior. Oftentimes, people who have a history of racism neglect to address it, which causes it to resurface. We have elevated influencers in a way that can disconnect them from the real-world implications of their actions. The lack of accountability for influencers persists because we’re relying on companies that don’t acknowledge these problems to hold them responsible. You can’t correct behavior you’re also partaking in or have yet to be told is wrong.

Racism is not an issue that is separate from pop culture. If anything, the nature of the entertainment industry proves that it is pervasive in every aspect of our lives. The harmful implications of the entertainment industry for Black and brown people are clear and present. Growth starts by naming the issues. Vague apologies for “past behavior” delegitimizes the struggle behind those microaggressions. Growth is a constant learning and unlearning process. It is up to these influencers to stop detaching their platforms from their moral compass and start taking responsibility for their behavior.

By Aminah Jenkins, Staff Writer


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