Written by Areej Khan
In the sixth grade, when asked to share what our favorite book was in order to give the rest of the class reading suggestions, I proudly announced to the whole class the title: “Does My Head Look Big In This?” by Randa Abdel-Fattah.
Our school librarian just stood there and uncomfortably shifted her glance toward our teacher. The silence dragged on for what felt like decades.
After sharing a knowing look, the librarian turned back to the class and suggested, “Let’s choose a book that everyone in the class can relate to, instead.” Another student proposed “The Hunger Games,” and my librarian’s face shone, “Perfect.”
Yes, a group of teenagers fighting to their inevitable death is much more relatable than a girl who wears a headscarf.
In a world where movies have minorities taking on lead roles at a rate of only 12.9 percent, despite the fact that minorities make up 37.9 percent of the U.S. population is troubling. This is especially accounting for the fact that the term “minorities” is an amalgamation of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians — yet the term “majority” merely represents Whites.
Not only is this lack of representation harmful for the treatment of minorities in the United States, it is harmful to the self esteem of minority youth.
I was a child who was deeply affected by the toxic repercussions of keeping people who looked like me out of the picture — so much so, that I dreamed of being from a race other than my own so that I could feel beautiful.
When I was in elementary school, I hated the way I looked. I was constantly surrounded by White boys and girls in school and saw more of the same in books and on TV.
I thought that there was something wrong with me — why did I have dark skin, thick eyebrows, and a big nose? I wanted to be the delicate, blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty that I saw everywhere, from billboard ads to lead roles in films and television.
I had never seen a girl on the Disney Channel who looked like me, so I assumed that, obviously, there was something inherently wrong with me.
Looking back, this reasoning may seem juvenile, but I was just that — a child. I was a child who was deeply affected by the toxic repercussions of keeping people who looked like me out of the picture — so much so, that I dreamed of being from a race other than my own so that I could feel beautiful.
Perhaps the lack of representation we see in our daily lives is not in the lack of roles, it is in the lack of talented actors and actresses who can carry them out. This is a point many argue — but realistically, it could be the fact that casting calls are harrowingly offensive, deterring any talented minority actor or actress from taking up the role.
From blatantly showing distaste for darker-skinned actors, to hiring White actors to play minority roles that are portrayed with offensive stereotyping, it isn’t shocking that minority actors and actresses aren’t dying to audition.
Without representing minorities at a higher rate, whether as characters or as actors in general, all that the media provides is one-dimensional characters and a perpetuation of harmful stereotyping.
Bringing more diverse actors into the media can show the rest of America that, we are all unique in our own ways, just like they are.
We have definitely seen improvements recently, and I am thankful for the newfound diversity in The Academy and shows like “Quantico,” which are slowly helping us get to where we need to be.
It won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy, but by supporting minority actors, filmmakers and authors, we can help make our television screens reflect the true America — a beautifully diverse America.