It is always great to see young people in the spotlight using their platforms to activate others in the name of justice and equality. That is exactly what Yara Shahidi, who plays the oldest daughter on the hit show Black-ish, is doing.
In her recent speech at the Points of Light closing plenary on “The Spirit of Art and Activism,” 16-year-old Shahidi commented on the ways that news and entertainment media shape our collective identities and racial attitudes.
After talking about her Black and Iranian American heritage, she explained that she sometimes harassed because people use stereotypes to categorize her and others who share Iranian lineage.
“The purpose of the news is to highlight out of the ordinary events, yet if your only interaction with the Muslim faith and community is the depiction of the heinous actions of terrorists, a natural assumption may be that Muslims equal terrorists. But, wouldn’t a more plausible assumption be that some extremists become terrorists?” she asked.
Shahidi believes these attitudes are shaped by the biases of the media.
“Often times these narratives are supported by fictional stories of characters from hundreds of shows that grace your screen at any moment of the day. Many shows consciously and unconsciously perpetuate stereotypes by creating characters or casting people based on what a few in power seem to deem as believable,” Shahidi explained. “So if a Black man is always cast as the drug dealer but rarely as the righteous successful businessman the conclusion is that it is not believable for a man of color to be inherently good or successful or on the side of righteousness.”
One of the most powerful things she had to say was when she connected the role of the media with the impacts on children and future generations.
“Good, bad, or indifferent, TV helps define our collective reality. And if a child grows up never seeing themselves representative as successful or as the hero, than they are the anomaly if they succeed and the expectation if they fail.”
Her words are both powerful and a warning to those who own and make decisions about what we see on television and in theaters. Their biases translate directly to the ways that marginalized groups are perceived in reality.
Watch the full speech below: