Living in a “millennial” age that is dominated by social media, it is difficult to escape some social realities and battles which have taken place online among the users of various social platforms such as Twitter or Instagram. With a rise in the usage of social media, discussions about right or wrong have taken place much more frequently, because we are able to reach others instantly and easily nowadays. The easier access has led to many controversial debates over issues such as racism and even cultural appropriation, as you’ve seen me discuss earlier in this article. When these debates occur, the real meaning can often get lost in the gifs, memes and arguments that result. But there is a very significant message behind all of these online discussions, and it’s so very real.
A debate which has been a predominant part of social media in the recent years is over the topic of racism, particularly in pop culture and entertainment. Why does this matter? Well, because pop culture is a massive influence on society and our youth. Much of what we know comes from pop culture, even more so than school. No matter how many history or social studies lessons you or your kid may receive, we are all more likely to absorb more from pop culture, social media and the world around us, than the textbooks. We unknowingly absorb a lot of the world around us anyway, which in the end influences our views and actions. So can you imagine how dangerous it is to have the wrong message conveyed through a medium that is a big part of our daily lives?
For most of us average people, it can be relatively easy to escape this topic because we don’t stop and think twice about the videos or music we’re hearing on radio or streaming online. We’re busy people, and we are there to enjoy what we hear or see and then move on. We don’t see the numbers on the charts the way the artists who are releasing this work do. But the truth is, the music and entertainment industry is still, in 2017, highly discriminatory against people of color, particularly black artists.
Now most of us are caring and kind human beings. We see others equally and we support hard work and effort. But unfortunately we are all guilty of succumbing to what is being mass fed to our society. What we don’t see is the discrimination which happens far too often and intertwines with all of us, whether we want to be a part of it or not…and this needs to change.
Many of the videos we see or songs we enjoy listening to by white artists incorporate elements of black culture. Now what’s wrong with all artists celebrating black culture, right? Except…we only celebrate the white artists who use black culture, we are not actually celebrating the culture itself. This is evident in the fact that most black artists are overlooked for awards and have had their cultural impact downplayed or ignored because of the color of their skin, and because they don’t fit the societal “ideal”. Miley Cyrus stole numerous components of black culture for her messy Bangerz album era and she made a massive profit. But on the other end, someone like Nicki Minaj, a woman of color, who has made a significant cultural impact with her work, is still continually overlooked or marginalised and placed into “rap” or “hip hop” categories, rather than the general category of “best song” or “best video”, as was the case at the 2015 VMA’s. The general “best” awards are rewarded to white artists, by the way, while we place black artists in a smaller, separate category.
Another perfect example of how we continue to downplay black culture is with society’s fascination with the Kardashians… a family of basically artificially constructed sisters who have adopted key features of black women; the tan, the lips and the booty, and continue to be worshipped for their appearance, while black women continue to be shamed for their very same features, which are part of their natural appearance. Why? Well, because they’re black. Beauty standards in our society are still very much eurocentric and flat out discriminatory. Black women’s bodies are seen as less than human, thus less appealing, yet we continue to take elements of their appearance and praise white women for it. Do you see how ridiculous this is?
The most common form of racism that occurs in the music or television industries is one of omission. Those in charge simply don’t give people of color or minorities the air time or the promo that white artists get. We don’t award people of color for their artistic efforts the way we do white artists, it’s a common fact. Following the tragic Pulse night club shooting, on Latinx night at the club, major streaming site Spotify created a themed playlist to honour the victims and offer support…but barely any Latinx artists were even on the list. Actually 2 out of 50 were. Funny, given that around 90% of the victims of that tragic event were Latinx. The way that the site was called out was using social media, with people rightfully pointing out that the list was ignorant and discriminatory. After being called out on it on social media, Spotify later modified the list to include more Latinx artists. Though Spotify may not have had bad intentions, these types of small omissions speak wonders when it comes to marginalised communities. It is essential we continue to use social media and speak out when we notice these small, yet significant discrepancies.
The saddest part is that these few examples discussed are just that, only a few instances in which we see discrimination occurring. There’s much more happening behind the scenes in the industry. Most major music labels, streaming and television companies are run and led by white executives and CEOs. The number of TV shows with a white actor lead are significantly higher in proportion than those with a black lead. And there are even far less Asians or Latinx leading any TV show on air currently. The statistics don’t even need to be conveyed in numbers, all you have to do is think of some of the shows you watch, and you’ll see it, right there.
But how does the industry get away with all this? Well, because they can. We, as an audience and consumer, don’t hold them accountable. We don’t seek that they take responsibility for their practices. So long as we continue to watch or purchase their products, we’re feeding into this racist ideal and image that is perpetuated by these massive labels and organizations. So long as we stay silent, we are allowing this to continue.
So how do we make things better? Well, social media has given us one option.
Social media is a huge part of all of our lives, and nowadays it can be used to do a wonder of good in the world. We’ve seen people speak up for injustices, set up fundraising pages for people in need, and generally engage in positive discussion about politics and our society. Information is instant. Most companies are switching from TV and paper advertising to social media, because it’s more effective. Social media connects all of us, no matter the physical distance between us, which has allowed it to become a ruling force within society. If we become more engaged in using this powerful tool to bring forth change, it can be a whole lot easier to give a voice to minorities and marginalised communities. The best part is, you don’t have to have thousands of followers. No matter your following, your voice counts and it will reach a significant number of people, so it’s crucial you use it.