Representation is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “an artistic likeness or image”.
I love television producer Shonda Rhimes. Everything that she pushes to the screens crosses the barriers of race, sexual orientation, and gender. With every project and program I eagerly wait in anticipation of what and who will lead the show. Her characters can tell you How to Get Away with Murder, oversee a national crisis to avert a Scandal, lead hospitals and operating rooms as they consult Grey’s Anatomy for a solution, or look to the Bridgerton family as they navigate an imaginary past in English aristocracy; thank you Julia Quinn for the novel concept! Rhimes shows break stereotypes and address issues such as transgender identities, sexuality, and race. Her female characters are bold, fearless, and empowered. I see her shows and wish our society was modeled after her creativity. Every walk of life has a place and presence in her shows.
As a kid growing up in a time before today’s digital distraction devices, I watched a lot of television and would frequently repeat practically everything I heard and saw; remember a child’s brain is like a sponge. The images and words made lasting impressions on me.
In grade school, I attended John Tyler Elementary School in Hampton Roads, VA. I was your average Black boy without a real care in the world. I remember our class was watching footage of the Apollo – Soyuz space launch. I was so excited watching the Saturn V rocket climb higher and higher into the sky until it disappeared. When I got home from school, I told my mother that I was going to be an astronaut. So, I began studying (looking at) books on astronomy to learn as much as my little brain could hold, about the vast cosmos of stars and planets swirling in the heavens. We also would spend hours visiting the Hampton Air Power Park where I could run and explore the vintage aircraft and space exhibits. My little head was filled with big and lofty dreams.
Comic books and cartoons always offered me an escape to fantasy. They featured some of my favorite superheroes of various shades, shapes, and hues, but still none looked like me. I remember running carefree through the house and yard with a towel draped around my neck as a cape, pretending that I had been gifted with superpowers and could fly. The one superpower I know I was born with, was actually the ability to frequently get into trouble! Black Panther was introduced to the comic world in 1966, and never received his share of mainstream recognition like his White crime-fighters Superman, Spiderman, or Batman. Black Panther remained unfamiliar to me until I was a teenager. With the release of a movie in 2018 starring Chadwick Boseman and directed by a Black director, and a majority all Black cast, the Black Panther, solidified his cinematic prominence and made an impression in the hearts and minds of millions worldwide.
Back to my young life, I began noticing faces that look like mine on television, but they were doing things for work such as pimps and prostitutes, servants, and garbage men*, which made me wonder about grown up life. Is this really how the world sees us? Was “this” all life had to offer for people that looked like me? Then I remember watching this show called Julia, featuring the fabulous and stunning Diahann Carroll. Carroll played a widowed nurse with a young son. She was nothing like any other African American female character I had previously seen on television or in the movies. Nurse Julia Baker had tenacity, heart, and soul. She wasn’t subservient, or portrayed as lazy, or uneducated. This show and Carroll’s performance was refreshing, exceptional, ahead of its time (1968 – 1971). It seems like there were few traditional role models that depicted thriving households and portraying positive working professionals for Black, Indengious, and People of Color, that have at least been portrayed in the media.
*The above listed trades are not a negative statement of judgement.
A decade and more later, the Cosby Show (1984 – 1992) was beamed into our living rooms. This show was about an upper-middle class Black family (the Huxtables) and helped cast a more positive light about how Black people were being portrayed on television. The show wasn’t like the other television programs that featured Black family characters. The parents were both working professionals (Doctor & Lawyer), very affectionate and playful with one another, and even the kids (5 of them) got along. I won’t say that it was a Black-washed version of Father Knows Best, but more of a hip and soulful take on Growing Pains. Truthfully though, the Cosby Show storylines were fun and provided a glimpse into our (Black) culture, while presenting the idea that we Black people can and do have contributing and functioning relationships.
The idea of being a part of something or seeing oneself in places different from my own space have always been factors that drive me. Today, I think about how, as of January 20, 2021, Kamala Harris has become the first female, first Black American, first Indian American to be hired Vice President of the United States of America; the highest number two position in our federal government. With this appointment, the proverbial glass ceiling is now officially shattered, hopefully empowering little Black/Brown girls in this country that they too can achieve anything if they are willing to do the work. But will this be a one hit wonder like many of the 80s groups of days gone by? Or will there now be a string of women continuing to bust the old (White) boys club? The significance of this accomplishment alone is monumental, historic, and long overdue (Shirley Chisholm). And not only that, but for only the second time in our governmental history, we will also have a person of color in the White House. There is a bit of irony behind having a Black presence in the White House since it, and other buildings in Washington, DC (Capitol Building, Monticello, Mount Vernon) were constructed by enslaved labor.
Our media, educators, leaders, and of course our parents, play a hand in how people see and hear us. It should be the responsibility of those who educate and entertain young BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) minds to provide a vision of what a better future could be by sparking interest to explore and create.
We all deserve the chance to see ourselves in a life where we can be our true selves and feel included. The color of our skin, sexual orientation, or our gender should never be a reason to exclude someone or leave them behind.
#shondarhimes #blacklivesmatter #blackpanther #representationmatters