A Boomer’s Guide to Representation in Media

Dear Sarah,

My father, a white middle aged man, is a producer for a TV network and he keeps complaining about how the industry is changing. He gripes that “everything is so PC” and that he can’t tell a joke without upsetting the “liberal snowflakes”.  These comments really hurt my feelings! Like most young people, I understand the importance of representation and diversity in the media. I have tried to explain this to my father, but he won’t listen to me! Even worse, he insists that classic racist stereotypes are good for ratings and that they make “old fashioned” viewers like him laugh.  How can I convince my dad that he needs to let go of his old fashioned ways?

-A Concerned Daughter

Ah, the classic excuse of “It’s not my fault, I was raised that way”.  I agree it can be difficult to see our parents and grandparents struggle to adapt to our ever changing world.  However, I don’t think they should get a free pass just because change is scary. You did a good thing by trying to start a dialog with your dad!  Working as a TV producer, he has the potential to change the whitewashed and stereotypical shows that dominate the industry. Here is a brief guide to what I think your dad needs to know.

  1. America is a melting pot of attitudes, cultures, races, and religions! Shouldn’t our media reflect this?  

For the most part, the story of the white nuclear family has been overplayed. We have seen it time and time again, and frankly it gets boring!  I think there are far more interesting and enriching experiences out there to be told. Don’t live in a diverse community? The great news is that (if done properly) TV and movies can introduce people to new cultures and lifestyles that they might be unaware of.  And I’m not just talking about educational shows that would be featured on the history channel or PBS. We need to feature real people and tell compelling stories while being careful not to generalize or use stereotypes. Our media needs to reflect the differences in gender, sexuality, family structure, race, religion, etc. that makes our country a beautifully diverse place.  

2. Diversity in media makes everyone feel welcome

If American media only portrays the archetypal apple pie eating, flag waving, christian American citizen, Americans who don’t fit that mold can feel othered and isolated.  Immigrants or those with different religions or cultural practices shouldn’t feel that they must choose between assimilation or alienation. Our media (TV or otherwise) should reflect many different experiences so that everyone feels represented in one way or another.  For example, a makeup ad in Seventeen Magazine that features a transgender woman could help 1000’s of Trans teens feel like there are others who are going though similar experiences. Keeping with this example, making LQBTQ individuals commonplace in the media will help expose them to people like your dad.  Eventually, things won’t seem so strange and your dad slowly begins to accept that not everyone is exactly like him. Perhaps, he will even be able to see that this is a good thing! 

3. Changes must be made, but they need to be made very carefully 

So far we’ve learned why it’s important to include a variety of experiences on TV and other media sources. But we must also discuss how we can implement these changes without reinforcing damaging stereotypes or creating new ones.  Although I’m sure your dad is great at his job, we are in desperate need of more diversity in our production, writing, and directing teams.  In order to tell compelling stories about diverse characters, those groups must be represented on the team creating the story! It seems like a simple idea, but it’s not often practiced. Additionally, it’s important that non-white (and non-binary) characters are featured as main characters with fully fleshed-out personalities. We can’t just cast a diverse character as the sidekick or best friend and call it inclusive.  Often when this happens, the character’s personality is solely based on a trope (things like the “ sassy black woman” or the “gay best friend”). Not only do these kinds of portrayals reinforce negative stereotypes, but they are also lazy ways of faking representation.

Armed with this information, I hope that your dad realizes just how important representation is in American media.  We spend countless hours of our lives watching TV, looking at ads, and reading books and magazines. What we see, hear, and read during those hours have very real impacts on the lives of adults and even bigger impacts on kids.  Hopefully, your dad (and others like him) will finally realize this. Good luck!


Freedom of Expression and Discrimination – should it be banned?

By Yan Chen

In January 27, 2020, Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, had published a cartoon graphic of the Chinese flag with five coronavirus particles photoshopped over the five stars. The author Niels Bo Bojesen played a malicious joke on the current serious and sorrowful situation in China and had hurt the feeling of all Chinese people who was suffering now.

When Chinese government has demanded an apology from the newspaper and the illustrator, they refused to apologize for it because they thought that was their freedom of expression in Denmark. Indeed, they even did not think they make anything wrong, and in their culture, making fun of a nation flag is permissible. Additionally, many Danish people kept spreading out some online memes that critique Chinese people and government as vulnerable.

