We are excited to announce a new video series coming to Refinery29's YouTube tomorrow — Truth Told. We are bringing these educational and investigative news series unpacking present day social issues to life through a Google News Initiative grant and five amazing fellows. Read more about the fellows — in their own words — below.
I was 16 when my dreams were wilted. I’ve always loved writing and wanted nothing more than to see my name on the mastheads of Seventeen magazine and the New York Times. But a very important person in my life came to me and asked me to flip between the pages of those magazines and point out the women with skin as dark as mine and hair as tightly coiled. There weren’t many.
The question followed, how could I make it in those spaces when they hardly let women who look like me past the doors? They said this out of love, to show me the reality of what I’d be getting into, but that didn’t make it any less hurtful.
For as long as I can remember, representation has always been huge for me and for good reason still is. With broader representation comes more opportunities to dream. But the more I think back to conversations like the one I had with my loved one, it’s not the importance of representation that jumps out at me, it’s the limitations it can create. The saying goes, seeing is believing. But when systemic discrimination and erasure prevent you from seeing the reality you so desperately want to believe in, what then? For many marginalized people, the lack of representation can be a stop sign, a glass ceiling signaling just how far we could go. And with stereotypical narratives constantly playing in the back-drop of everyday life, sometimes it is easier to see the world only as it is reflected back to us and not what it could be.
The void of diversity created as a result maintains the lack of representation that discouraged a 16-year-old black girl from Queens to chase her magazine dreams. Even when media representation does begin to reflect how we see ourselves, insert Black Panther reference here, it is often so far and few between and rarely causes sustainable changes that ripple into the communities it mirrors. We put so much emphasis on being represented and validated by a society that continually dehumanizes us and then turns around to praise us when it’s profitable.
For me, it’s not enough to finally be depicted as human, I want to be able to live that way too. This means having access to basic needs like healthcare, education, food, housing. It also means having space to dream and be who I want to. It means being able to contribute and maintain a world of mutual respect, assistance and well being that isn’t sustained through the misrepresentation and exploitation of others.
So no, there is no applause for finally being seen in the shows and magazines that once ignored people who look like me. I’m more interested in figuring out how to help create a world that is not limited by today’s status quo.
I loved the fact I’d be able to work in a team of badass women reporters telling stories that dig deeper on issues we sometimes overlook. This experience has been indescribably transformative, not only have I’ve been able to tell great stories and sharpen my journalistic and creative craft, I am also supported by women who believe in me, what I have to say and are invested in seeing me grow. It’s a great feeling!