The issue I would like to talk to you about is politics, and how it effects everyday relationships. Yes, I admit, I love a good debate. My friends reading this might be saying sarcastically, “Who...Lena? Talking about politics? NO WAY.” I'm pretty sure I get it from my dad, because it seems that like he is the first one to bring up politics at Thanksgiving dinner (yikes!) just like I'm always the first one to bring it up when hanging out with my group of friends. What is important here is the relationship between all the bullshit happening in the government, our stances on it, and how that plays a role in our friendships.
I like to follow my dad's lead. It's always entertaining to watch him start a heated debate. Our extended family is ridiculously diverse in color, religion, and of course, politics. We have people leaning far right, far left, middle-path, and people who simply distrust all forms of government. My dad will strike up a debate with all of them...all with a smile on his face and between bouts of booming laughter. It's lighthearted. He takes the issues seriously, and is very passionate and blunt in stating his opinions, but at the end of the day he respects his fellow people too much to be rude or dismissive towards them. This is what my approach to politics is like.
People before politics- that's my rule. My closest friend is black/Brazilian and a Republican. I am white /Syrian and a Democrat. We both have immense distaste for the two-party system, but she tends to lean conservative, and I tend to lean liberal. I am an avid supporter of Bernie Sanders, she voted for Cruz but would vote Trump if he was nominated. We couldn't be more different!! Admittedly, our debates over issues can get pretty heated- that is only natural, since we are both very passionate for our causes- but there is never any genuine anger. We respect and care for each other, and because of that we accept each-others differences of opinion, and focus on what we do agree on.
At the end of the day, isn't that how everyone's relationships should be? We are the citizens, the little people. The puppet show happening in Washington is so far away, and each individual candidate has far less power than we think. So while we rally behind our person and throw vicious hatred at the other team, the real politics is happening behind closed doors in other branches of government. It is our job to look past all the bullshit, and see people with compassion in our hearts and understanding in our minds. We must love and respect each other as fellow humans, regardless of how vast our differences may be. I have an example for this....
First we must understand that you are as sure of your beliefs as the person standing beside you. Think about that for a moment. Just as much as I believe gay marriage is rightfully legal, many people out there believe just as strongly that it shouldn't be. Everyone will have a list of reasons why they believe a certain thing, and that list comes from our past experiences and backgrounds. And since everyone has had hugely different experiences, isn't it expected that we don't agree? This realization helps me be more compassionate towards people. So the story goes, I find out that my closest friend supports Donald Trump. I totally freak out- “how could she do this? I just don't get it! He's racist, omg!!” That was my strong belief- that he is prejudiced. Over on her side of the story, “Bernie Sanders is a socialist! Socialism has no place in America!” See? Just as shocking of a statement.
We were both very firm in our beliefs, that much was clear. We took turns ranting about how wrong the other was till we had our fill. When it comes down to it, I know what she believes in and what her values are. I know how good of a person she is, and her political affiliation doesn't change that in any way shape or form. Our friendship is what matters, not the drama happening up top.
I invite everyone to implement this strategy in their own lives, and not just for politics but for all differences of opinion. This is a giant country filled with people who all have so much good to give. It would be such a shame to alienate and dismiss them just because you can't agree on one thing. Focus on the things you do agree on, find common ground, and lead on with love.
We'd all like to think that Hollywood reflects the diversity we see in our communities. There seem to be more people of color in movies and shows in leading roles. LGBT style families were made mainstream and approachable with shows like Modern Family. Female actors increasingly take on non-gender-stereotypical roles. Sadly, excluding the white-straight-male-type characters, most everyone else is either under-represented, or misrepresented. It's a given that people of different sexual orientations or genders and people of color are not shown enough on TV, however today I will focus on three ways Hollywood fails to satisfy when they do finally get their screen time.
By the way, my use of the word “Hollywood” refers to the media as a whole: Tv shows, movies, etc.
1. The Token Character: this type of character is thrown into a show/movie for the sole purpose of appearing to have a diverse cast.
The first type of failed attempt at diversity is something commonly known as the “Token Character,” for example, a “token black guy” or “token Asian woman”. The word token itself is a good indication as to why this type of representation is offensive. This type of character is made up for the sole purpose of attempting to have a diverse cast. They have no important roles in the show or movie, they may be in the background most of the time, or sometimes get a few seconds of highly-tokenized screen time. Its almost as if the network is saying, “Hey, look at us being all inclusive, we have this one Latina here!” If, among a sea of white people, one brown head stands out, that is a token character. Generally, this character feels out of context to the viewers. He or she has no friends or coworkers that look like them, they act like the people around them, but somehow they still can't blend in. Its extra offensive when they are devoid of any culture, because then they can be deemed as “safe” by their white counterparts. The inclusion of this type of character is an effort by the production to increase their viewer base by specific audience targeting. Also, in a world of political correctness, its something tossed in at the last minute to satisfy the masses. It is a lazy and ineffective way diversify the cast of their show.
2. Stereotypical Characters: these types of characters are very clearly defined walking stereotypes of their perspective race/gender/sexual orientation/religion and are often shown in groups.
The second type of failed attempt was one that was brought to my attention when I was in one of my classes at Eastern Michigan University. It was a reading class, and the teacher brought out a children's book and told us to observe the cover. On the cover was (very definitively) a white boy, an Indian girl, a Chinese boy, and a black boy in a wheel chair. On the surface, this may seem like the perfect picture of diverse representation- every kind of person had been shown! Or...had they? The problem here was that every child on that cover was so clearly defined as some type of person- the Chinese boy was pale faced with pointed eyes and a bowl cut, the white boy was smiling and blonde, the Indian girl was dressed in traditional garments with a bindi on her forehead and the black boy in the wheel chair sported an Afro and held a basketball (here, the teacher pointed out that the black kid was being used as a “two-fer” for being both black and disabled).
Where are the mixed-ethnicities and ethnically ambiguous characters? And possibly the most important question: why is each person shown defined so strenuously by their perspective stereotypes?
Not only are these individuals being defined by their stereotypes visually, they are also being shown as displaying those personality/mannerisms that have been attached to them. In the media, when these types of characters are shown in groups, the effect is even more harmful. For example, black men are often shown as violent gang members with a pack mentality, and tells the viewer that they are a monolith, while white men are portrayed as having their own thoughts and opinions. A similar picture can be painted with tens of bearded men yelling angrily in Arabic. Does the word “terrorists” come to mind? This is because of the relentless mental training we all unknowingly endure when watching media of any kind. This type of representation reinforces pre-existing stereotypes and clumps entire groups of people together. Stereotypes confine people they are aimed at, and close the minds of people who are exposed to them.
3. Recycled Characters
Last but not least are what I like to call “recycled characters”. There have been a sprinkling of debates these past couple years about things like comic book characters and iconic movie/TV show characters (Idris Alba for James Bond!!) being played by someone of a different ethnicity than the original. Specifically, I'd like to focus on what I now have come to define as a “cheap and lazy way to gain readers” by the comic giant Marvel. The two comic book roles that were switched up that caught my attention were that of Ms. Marvel and Captain America. Admittedly, when I first started reading about the new Ms. Marvel character, I was really excited. Not being a huge comic book buff myself (hey, manga!) I didn't know much about the original Ms. Marvel.
I did some googling, and wasn't surprised by the results. Of course, being a female comic book character (I say this with my voice dripping in sarcasm) she has completely unnatural body proportions- ginourmous boobs, a big butt, and a waist smaller than the circumference of her head (literally impossible, except I suppose if she took out a few ribs). Ms. Marvel had ruby red lips and long, thick blonde hair that fell down her back and framed her leotard-clad body. She was a typical all-American super hero chick.
The new Ms. Marvel was a boyishly shaped little brown girl with short hair. She is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants living in America and battling the line between her own conservative background and the world around her. Its almost like she was invented specifically for me to relate to! Except....that's exactly it, isn't it? Her story could be the narrative of any second generation immigrant, I am just one of many examples. Marvel clearly tried (kinda) hard to make readers feel like they could relate to their characters. However, if she is so real and likeable, why isn't she good enough to have her own original super hero identity? They simply recycled the name and powers of the old barbie doll character. That's where Marvel's efforts fall short, and my excitement for this character begins to fade.
