How to Get Away with Microaggressions

“There’s too much diversity in the show” was just the first of many racially charged microaggressions committed by my grandmother while we were driving to have birthday dinner with my mom. The conversation about television had started innocuously, but quickly developed into a debate about the “diversity quota” and the “overabundance” of representation. The conversation particularly focused on Shonda Rhimes’ “How to Get Away with Murder.” Viola Davis, who plays lawyer Annalise Keating, recently made history by becoming the first woman of color to receive the Emmy for “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama.” Davis used her acceptance speech to draw attention to the lack of women of color in the entertainment industry. She ended her speech with the following:

“Let me tell you something: the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”[1]

Davis’ assessment that there are not a plethora of roles for women of color isn’t unfounded — The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reported that in 2014-2015 only 42% of television roles were filled by women and less than 10% of those roles belonged to women of color. [2] So why do people like my grandmother believe there is too much representation in one of the few television shows that portray diversity? When did it become okay to invalidate the struggle to obtain these roles? From a microaggressive level, these aversive acts of racism directly contribute to the societal standards that are in place in the entertainment industry.[3] They perpetuate a dichotomous view of diversity— one can be person of color or a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but in no way are you allowed to be both because that takes away from the “realistic” vision of life that television series portray.

Furthermore, diverse representation on television is important because we are often only presented with two images of people of color: one that maintains the stereotypes and one that minimizes racism while upholding the American Dream by portraying middle and upper-class people of color who do not struggle with issues of race. [4] Juxtaposing the “thug” or “welfare queen” with “Dr. Huxtable” is not conducive to developing an accurate understanding of the status of many people of color within the United States.[5]

These images oppose actual statistics and maintain the systems of oppression, which is why the diversity shown in shows like “How to Get Away with Murder” is so important–this shows attempt to interrupt these systems of oppression. So, no grandma, there is not “too much diversity in this show” but our society’s deeply imbedded racist ideologies make us believe that there is. With all the diversity that makes up our communities, it’s impossible to have too much diversity on television—more diversity just means media representation that is much closer to actually portraying what the world looks like.


 

[1] Duca, Lauren. “Viola Davis Makes History, Moves The Damn Line For Women of Color.” Huffington Post. 21 Sept. 2015. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.

[2] Lauzen, Martha M. “Boxed In: Portrayals of Female Characters and Employment of Behind-theScenes Women in 2014-15 Prime-time Television.” The Center for the study of Women in Television and Film. 2014-2015. 6 Dec. 2015.

[3] Sue, Derald Wing. “The Manifestation of Racial, Gender, and Sexual-Orientation Microaggressions.”  Psychological Manifestation and Dynamics of Microaggressions. 9. Print.

[4] Lewis, Justin. Jhally, Sut. “Television and the Politics of Representation”. Print.

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