Remember looking forward to Saturdays as a kid? Your opportunity to relax after a long week of school and watch TV. The seemingly endless choice of what to watch?
Now, do you remember seeing you? In fact, how many times throughout your existence have you seen yourself accurately represented in mainstream media? When I look back on my childhood, I really struggle to name anyone (music videos aside). Yes, names like Angelica Bell, Trisha Goddard and Jocelyn Jee Esien come to mind but that’s about it. The media, supposedly, reflects society. It reflects who we are and how we are feeling so Black girls were and still are left thinking that we don’t exist.
Representation is more than just putting faces on screens, it’s about accurately telling authentic and multidimensional stories. It’s about Black characters thriving outside of the stereotype. Searching for representation in mainstream media is like looking for a needle in the racial haystack, like searching for love in all the wrong places, We ask repeatedly for it and, while we may see little changes, it isn’t enough and we deserve more.
The internet and its social media platforms have changed the game. We are now doing what needs to be done, ourselves. Youtube is now a part of my daily routine. It has been my remedy for getting more Black women on my screen. Where there are a lack of Black faces and absence of storylines on TV and cinema screens, there are an array online.
By being able to actively seek the type of content they want to view, audiences can dictate what they want to see and we can find the representation that lacks on linear television, a lacking that is extremely harmful to marginalised audiences. Youtube and social media have allowed Black creators to actively counter negative stereotypes by being in control. We have seized the reins of production and creators determine how they are portrayed.
The platforms of women like Nella Rose, Annie Drea, Patricia Bright, Lydia Dinga and Oloni to name only a few have catapulted them to success in ways and at speeds that would not be possible if they had chosen a conventional route. They have been able to educate and inform Black women and normalise conversations about sex and body image, conversations we are so often not included in within mainstream media. The internet has become a place where we all can actively resist and contest the invisibility we feel in society. It has allowed Black women to empower one another through their openness and expertise. We can look for and we can find ourselves.
I am not here to claim that social media is the antidote to the problem. Black women are more exposed to unregulated racist and misogynistic abuse on these platforms than any other demographic. Additionally, whilst Black women may thrive on their own channels, it is still a struggle to be recognised for doing and enduring more than our white counterparts. Black women thrive on Youtube and “community” radio stations but there is still a huge gap between “underground” success and recognisable, commercial acceptance. 300,000 watched Nella Rose get her first bikini wax and Oloni tweeting two words has the timeline alive with the sound of yet another viral topic but the waves, the social impact; really does go unrecognised in the mainstream.
Put on the TV and you won’t see Adeola Patronne on Celeb Bake-Off, nor will you find Zeze Mills hosting a radio show on Kiss FM.
In the past few years, yes, we have slowly seen more faces in the media. With the likes of Julie Adenuga and Clara Amfo securing presenting gigs on major media platforms, the tide does seem to be changing but in order for real, effective change; the playing field needs to be levelled out.
The community Black women have created online has inspired me to embark on a career in the creative industries which I can shape and define for myself. I can find myself in the media with the click of a button instead of once every few years.
This, however, doesn’t fix the problem of representation commercially and it is a problem.
We must continue to put pressure on mainstream media to make room for us, to pull up a chair at the table. If the media is a representation of society, Black women must be adequately represented despite our presence on YouTube. We exist offline and the only way we can thrive shouldn’t be through platforms we have created ourselves.