Demand more (complex) characters of color on TV

Ashanthi Francis at TEDxStMaryCSSchool (Photo: TEDxStMaryCSSchool)

Ashanthi Francis at TEDxStMaryCSSchool (Photo: TEDxStMaryCSSchool)

It’s rare for 15-year-old Ashanthi Francis to see a star of a television show with the same skin color as hers. At TEDxStMaryCSSchool, the high school student examines why that is, and how this lack of representation in media affects young people of color like herself.

Recently, Francis has come to realize that she built her ideas of beauty — and worthiness — around the female TV characters she sees on screen: Blonde-haired and blue-eyed women whom she idolizes, but make her feel “abnormal.”

This sort of self-deprecation is nothing new, Francis says. In an experiment in 1939, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark presented young children with a white and a brown doll, then asked them questions about the dolls, such as: “Show me the doll that you like best or that you would like to play with;” “Show me the doll that is the ‘nice’ doll;” “Show me the doll that looks ‘bad.’” Children overwhelmingly preferred the white doll, Francis explains, and marked the brown doll as “bad.”

Lack of media representation of people of color — and representation of minority groups as negative and superficial stereotypes — perpetuates the dangerous idea that being light-skinned is “better,” Francis says. As a TV enthusiast Francis dreams of a day where the characters performed by minorities are complex, more than stereotypes or seen only as sidekicks and comic relief.

She concludes that we need to be inclusive because the cultural representation of media affects not only how people of color see themselves, but also how people of color are perceived by all media consumers.

“[Television] need[s] to start accepting other cultures,” Francis says, “because this whitewashing of the media affects all of us — whether we realize it or not.”

To learn more, watch Francis’s full talk below:

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