Someone could ask every African American (AA) person in the world, “Is television diverse enough?” And the majority answer would be, “No, Caucasian people are seen far too often on television.” According to bhsroarnation.com, the airing of The Queen’s Messenger in September of 1928 became the first television show that was aired to the world which had a predominately Caucasian cast. Eventually over the years, African Americans began appearing more on television but it still lagged far behind as to what it should be for the demographics of the United States. But a person could ask themselves, “After all of the years of racism that still exist to this day, do we expect anything else?”
In my opinion, African Americans as a community should be fighting for more public appearances on television. Even though the percentage of blacks on television has grown tremendously over the years, there’s still something missing. Imagine an AA child growing up and only seeing people that don’t look anything like them. What are they supposed to think? Or vice versa, a Caucasian child growing up and seeing nothing but “The Cosby Show” or “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, to get some sense of who they are as a person.
As a child, I can admit I enjoyed cartoons and television shows where the cast was predominantly white, but adding diversity would’ve been amazing. Sometimes I ponder to myself, “Why does representation matter?” Because witnessing only one race of people on screen affects African Americans in so many ways. Then, unfortunately, AAs begin to wonder if they are socially acceptable because most people in the television industry tend to look at them as either loud, comical, uneducated, or sassy.
Instead of hiring African Americans for roles, the television industry used to cast Caucasian actors to portray them. According to cvhsolympian.com, Hollywood has been continually practicing this display of racism since the beginning of the entertainment industry. In 1915, the film, The Birth of a Nation, was released and it was and still is considered one of the most racist films ever created due to its use of Blackface. I’ve always wondered to myself, “Why would producers do that?” Is it because African Americans weren’t capable of portraying the role properly? Or was it because they just didn’t want African Americans in their films?
Through my research I found that men hold twice as many jobs as women and Caucasians hold at least twice as many as African Americans. Still, there are signs of continued, although slow, improvement. Of all lead acting slots on broadcast shows in 2018–19, African Americans held 24.0 percent, almost a fivefold increase from 2011–12 when it was 5.1 percent. Among digital programs, just 10.3 percent of show creators were minorities; in broadcast, 10.7 percent; and for cable, 14.7 percent. Women held 28.6 percent of show creator titles for digital programs, 28.1 percent for broadcast and 22.4 percent for cable.
According to a news report from the University of California, Caucasian males still dominate the high-level television executive jobs. As of 2020, Chair/CEO positions were overwhelmingly held by Caucasian people (92.0 percent) and men (68.0 percent); and the statistics were similar for senior executives (84.0 percent Caucasian, 60.0 percent male) and unit heads (87.0 percent were Caucasian, 54.0 percent male).
The underrepresentation of AAs in the executive suite, and as creators, writers and directors is problematic, even if there are more African Americans in acting roles. When AAs do not control their own narrative, their character’s storylines may lack authenticity, may be written stereotypically, or their characters may even be depicted as raceless.