Photo of Serena Williams
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Guest Opinion

Women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color)

Media are notorious about sending out messages to the masses intended to avoid representing women and people of color and lack of representation is having negative impacts.  Marginalized groups, namely women and communities of color, are greatly impacted in ways such as having less access to resources, less networking opportunities, more experiences of tense and fragile societal relationships, and discrimination increases.

It’s 2020, and American history books are still filled with male photographs.  Studies show that less than 11% of history textbook references are devoted to specific women. We should all be concerned about our adolescent children whose identities are being formed without their being able to balance their development by influence from the women and people of color who contributed to society.

Daughters of the Evolution is a company dedicated to creatively providing an effective step toward a resolution with their new app creatively called “Lesson in Herstory.” Students simply scan a photo of a man in their textbook and they will see a related story about a forgotten woman in history.  The article includes a video clip that has various female children telling about their experience with the app.  One of the app’s users, a young student, says, “It shows young girls that you can do amazing things too.  It’s not a man’s world.”  Another girl reported the app gave her confidence,“  I know that she did it, so I know I can do it to!”, and yet another, “If you swipe in the history book you see men on every single page.” 

The Lesson in Herstory app will be available to use as a transformative tool for women and people of color to start recognizing themselves as pioneers and heroes and inventors of the future.  Massive disparity exists between students with an excess of resources compared to minority groups living their lives without access to such educational and innovative technology.  

“DEI-focused (diversity, equity, and inclusion) organizations receive a very small slice of journalism funding. This research confirms what we’ve long suspected: no matter how you slice the data, DEI within journalism is not a high priority for funders. Of the $1.1 billion that went into journalism more generally in the United States from 2013-2017, only 8.1 percent went to DEI-focused efforts,” according to Lea Trusty.  Ensuring that those in poverty have the books, magazines, and media channels is as vital as the contents of the resources themselves. 

Lack of representation has far reaching impacts like less access to resources that help minority groups live up to their potential and thrive in society.  If only they could envision themselves achieving things, they didn’t know they could dream about.  To quote Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”  

Public media representation of women and people of color is also essential to ensure these populations have proper equity and access to resources that have the power to help prevent them from being born and raised into an environment that breeds a desperately low quality of life.  Being well reflected in the media with opportunities for open acknowledgment or celebration of a rising star’s lessons learned leads to gender equity with less discrimination. 

Women in News reports, “Women are more likely to read content in which they see themselves reflected, and yet they are only seen, heard or read on average 25% of the time. Especially now, when we are relying on the media to tell us the facts about our health and safety – perhaps more than ever! – it is important that every voice is represented.”

A cameo appearance is not enough, especially because it can lead to misrepresentation.  Historically, media misrepresentation has habitually provided poor characterization of Black American women as domineering, aggressive, and emasculating.  Everyone is familiar with the legendary Serena Williams who won 23 Grand Slam tournaments, besting all male and female tennis players.  A while back, several media outlets put her reputation under a biased headline “Angry Black Woman,” and black women everywhere became offended, and yes, angry.  These discriminatory media displays have led to disproportionate judgment of black women compared to white women.

Another company, Mindshift, is working hard to change how literature excludes and misrepresents experiences of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color). Mindshift explains that minorities want their own voices.  They have developed a movement call #DisruptTexts to dissect the ways we reward conformity and punish resistance.  One of the five points the movement stands upon is “Recognize the ways we are all complicit in perpetuating systemic oppression and consequently responsible for dismantling it.”

The world of journalism has always been unequal.  And this is a global problem.  Men still outnumber women in top editor positions, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.  In 200 major news outlets across the world, 40 percent of journalists are women, yet just 23 percent of head editor jobs are filled by women, according to a Reuters Institute analysis.

As Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, “Every single market covered has a majority of men among the top editors, including countries like Brazil and Finland where men outnumber women among working journalists.” The problem of poor media representation of women exists even in countries with better gender equality. Andi found that “countries like Germany and South Korea that score well on the UN Gender Inequality Index have very few women among the top editors.”

One answer is to increase support of media organizations led by BIPOC.  As Hannah-Jonesjournalist at the New York Times Magazine and co-founder of the Ida B. Wells Society of Investigative Reporting said, “Media organizations led by people of color have long been a vanguard of our democracy, holding the powerful accountable for the ways it treats its most vulnerable citizens in ways mainstream media has often failed to do. It was organizations such as the black press that campaigned most vigorously to abolish slavery, to pass federal legislation against lynching, and to end Jim Crow, when mainstream media either ignored these stories altogether or sided with the powerful.”

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