The Algorithm is Racist: Entertainment
Derek and I have been enjoying the latest season of Queer Eye and the first episode sparked an interesting discussion. The Queer Eye team noticed that the man they were making over owned no queer literature, even though he was gay. Derek brought up the point that as someone in a marginalized community, it’s like you have to do your own homework. Most Black people you know are likely to have numerous books by Black authors about various things, but specifically about Black history and culture. The reason for this is that for some reason a lot of America doesn’t see Black history as American history. You could also argue the case I’m sure, for queer culture, or any other racial minority for that matter. As the member of a marginalized community you have to go the extra mile if you want to read an author that is the same race as you because straight white male is still the “default” or “normal” in America.
I had a similar conversation with my friend Betsy. She is a close friend and one of the ladies in my book club. Betsy is white but has taken the time to make sure she consumes all kinds of media by all kinds of people. She was telling me how even though she sought out the 2nd book in the series by fantasy (and Black) author Tomi Adeyemi, algorithms online were still recommending only white fantasy authors to her. How crazy is that!
This standard of white as the default is also true in movies and TV shows. White people are used to always seeing themselves on screen. I remember when I saw Black Panther for the first time a few years ago. I like superhero movies fine, but I’m not usually chomping at the bit to see them right away. This one, though, I could not wait to see in the theaters. I was amped! The whole movie I was riveted because almost all of the character were Black…the main villain, the heroes, the royalty. All Black! It was so amazing to see people that looked like me and so many of my loved ones on screen and kicking butt! And as main characters no less! It wasn’t a mostly white cast with a Black woman as the “sassy best friend” or the maid or the elderly Black man as the “magical negro” dispensing sage advice for the main white character.
So much ignorance, racism, and hatred seems to come from white people being treated like they are the norm, the status quo, and the default. This is often reinforced by so much of media catering to them. I am excited to see more shows, especially on streaming services like Netflix, that are starting to have more diverse offerings. We have a long way to go, though! I am writing this to remind those of you that are white to make sure your eyes are open to everything out there, maybe not just what’s put right in front of you. When is the last time you read a book by a Black author? How many movies have you seen with Black people cast in major roles, that weren’t about a “white savior”?
When is the last time you saw a movie starring a non-white couple that wasn’t solely about race (one of the many reasons I like “Lovebirds’ on Netflix, by the way)?
I would also argue that all of this is even more important if you’re a parent. Even though our daughter is not Black, we read her stories like Sulwe because it’s important she sees all kinds of people. This is important for all our kids. It’s one of the reasons I really like Doc McStuffins, the kid’s show where a Black girl has a mom that’s a doctor and a dad that stays at home with the kids. We need our kids to see diversity in their books, shows, and movies so they move through the world accepting everyone. We need American history taught in schools that isn’t focused on white Americans, but all Americans. This means not just having discussions about non-white in historical figures in certain months (Black history in February for, example) but all months of the year.
I thought about providing a list of some great authors to read or movie and tv shows to watch featuring characters of color. But I am not going to do that because there is a vast amount out there if you look….and we should all be willing to look to find some amazing things! This is so important because not only will we all learn about different viewpoints, but we will literally be changing the algorithms to offer more diverse stories. If more Black authors are being read, more publishing houses will seek them out, etc.
After discussing this with Derek, so many other topics related to this “Algorithm is racist” theme came up, so you can expect to see a few more posts about this with differing topics (beauty, food, and more) in the near future.