The Impact of the Western Media's Whiteness

By: Ibnat Islam

It is no secret that the western world’s mainstream media has a tendency to cater to a select group of people. Through this exclusivity, the people involved in the mainstream media who see the most success, are typically white or hold Eurocentric features. This is not unique to the western world as it is a pattern that exists within cultures across the world. It is interesting, however, that in a society such as the west in which people from all walks of life coexist, that there seems to be enough room to glorify and normalize the faces of only a certain type of person.
How many times have you looked in the mirror with your brown skin glaring loudly back at you and thought to yourself: Is this even normal? From a young age, we are wired into seeing things from a certain perspective through various tools and forms of learning that have been incorporated into our daily lives. When you went to school as a kindergartener, everyday you were taught little lessons of morality that would later become common sense to you, and the foundation of moral navigation as you stumble through more controversial situations. When I watched TV, I saw white girls as the stars of every show. Girls like me did not exist in this realm. Brown-skinned,
black-eyed, loud and significant. This has become a norm for me; to see myself as a tool of tokenism, only existing in the sphere of entertainment to keep a show from being called “racist.” I exist, but only in the background.
My parents are brown immigrants who work in this country day in and day out, never complaining when they work an extra weekend. They pay their taxes and help provide this country with services that add an extra bit of convenience and comfort that comes with living in a western country. But still, they are the background characters. I go to school like the kids in the movies, I cry and laugh and buy iced coffee with my friends to quench a never-ending caffeinated craving, but still, I am a background character.
I wondered as a child as to what I had done wrong, what I could do to be seen. I blamed myself and attempted to change myself. What’s wrong with me? How can I fix this? Had I known Fair and Lovely existed, I would have taken baths in it. Instead, I was stuck at home dreaming of a lighter me. I had watched white and light-skinned girls on television and thought that was as far as normal would go. Every inch of myself I scrutinized, holding my skin under close, ashamed, magnification.
When the only people on television are the ones lighter than me, than the other brown girls staring at these screens trying to understand the world they’re living in, it alienates us. It normalizes light skin. There is something human in whiteness that cannot be found in a deeper shade of brown, apparently. This concept translates further into the way people of colour are portrayed in the media as well. Most characters of colour are light-skinned, half-white. This is not to invalidate the identities of those who are mixed with white, rather than question why even in people of colour, whiteness needs to be evident in order to be represented. Is it truly diversity if we are constantly looking for white in brown? Why must a brown face be set with blue eyes and a small, thin nose to be seen on the big screen?
In an article written by Brian Ashcraft for Kotaku, Ashcraft brings up an interesting point of whiteness being unquestioningly viewed as the default race. In the article, which seeks to explain a misconception as to why Japanese people supposedly create anime characters that are white, Ashcraft traces this western notion back to ethnocentrism. In the west, we consistently project our norms and ideals onto aspects of other cultures. Ashcraft sheds light on the normalization and ideality of whiteness in the west. He uses the idea of a stick figure being perceived as white in the west until stereotypical features are drawn on it to represent another race. Interestingly- yet not surprisingly- this is a very true observation. Whiteness is seen as the default, the blank slate, the ultimate norm. We see a person, whether it be a stick figure or even when we are simply asked to think up an image of a human in our minds, and for many of us, we go straight to thinking white person. The norms that the media has constructed in our minds through whitewashing its contents has gone as far as whitewashing our idea of humans.
The media perpetuates the unhealthy concept of dehumanizing those who are not white enough. Through the portrayal of people of colour from a whitewashed perspective, our racial identity remains ostracized. Whiteness is shown in the form of white people and  people of colour who are mixed with white. This promotes the toxic and dehumanizing idea of associating humanness with whiteness and depriving brown-skinned people of the right to be perceived as human on the same level. There is a tendency within the media to seek whiteness in everything it presents, to continuously normalize and idealize whiteness. We are made to look at the world through an ethnocentric lens. We impose our standards of idealized whiteness onto the things we see, the people we meet and think of. The mass media of the western world has had a significant impact on the ways in which we view humans and the normalcy and humanity we see within people of colour. In a society where all races coexist, the whitewashed underrepresentation within the media continues to ignore the existence of many people of colour.



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