Being raised in a predominantly white society in North America, I was surrounded by people that didn’t look like me. My mother, being Filipina, had much lighter skin than I did, and my friends, being white, did as well. For years I would walk the streets of my neighbourhood seeing barely anyone that had the same colour skin as mine, let alone the same heritage. At the time, I did not realize the importance of seeing yourself represented in the world around you.
There is a lot of power in representation. Whether you realize it or not, every image that your eyes register has a message as well as an effect on you and your ideologies. Whether the effect be positive, negative or neutral, each photo normalizes what it represents, and with time, repetition and exposure, even the oddest or most radical forms of expressions and ideas can become conventional, ordinary – mainstream.
To put things into perspective, think about the odd trends that make you cringe, like Ugg boots for example, yet are given so much exposure that they become the norm. From Marissa Cooper on the OC to Rihanna’s Ugg Coachella appearance, these damn things have been seen everywhere, and although you may be repulsed by them, you still have a pair hidden deep down in your closet.
On a more radical note, there are the likes of Adolf Hitler that used repetition not only in images but also in dialogue and rhetoric until his messages became so ingrained in society that entire communities were completely obliterated.
There is an equally damaging effect that occurs when there is lack. Lack of representation acts more like an erasure, a silencing, a muted death. One that allows you to disconnect from what is not there, to forget without the longing to remember. Lack also has the ability to differentiate, individuate and discriminate what you do not see, thus creating other.
For those whom are not familiar, “othering” or “to other” is a term used in sociology, philosophy and where I learnt it in communication studies that refers to the “reductive action of labeling a person as someone who belongs to a subordinate social category,” and “the perception or treatment of a person or group of people as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself.” Looking back at the previous example with Hitler, it becomes evident how, psychologically, othering can have a long-lasting effect on an individual, community or society – especially when you are intentionally trying to other specific people, or conversely, when you as an individual are unaware that you are being othered.
This took me nearly twenty years to realize, and after twenty-six years, I’m still growing to understand.
Despite people of colour (i.e. not white) being a large majority of the world’s population, we are constantly being othered in many ways through lack of representation. When it comes to Africans and women of colour, that lack magnifies.
When Africans and women of colour are represented in the mainstream media, they are often represented as a token, fetish, or stereotype, without depth, dexterity nor dynamism.
However, with the rise of the internet, we have seen these lacks slowly become defused. People are creating and sharing their own representations, owning their differences, and standing up for what is theirs.
And this – this is why I am here.
I am not here to fill a gap, I am here to amplify the voices of people of colour expressing themselves loudly.
I am here to show that there are communities around the world innovating, creating and doing dope shit, and being unapologetic about it.
I am here to share the beauties and struggles that are endured by people that are often forgotten.
I am here to add to the representations of people of colour, to not normalize their otherness but celebrate their uniqueness.
I am here to challenge normality, to demonstrate how our differences are what ultimately makes us the same – human.
I am here.