It’s been said a picture speaks a thousand words. How about thousands of pictures – returned in Google search? Collectively, what are they saying?
As a Black-American I’m sensitive to seeing (and not seeing) images that look like me, so I strive to be ethnically inclusive in my writing. Most Caucasians will never know what it’s like to not see your race and skin tone represented in make-up, art, toys…and the list goes on. Even emojis became multicultural only last year.
White skin is the default, while everything else is “other”. This is never more evident than when doing a Google image search. Putting aside adult problems like finding foundation, stockings and lingerie in the varying shades Black people need, let’s just talk photos.
Blame It On The A-A-Algorithm?
Search “new experiences” in Google Images and you get dozens of photos of White people jumping, off mountains, on surfboards, on skis, airborne White people abound. Add the words “Black People” and things get a lot less happy. Photos of Blacks at protests, recent ones in color and older B&W’s, information about law, Malcolm X and other unrelated results are returned. Just a few vacation photos are sprinkled in and there are more than a few slavery drawings.
I was several lines down before I got to my first Black woman jumping in the air, thank you Lola Akinmade!
Despite several controversies Google isn’t doing any better with curbing racist search results. The company stated that the algorithm they use pulls from what is available and frequent. So then where does the fault really lie? Where are we as Black people complicit in the negative, stereotypical and one-dimensional portrayals of ourselves in media and art? For this next question let’s leave out all of rap and Hip-Hop, because no one has time for that. What images do we create of ourselves?
Visit a Black art gallery and you’ll find depictions of Black people as African Kings and Queens and many, many, MANY nudes. The women have wide hips, big butts, full lips and ample breasts. The men are tall, square-shouldered and super muscular. Black couples are almost always nude and post-coitus or actual coitus. Our own art shows us draped in chains with a fiercely proud expression, or hovering in the air surrounded by clouds, sunshine everywhere. I look at those and Jesse Williams words run through my mind, “Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
In The Eye Of The Beholder
I’m not saying the answer is to perfect our best imitation of Norman Rockwell, but it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to show images that depict not just our struggle or goals of greatness, but our current, melanin-blessed daily existence. One image that really had me puzzled was that of a naked Black man and woman straddling each other and draped in chains. Is that about free love, love lockdown, 50 shades of brown, what?
Why are we constantly feeding the beast that chooses to over sexualize Black people? I’m all for celebrating curves, but don’t pretend like slim, petite, Audrey Hepburn looking Black women don’t exist. Yes Black is beautiful but we can’t petition Mattel for the Black Barbie’s we want but not look to ourselves to create art that imitates our life and life goals.
Being more a part of the system than ever as writers, producers, directors, ballers and shot callers, we can take hold of the reigns and drive how we are represented in toys, cartoons, comics, statues, paintings and yes in tv and movies. We’ve come a long way but we’re hardly there yet. There are some really great Black artists that have gone beyond the clichés. It is still our responsibility to continue pushing and changing both the picture and the frame in which we are viewed, not for anyone else, but for our own benefit.
The Black TV & Film Collective a 501c3 organization that operates as a NYC film collective. In our work, we support all artists of color including but not limited to black filmmakers. We are a collaborative platform that represents diversity in film and supports inclusion in Hollywood and TV. Our professional network of New York City filmmakers gives knowledge to those who want to learn how to produce film, how to make a web series, how to budget film projects and more. We host NYC film workshops that welcome a variety of experience levels from first time filmmakers who are either students in film school or to notables within the television and film industry. See how you can make a difference in the world of cinema by becoming a member of our NYC film collective.
Elizabeth Downing is a screenplay writer who also covers pop culture, race and travel topics. Email for all inquiries. Follow on Twitter @BklynSprngWtr. Elizabeth is also a member of the Black TV & Film Collective.