Racial depictions in literature/film must be changed

Allison Simon, Staff Writer

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Throughout high school, students have been assigned books to read that consist of a wide variety of genres. However, the books don’t have a variety of people of different cultures. Often times, the books have been fulfilling the requirements of the racial stereotypes. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Black Boy, and The Bluest Eye all revolve around poor, uneducated blacks.

On the reverse side, Devil in the White City, Heart of Darkness, Macbeth, and Hamlet revolve mostly around affluent white males. A few novels have not fit either of these categories, such as In the Time of The Butterflies, The Things They Carried, The Kite Runner, The Namesake, and 1984. Nevertheless, a majority of books being taught throughout the AP English classes repeat the same stereotypes, either extremely wealthy whites or poor blacks.

One particular novel that stuck out among the rest was The Namesake. The storyline involves an Indian family living in the United States, with the life of the son Gogol being the main focus of the story. Gogol didn’t have to go on an extravagant journey to find treasure, love or fame for this to be considered a good book. The storyline was just the events of his life from birth until he was about forty years old. It still sparked interest in me because it involved a middle-class family of color in a foreign land. It didn’t have to be on the extreme ends of the spectrum, of an affluent white family or a black family living below the poverty line. This change in character traits puzzled me and led me to think about the lack of books of an average family of color being taught in our English classes.

Although the more extreme books are written by famous authors and playwrights, and have important messages to teach the class, that shouldn’t take away from the same amount of literary merit that the novels about middle class characters have. Movies such as Precious have extremely valuable lessons to be learned about the challenges blacks face, but certain cultures don’t constantly have to victimized or glorified to expound on a certain theme or idea. Accentuating these aspects of blacks constantly in media marks it as their definitive trait: an uneducated group of people constantly being victimized. In contrast, whites have had their defining characteristic as much more affluent and stable. These generalizations are constantly shown throughout books, movies, and TV shows, and any shift away from these stereotypes leads to the debate of breaking stereotypes or poor representation.

This confusing tug of war between accurate representations of a certain population versus breaking the stereotypes has never been resolved. It’s considered offensive to follow the stereotypes of certain races and genders, such as Asians with thick accents. Steering away from the stereotypes promotes change and growth, but doesn’t represent a certain group of people as a whole.

Stereotyping an Asian family to have a heavy accent and constantly wear traditional clothing from their culture is offensive to many. On the other hand, showing a more white-washed Asian-American family in the United States is considered different, dismissing the representation of their heritage.

It’s peculiar to think about the lack of diversity in books, TV shows, and plays, not just regarding gender but also race and economic status. The Cosby Show received much praise for its jokes and storyline, but it was a swift change in representation of race and class in the ‘80’s. The show didn’t consist of a blue-collar black family, but rather an upper-class one. This change promoted much more diversity in representation of blacks in the media. However, it also received a lot of backlash for not properly representing black families, because not all black families have a skilled doctor as a father figure.

It’s a difficult topic to balance out the two extremes of whether the media should accurately depict social stereotypes or if they should reach outside of their comfort zone and break traditional norms.

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Racial depictions in literature/film must be changed