In my perspective, I can never believe that anyone in the world is able to mock others due to his freedom of expression. I think this behavior has already crossed the bottom line of ethical boundary of free speech. The virus had killed thousands of people in the world, whereas the newspaper still made fun of that without sympathy, which is definitely immoral and inhuman. I think this is systemic injustice, because the power of freedom cannot become anyone’s excuse to bully others.

Simone de Beauvoir introduces the concept of the Other in her work “The second sex”. In this case, I think people from China suffering the virus were categorized as the Other by Danish people who were making fun of that. In this semester, many literary works described the experience of prejudice which I think has similarity to this situation. For instance, Ortiz Cofer wrote in her novel “The Story of My Body” that she experienced racial prejudice many times because she was thought as the Other by those native persons.



How Everyday Discourse Contributes to Sex Discrimination

By Sarah Goulder

Although we have made great strides in creating a more inclusive and progressive world, there is still much work to be done to limit (and hopefully one day eliminate) sexism, homophobia, and overall hate.  The ways in which these injustices manifest today is much more subtle than it once was. For instance, the kind of inequality that Simone de Beauvoir references in The Second Sex is much more obvious and severe than what is seen today.  However, her ideas on othering and its consequences still apply to sexism and other areas of prejudice.  Currently, the things we say, how we act on social media, and what we see on television and film all contribute to the persistence of systemic injustice in the modern world.  Specifically, I would like to focus on sexist and homophobic discourse in everyday life and in american media, as both of these areas contribute significantly to the perpetuation of discrimination and bias.  


A recent encounter with a terribly unoriginal and sexist joke sparked my interest in writing about this topic.  A friend of mine recently said a version of the “make me a sandwich” joke about another woman.  My blood started to boil, but I remained silent and let it go because I knew that my friend was not an actual misogynist.  In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have. That type of “joke” is an example of why sexism and gender discrimination still exist. Casual comments rooted in prejudice (whether it’s sexism, racism, or homophobia) are indicative of a much larger issue how we reinforce everyday bias and discrimination.  Here is a link to a blog site that does a good job of explaining why this particular joke is problematic.  Going beyond sexism, the way we speak (and where we do it) have real world consequences that many people would rather not acknowledge.  This article discusses a few recent(-ish) examples of celebrities and comedians, like Stephen Colbert that have engaged in “casual homophobia” by using anti-gay tropes and language.  Despite our intentions, casual prejudicial discourse prevents us from moving forward culturally and makes it difficult to create political and legal changes to unfair policies.  

Systemic Injustice in A Disney Movie? You’re Joking Right?

By Alyssa Suarez

No, I’m not joking!

I was watching “The Princess and The Frog” the other day on Netflix when I notices that there was some systemic injustice in the movie. In one scene, Tiana just got done raising enough money to buy a place that was going to be her father’s restaurant. At her best friends party, she ran into Mr. Finner, which is who she bought her place that was going to be her restaurant from. She then found out that someone offered more money then her for the place. After the Mr. Finner told her this, he then said something to her that was an example of systemic injustice. After Tiana told them how long it took her to save that money up, they said “Exactly! Which is why a little woman of your background would have had her hands full trying to run a big business like that. Your better off where your at.” This is an example of systemic injustice because they are assuming because she is African American that she can’t or would struggle running a big business even though they didn’t exactly come out and say that. They just sugar coated it all though I also think they did that due to this movie being meant for children. I never really realized this until I began to watch this movie again.

When looking at New Orleans’s background, the African American population began to grow. Some slaves were able to earn their freedom there, and others came to New Orleans from present-day Haiti, fleeing a slave revolt there and bringing along Voodoo and other traditions. (New Orleans) If you click on the link, you can learn more about New Orleans’s history. New Orleans’s history is important when understanding Tiana’s background, as Shannon explains her background in the video below. If you fast forward to 7 minutes she begins to talk about Tiana’s background.



Tiana deals with hardships as an African American woman who is taught that working hard is the only way she will pursue her dreams. When Mr. Finner made that comment about her, that was systemic injustices. That caused Tiana to fall into the category of Otherness. As Simone de Beauvoir explains in her article, Tiana falls into the category not only due to being a woman but also as an African American. Which is an example of intersectional identity, as we talked about in week six.

When watching The Princess and the Frog not many notice that their is racial discrimination because it is systemic injustice. By making this comment, this demonstrates an example of Otherness, which Simone de Beauvoir talks about in The Second Sex “Introduction”.

I think it is important to understand what systemic injustice is because if you pay attention, you will see that it is everywhere just like I notices in my favorite movie “The Princess and the Frog”.