For those of us who fall outside the majority, representation is vital. People like to see a reflection of themselves, their own families, their loved ones, on the page and on the screen. It’s not about being politically correct or bowing to pressure from one group or another; it’s about not allowing people to be erased from society.
Someone was telling me recently that they believe having so many minorities, and particularly mixed race families shown on television was just unrealistic. What makes her think that? Is it because the people in her community aren’t? Another thing I hear is this: well, this group (insert minority here) is only a small percentage of the population, why should they be seen or represented? A few months back, a writer acquaintance said something like this on Facebook, and she got dragged by various people for the next couple of days over it. Frankly, under-represented people are damned tired of the excuses used for why they shouldn’t be represented or how “it’s better than it used to be in the old days.”
The quick and simple answer to why people should be represented: because people exist. Even three percent of the United States population works out to be several million people. Stories shape perception. We normalize what we see. And we hang the tag of unimportant on things which we don’t see. We don’t value what we can’t know or aren’t comfortable to relating with.
We need to pay attention to history, and not just that of the conqueror. We need every day stories about people and whatever their struggles may be, whether it falls under color, or sexual preference, or gender, culture or any combination or cross-section of those differences. Without stories, told by the people living them, we are all mysterious and unknown to each other. Without knowledge of each other’s experiences, we become woefully inept when it comes to understanding the world around us.
There are common things which we should be able to relate to with any person: the need to be loved, to have our needs met, to feel safe at home and within the larger society. We all want to go about our lives and pursue our own passions, regardless of what those might be. Those are the basics which we should all agree on. No one should have to battle for their basic status as part of humanity.
Yet minorities, women, gays, trans people, and disabled people continue to fight for representation. It’s not just a seat at the table, it’s the consensus that actually other have something worthwhile to contribute. It’s all around us. This is the struggle we see in the workplace, in pop culture, in professional organizations, and in life in general. We see it in micro-aggressions and in your face name calling. It pops up in the ugliest places, including in family members at times, colleagues, people you call friends. It’s having to explain that you really did earn a job or a degree on your own merits, and not being believed. It’s about being a woman ten times more qualified than your male opponent and still not getting the job. It’s also about being told you’re some sort of “unfortunate” combination of things which make you opposite of male, protestant, straight and white.
If people outside the majority are touchy about these subjects, there’s good reason. We learn early how to subsist in negative spaces at an early age. We learn the language of put downs, snubs, and belittling smiles in school and in the workplace. We know how it is to be insulted with a side eye and a nod by others, right in front of us. It’s obvious to us when the narrative being sold is glossing over the truth. You can’t be honest about the story of America if you cut out all the people who didn’t fit into the sanitized neat little box which the media and the education system has sold as reality for all these years.
When I hear people say they aren’t interested in other people’s stories, I am reminded that some people don’t want to hear or connect with other’s experiences. It is easier to pretend people don’t exist or are unimportant when they refuse to listen. For those who don’t want to know about other people, the world is a small, simple place, where they are always in the lead and everyone else is just abnormal in some fundamental way and not worthy of respect.
And this is why some people don’t want to hear other’s stories.