TV is too white

Sakari Jacob

White people are seen too often on television. 

A 2019 research study by Statista found that 72.4% of lead actors in movies were white and only 27.6% were people of color.

The airing of The Queen’s Messenger in September of 1928 became the first television show that was aired to the world and was all white. This “tradition” continued until 1956 when Nat King Cole became the first African American to have his own television series; however, the show had trouble attracting sponsors.

As time progressed, the percentages of people of color on TV increased, but it still lags far behind what it should be if you compare it to the demographic makeup of the US. Is this really shocking though? After years of slavery and hardships towards black people and other people of color, do we expect anything else?

The answer should be yes, after all that tragedy and turmoil with people of color, change should be made. It’s disgusting that racism is still a thing, and even though times have improved slightly, one area that has taken too long is television. As someone who has grown up in the television era of history, I notice that there is a lack of representation for people like myself. 

 Imagine growing up watching television and only seeing people who look different than you, such as in One Tree Hill. If you are white, imagine growing up and only having access to shows such as The Cosby Show, Black-ish, or Fresh Off the Boat to get some sense of normality in skin color. Watching shows like iCarly, Dog with a Blog, Girl Meets World, etc. where the cast is predominately white, makes me feel vulnerable and, in a sense, ashamed of who I was because I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. 

Why does representation matter? Witnessing only white people on screen affects children because they begin to wonder if they are socially acceptable. As professor Kristen Harrison stated, “Children who are not doing other things besides watching television cannot help but compare themselves to what they see on the screen.” Which brings forth the following questions: am I abnormal? Am I strange? Why does no one else look like me on TV? Is it me? 

People of color should be displayed on television to represent those who lacked having someone represent them. If I had seen someone who resembled me, I wouldn’t have asked those questions of whether or not I was abnormal or strange, instead, I could have been comfortable in my skin at a young age like white people are.   

However, on the brighter side of things, “Long-running shows, like Shonda Rhimes’s Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, as well as cable hits like The Walking Dead demonstrate a willingness from audiences to continue watching diverse shows. And after the success of Fox’s Empire, as well as smaller successes with ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, How to Get Away With Murder, and Black-ish, it makes commercial sense to continue the “trend” of featuring more people of color on television screens,” as stated by The Guardian. These demographics have lasted so long because they’re representing people of color, as more than the stereotype. 

This issue recently arose in Beyonce’s Black is King in which a white butler was seen among an all-black cast, which didn’t sit well with some white people. However, reflecting historically, there was little outcry from whites about a lack of diversity in shows. People believed this was a version of racism and that she was advocating for black supremacy, which was far from the truth. 

When looking back on the history of America and the representation of people of color, we shouldn’t have to look at such low percentages, instead, we should take initiative to have more representation so no one is excluded.

I deserve to be represented on TV.