As we find ourselves at the beginning of yet another year, we must take some time to reflect upon the year we have just emerged from. 2016 was a year for the books, most certainly. We've witnessed so much tragedy, and so many deaths. We've witnessed so many evils emerge from the folds of society and found ourselves surprised that they were ever there.
But 2016 was also a year filled with marvelous things. Africa became Ebola free. Pandas and manatees were taken off of the endangered species list. Lin-Manuel Miranda blessed the world with the hit Broadway musical sensation Hamilton. So many marvelous poems and stories and books were released into the world.
With 2017 upon us, let us think about new beginnings and everything there is in the great wide world that is worth celebrating and remembering, and keep them in mind as we walk into 2017 with greater aspirations and goals than ever before. January is the month of new promises, of resolutions, of the beginning of new resolve and determination. January is the month where the most gym memberships are made, and where high school midterms force students to buckle down and put forth their best feet.
In the wake of today's society, we are growing more diverse, and in that way, we must be able to reflect that. There have been more calls for diversity in both literature and media very recently, and I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that we should make conscious efforts to expand our horizons and begin to learn to accept new perspectives in our society of storytelling. Support books written by people of color. Watch television shows and movies that showcase diversity, and do not support the ones that force the diversity quota by implementing stereotypes and consistently negative roles. Try to read more literature set in diverse worlds, and actively seek and demand your heroes to reflect all sorts of people, instead of expecting them to all be reduced to the same slice of society that has been actively been represented throughout history.
A few weeks ago, a friend online had posted a thread promoting the support of diverse literature and the importance of representation in mainstream media. As many people had effused their support and praise of her declaration and agreed with her words, many people had also responded with scoffing comments and derogatory remarks, the consistent argument being that there is no such thing as prejudice and lack of representation in media, or in real life, and even if such things exist, why do they matter?
The fact of the matter is that prejudice and lack of representation is very apparent, if only one knows how to look, because it’s hidden so well. As a society, we have had the idea that lack of representation for people of color in mainstream media doesn’t exist because it is engrained in our minds and enforced by the precise lack of representation that people rally for. Diversity and representation is important, because it is a sign of acceptance. As it stands today, minorities make up roughly 38% of America, according to a survey published in US News last year. The Land of the Free has always been touted as a “melting pot”, and to fail to reflect that fact through our media, our means of reaching the public, the citizens, and the world, impresses the unspoken idea that people of color will never fully be accepted. Representation is important because it inspires people, and it encourages them to chase their dreams because yes, they can be pursued, since there are role models and people that look like us staring back at us from the big screens or the pages of the books we hold in our hands. Especially given the fraught tension currently surrounding the United States in the face of the new presidency to come, hate is perpetuated by the confirmation that people are devalued and unimportant, because they have not been made a part of the mainstream, and are not visible. If we are going to change those mindsets bent on searching for confirmation for their hatred, then we have to start by changing societal outlook on minorities.
January is a time for change and resolutions made for the better, and with that in mind, we ought to apply that philosophy and principal to every aspect of our lives, including strides towards societal change.
Stephanie Tom is a high school student who lives in New York. She's an editor for her school newspaper, and an assistant editor for her school literary magazine. She has previously won a Gold Key from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for her poetry, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Dear Damsels, Hypertrophic Literary and elsewhere.