The same story goes for new Captain America. The only differences between the new Captain America and the old one is his name and the color of his skin. The new character goes by the first name of Isaiah, which is a historically black name. His nose is wide, his lips are poofy, and his dark skin gleams. He is a caricature of a black man, like white Captain America in black-face. I can picture the Marvel conference room now...
Frantic assistant: “Sir! Our numbers show that the average rate of black boys reading our comics is falling!”
Head guy: “Hm...” *pulls out brown colored pencil, fills in Captain America* “Call him Isaiah, problem solved.”
I recognize that I mostly focused on race here, but there is so much content when it comes to women and LGBT issues in Hollywood that it will require a separate segment!
What are some of the other ways Hollywood and the media fail to represent diversity?
What types of characters would you like to see more of in shows and movies?
All high schools should change their policies: no longer teach abstinence, but instead implement frank discussions and education about safe and healthy sex lives.
This is a controversial statement in the eyes of many, but I have well founded reasons for my beliefs. Before my student teaching last winter, I had thought that only private and/or religious schools still advocated for abstinence. For student teaching, I was placed in a high school in Wayne. My cooperating teacher mentioned their abstinence based sex-ed policies to me in conversation, and I couldn't hold back my laughter. The assumption that a bunch of hormonal teenagers, all cramped together in a school of a thousand-plus kids would not be having sex was unrealistic. I know this because of my experiences with students even younger than these.
Young children dating- sadly- is now becoming a social norm. When I worked a morning care program at an elementary school, fourth and fifth graders boasted about their “girlfriends” and “boyfriends”. Regardless of the legitimacy of their claims, the fact remains that the mentality is there. It is talked about, and encouraged by parents and teachers alike calling it “cute”. What isn't cute is when the real-life repercussions come from an initially imagined relationship.
I remember being in middle school. Back then, middle schoolers were still kids, we played outside, we were awkward around the opposite gender. Now, I walk into a middle school and there are girls with crop tops and belly rings, guys slap their butts in the hall and wolf whistle as they walk by. Couples walk around holding hands, and the poor teachers have to break up PDA in the hallways. It has long been said that kids are getting older, younger, and that is definitely evident here. Middle schools are beginning to resemble high schools.
When elementary school students are exposed to the dating lifestyle early on, it isn't such a far stretch for them to actually start dating when they hit middle school. Of course, this is also the joyous time when puberty hits, so they have real biological feelings towards people. With overly-sexualized TV shows, movies, and music videos, they become desensitized to it. It is very common now for middle school students to engage in sexual acts. I know this for a fact, because in a school I volunteered at, there were three pregnant students. They were only twelve years old.
With those memories in my mind, and the suggestion that suddenly high school students had decided to keep it in their pants, of course I had to laugh. This is the sad reality that we live in. For us as educators and/or adults trying to guide our youth, it does us no good to ignore the realities of a situation. This is the world that these youth are growing up in, and we have to accept that the societal norms have evolved. Its not our job to change the world they live in, just provide them with tools and advice to successfully navigate it. That's why I believe that all high schools should stop their attempt to teach abstinence, and start teaching young adults how to have a safe sex life.
Traditional sex-ed in schools focuses on the physical side of things: STD's, getting pregnant, keeping your body healthy, but no one really talks about the emotional repercussions. In addition to rigorous education on the prevention of disease and pregnancy, I believe schools should hold frank discussions about the social/psychological/emotional aspects. This should include, especially for young women, a checklist they should follow to decide whether they should in fact sleep with someone. For example: Are you in the right state of mind to provide consent? Is this something you want, or do you feel pressured by friends or your significant other? How long have you been in a relationship with this person, do you trust him/her? How does a relationship evolve with the introduction of sex? These are all very real things to discuss and consider.
With the use of these very real and relatable situations as a base for frank and open discussions, perhaps it will encourage the youth to think things through a bit more carefully. Hopefully, disease and pregnancy prevention education combined with these discussions will help students become more considerate and sincere with each other with regards to physical relationships. This may reduce the rate of teen pregnancies, the spread of STD's, even rape culture- and isn't that what everyone wants?
What types of discussions regarding relationships do you think is important to have in schools?
What other types of sex-ed practices do you believe will increase thoughtfulness and caution among teens?
I observe & write about society & culture.