I'm on a mission to watch every Jesse Williams interview that exists. Not only is he on one of my favorite televisions shows, he represents the very best of Hollywood activism done right. Jesse Williams reminds me that media is political and filled with conscious decisions. That's a difficult message because we are quick to give media an easy pass. These last six months have highlighted the problematic issues of the black male body in media, but poor representation isn't new. Here are 10 thoughts on my mind + Jesse Williams clips*.
- Media creates culture. Media doesn't exist in a vacuum. The first narratives we are introduced to come in the form of commercials and shows. Think about cultures that you haven't come into contact with personally. Much of what we know about communities outside our own is heavily influenced by our media exposure.
- The black body is criminalized in the media. The #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag is telling of the disgusting trend in media to associate black victims with gangs, drugs, violence ultimately as a way to justify their deaths. The portrayal of victims in media don't happen by accident. Calling Mike Brown, "no angel," didn't happen via magic. And please - take your "93% of black people are killed by black offenders" argument to the nearest trash bin because 85% of white people are killed by white people, so don't derail the conversation.
- Erasure isn't privilege. When is the last time you saw an Asian family on television? Middle- Eastern? South East Asian? Lack of presence isn't a gift, its denial of their lived experiences.
- Tyler Perry doesn't count. I won't deny that Tyler Perry has created jobs of black actors, but I believe in quality over quantity. Tyler Perry's films are often so one dimensional and stuffed with stereotypes, it makes me queasy. See: Shonda Rhimes.
- Shonda Rhimes is queen.
Actors are important, but only part of the equation. Writers, directors and producers shape our media. The numbers for people of color, elderly, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, and women behind the scenes are incredibly low.
“It’s not because of a lack of talent. It’s because of a lack of access. People hire who they know. If it’s been a white boys club for 70 years, that’s a lot of white boys hiring one another. And I don’t believe that that happens out of any specific racism or sexism or prejudice. People hire their friends. They hire who they know. It’s comfortable. You want to be successful, you don’t want to take any chances, you don’t want to rock the boat by hiring people of color because, well, look at us,” she said. “Both Betsy and I like the world that we work in to look like the world that we live in. Different voices make for different visions. Different visions make for something original. Original is what the public is starving for.” - Shonda Rhimes
- Media can be a force for good. There are a number of television shows, news networks and films that I can stand by and support. Sesame Street is one of them. Y'all. You haven't made it big until you are on this show. The characters of Sesame Street tackle everything from loving your skin, appreciating your natural hair, dealing with divorced or incarcerated parents.
Diversity on cable news needs to step it up. And no, Don I think the plight of black folks won't get shot if they pull up their pants Lemon isn't enough. According to a 2013 Media Matters report: most guests and hosts are white men, even when compared to everyone (all women and not white males) else.
- Support films and shows with people of color. Doors open for those who wait and for those who can buy a key. While it isn't the ideal solution - supporting projects with money can make a difference.
- There is tremendous value in seeing an honest depiction of yourself on screen.
* some clips contain some not so nice words