Media depictions of black youth are more often than not deeply problematic.
Young black people are often presented as either the exceptional overachiever or the “lazy, dangerous thug.” The media seemingly has no interest in the spectrum of experiences and perspectives of young black people.
A recent editorial asks the question, “Where Are Ordinary Black Youth in Popular Culture?”
Being young and black in America today must be hard. The experiences of black youth are so often left out of the national discourse, it probably seems like no one really understands their plight. On the few occasions that stories about them appear in pop culture, particularly television and film, they’re often shown in one of two ways — the overachiever, the kid that “makes it” despite the odds, like Jay-Z, or the lazy underachiever, the thugs and welfare moms that so many on the right often allude to.
In the eighties and nineties, mainstream network television and film was better about showing middle-class black families. Girls like Moesha, Rudy Huxtable and Laura Winslow looked like me. Today however, with a decreasing number of black family shows — and an explosion of celebrity culture — storylines about average black youth are even rarer. While it’s a great testament to our nation’s progress to have stories about Will Smith’s talented kids and Obama’s smart girls, we need to make “ordinary” black kids a commonplace as well.
One of the stories that did receive a lot of media attention in the recent past is the Trayvon Martin case. He was the teen killed last year in Florida by a man who allegedly thought he was threatening his life. Putting the politics of the case aside, Trayvon, a young middle-class black kid, with two involved (if not together parents), who liked hoodies, his girlfriend, Twitter and Skittles, is probably a good example of your average black kid. But how much does America really know about the Trayvons of the world except when violence intervenes? When do their stories get told? When do we understand that most black kids aren’t all that different from white kids?
What do you think?
Are the stories of black youth that are “neither marginalized or at the proverbial mountaintop” invisible to mainstream America?
What can be done to ensure that the diversity of experiences of black youth are seen and heard?
Sound off below!