Rant: Mis/-Representation

“If you think that representation doesn’t matter, that’s probably because you’re already represented.”

Source: shorm, tumblr

This might come off as slightly politically incorrect to people who do not look too deep, so let me state outright that I have nothing against representation of marginalized people: as a brown, Muslim, Assamese girl, I understand exactly how important and necessary it is for the shaping of a mass consciousness and in challenging the preconceived notions that people hold about a class of humans they are not particularly familiar with.Especially in my country, India, which is known for its diversity of cultures, and which is currently going through a propaganda of forced homogenisation by the ruling government this discussion is relevant. For instance, even though my country, with all its diversity and easy-going ways, has a pretty impressive media industry I highly doubt that there will ever be the portrayal of a character like myself in any format that I can point to and relate with. What? A dark-skinned, Assamese, Muslim female character as a lead in some mainstream (even alternative media) production??? Unheard of! Unbelievable! Unacceptable!! *insert uncomfortable acquiescent laughter* So yeah, I  am not unaware of the importance of representation. However, that is not my problem because whether or not someone of my community who might share these characteristics is represented in mainstream media or not is not a discussion my country is prepared to grapple with at the moment. What I do have a problem with is misrepresentation.

 Yes, that exactly. Because – moving away from the domain of a purely nationalistic perspective into that of a more global one – I see how many complainants there are these days, mostly in social media networks, about how anything dominated by White Caucasians is a problem and so the immediate solution seems to have become putting in larger numbers of humans from other communities to encourage a more “level playing field”. So, it no longer matters about how a person is chosen or elected (be it the MTV VMAs 2015 nominations or even certain Presidential nominations, because there will now be louder, more vocal arguments about how you are a racist prick for not supporting such-and-such race/class/community/religion/sexuality/ethnicity over the dominant Whites. You know exactly what I’m talking about. OK, I see the implications: I see how it can be a positive thing; I see the downsides to such an approach too. Which is why I believe what I am about to write is so important for people to understand.

I am going to move back to a personal viewpoint here now into the most basic form of representation – that in the entertainment industry. Growing up as a brown girl, it never bothered me when I watched those Western flicks that there were hardly any brown people cast in movies etc, because we have our own industry and I believe that is more than sufficient for us as a space for representation. I mean, I don’t really see our industry being any more accommodating of outside communities either, y’know.The problem, I feel, begins when a Western production would cast brown people, they would *always* have prominent, exaggerated features with pronounced accents to generate a comic effect and hardly ever given anything to do other than reinforce stereotypes the Western audience holds. In addition, there would always be some sort of massively incorrect culture reference because of a lack of proper research. For references, see the character Raj from The Big Bang Theory,  the 2002 film Anita and Me, the 2010 film Sex and the City 2, among many others. What happens when you do make a pretense of listening to the the marginalized communities and throw in characters to appease their feelings, but compromise on the way in which you portray them? Misrepresentation is as much a part of the problem as being ill-represented, but no one talks of it as much.

In fact, it is worse because of the damage caused to the larger social consciousness. It feeds into the already damaging stereotypes the marginalised communities suffer from and such a way of being portrayed may be more harmful to their cause. It is, essentially, two steps backwards on the road a more progressive and liberal world. How can you, as a person belonging to a less-privileged populace, be expected to be taken seriously if the only kind of representation you are dealt involves jokes on curry, the excessive population of your country, how you are a nerd and great at studies but with zero social skills because of course your country only produces geniuses and focuses on little else? You see where I’m going with this? We need to fix what is already being presented to us before we can go full out on the numbers of our representation. In our fight for a more equal, diverse society this is an important step that we are skipping because we are too busy in yelling out our opinions on the internet (as I am doing right now).

“So, does this mean that there is no one who is taking corrective steps in this at all? Are you telling me that there is no one shouldering the responsibility of their respective communities and creating alternative productions to challenge the misrepresentations so far?” Of course not, little voice inside my head. There is more going on in the alternative creative arts than you would believe. This is where the free space of the internet comes in handy. There are more and more emerging artists, writers, illustrators, comedians, actors, vloggers, Instagrammers, Snapchatters, etc, etc that are helping in this fight and doing it the right way. It is an underground movement still, but gaining more ground as we speak/write/read. They create mindblowing quality content that is miles better than most of the rubbish being spouted by the established industries. It is a seismic movement that is slowly, but I can see quite surely, taking over. In some other post, some other day, I hope to elaborate on this further and talk about some of the wonderful people doing this job and doing it well. For now, thank you for going through this incredibly long rambling with no proper connection in my thought process.You are appreciated. 

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