Represent

I was thinking about people I’ve met who were born and raised overseas. You can learn a lot about other places from those who are actually in that environment, keeping in mind that what you’re learning is still being filtered through a particular lens – albeit a closeup.

One constant is how often we develop a perception of things we’re not quite familiar with or have never encountered ourselves by way of the media. Rather, from the information, ideas, and imagery we’re exposed to – the majority of which is derived from the media.

It’s something I always come back to when listening to people who’ve never been to my country and/or never spent time around my race talk about what they think we’re like. Because when asked why they believe what they do – where they get their ideas from – the answer is always the same.

Western media.

What we’re exposed to dictates our worldview more than anything, and that extends to the way we view ourselves. Every second of every day, we’re consuming information. Pictures and words. Feelings and thoughts. And we internalize that data. We adopt it into our existence and into our translation of the world around us.

What we’re exposed to becomes the building blocks of our social language – the way we understand our environment and communicate with each other through that understanding.

Most of that happens subconsciously, but there are times when we’re aware of specific things that have an effect on how we think. Sometimes, we can even pinpoint the very moment something sparked a change or planted a seed. Beyond that, it’s like those things have always been there.

How many of you are insecure about a feature of yours or a perceivable trait? Maybe it’s a body part or your body as a whole. Maybe it’s an accessory like glasses or braces. Maybe it’s the way you talk or walk.

Do you remember the moment when that thing became an insecurity? When the switch flipped, turning something you didn’t think about at all into something that was all you could think about?

What happened?

In many cases, the answer will be that someone said something to you about it. In other cases, the answer will be that something you heard or saw prompted you to become insecure in spite of nothing being said to you directly.

Either way, insecurity is a product of your environment. You were exposed to something, directly or indirectly, that – in reality or in your mind – defined a particular trait as a flaw and you internalized that definition.

I was thinking about this because I came across a post online that I don’t feel like finding again. Paraphrasing, it said that if someone creates a TV show featuring a cast full of what I personally refer to in America as the dominant groups (e.g. white, straight, Christian, etc.), it doesn’t make the show creators bigots, and it doesn’t mean they hate other groups.

In the same vein, if someone does the opposite, creating a show with a cast comprised of everyone but the dominant groups, it doesn’t make them social justice warriors.

The post ended with write what you want or some such thing, and I agree with the basic sentiment. Don’t jump to conclusions. Sometimes, the way a film or television show is cast is just a creative decision. Not everything has a hidden agenda, good or bad.

That said…

Something doesn’t need to have an agenda to send a message, and when the message it sends is symptomatic of a greater problem or serves to perpetuate a greater problem, the fact that it may not have been purposeful isn’t really the point.

The point is what I’ve been rambling about: Internalization.

Given that what we’re exposed to plays such a significant role in our worldview and the way that we view ourselves, it’s in our best interest to expose ourselves to things that will have a positive effect on said perspectives.

Unless we prefer a stagnant society full of miserable, self-hating, other-hating, intellectually deprived individuals that are neither progressive nor productive, in which case, that’s cool too.

But – if for some totally insane reason, we want to enrich ourselves, then we need to surround ourselves with enrichment. If we want to expand our knowledge, then we need to surround ourselves with new knowledge.

And if we want to improve our worldview and the way that we view ourselves, we need to improve the way that we represent the world and ourselves in our environment.

That’s why, as much as I believe that we should write what we want – both literally and figuratively in terms of what we put out into the world – I also believe we should want to write things that in some way make society better.

That’s why I think it’s important for people to be mindful of the message something sends to those who are exposed to it and the potential impact it has on society as a whole. It doesn’t start and end with the question is there an agenda here and it isn’t just about intent.

We understand that a narrow mind is often a sheltered mind. We point fingers at cultures deemed barbaric or archaic because we see the negative effect of what they’ve been exposed to (or not) and we recognize that broadening their exposure is a part of the solution – a step towards a more well-rounded, civilized existence.

So why do we fight against broadening our own?

Everything around us contributes to the brainwashing we experience from the day we’re born to varying degrees. This isn’t news. And we’re (hopefully) aware that most of the social problems we have stem from this non-stop conditioning and involuntary internalizing of what we’re exposed to in our everyday lives.

Yet we don’t want to limit the things we say, do, or create. We put freedom first to a fault. It’s a part of our cultural identity as Americans, and to make up for it, we pretend that something’s okay as long as it’s not intentionally wrong.

In this case, that it’s okay to repeatedly feature an all-dominant cast and narratives that revolve around their perspectives as long as it’s not because you’re prejudiced.

Sure, it’s been proven again and again that a lack of representation has a long-lasting negative impact on the self-image of those who aren’t represented (or are represented poorly) while simultaneously contributing to them being valued less and/or perceived less favorably by those who are represented or by outsiders…

… but as long as it’s not on purpose, it’s fine! Why deviate? Because it would improve those attitudes? Quell those negative effects? That’s dumb!

I say all of that to say this…

The old adage that things don’t happen in a vacuum is an overused cliche for a reason. It’s one of those things that’s so true, it’s hard to imagine a world in which anyone alive would ever need to be told that, and yet everyone alive needs to be told that.

Everything that we say and do matters.
Everything that we see and hear matters.

And it’s a self-serving cop-out to excuse yourself or anyone else from what you contribute to that collective by saying, “It wasn’t intended to have this effect.” You didn’t intend to have diarrhea when you ate that burrito. Did that change the fact that you shit all over the place?

Long story short, we can’t complain about the awful things going on in our society or in our homes or in our relationships while at the same time giving a pass to the very things that, by and large, serve only to trigger or perpetuate those undesirables just because we don’t have a problem with the catalysts themselves. The bigger picture is pretty big. We should try looking at it from time to time.

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