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The Domino Effect of Representation

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In recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (Mar 21), BWiS took a look at how racial stereotypes, ideas and beliefs feed into racial discrimination.

An area of social psychology focuses on how the 'self' develops. The 'self' makes up the psychological store of all acquired information about an individual and their experiences. This process is reliant on self exploration and can be influenced by what the 'self' is presented with externally. This could be what people are shown; how people act around them; and what they say about either them or their group, culture, race or ethnicity.

The idiom 'monkey see, monkey do' may not be too far off as an experiment conducted by Bandura (1961) showed that children rely on external stimuli (such as people and television characters) as points of reference for behaviour and psychological development. Once a behaviour is introduced, the child will encode the stimuli and is likely to imitate it. In turn, the child develops into a complex individual with a defined social identity. A conglomeration of internalised ideas about social hierarchies and various society structures shape a person's perceptions of the world and the people in it.

The media industry has continuously portrayed members of the black community in violent or supporting roles. Events in a person's surroundings can create, magnify and even perpetuate negative clichés; these events can then attach themselves to how a person views themselves. Representation in the media has failed the black community by highlighting only struggle, an inaccurate representation of an entire community.

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Representation sets the tone and acts as the blueprint for a large portion of a person's life. We call models of these representations, 'role models. Role models can encourage the thoughts and behaviours of certain groups, while the absence of role models can dissuade the ambitions of another. Black females that are interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, are often discouraged to pursue these interests because there are rare appearances of women of colour in these fields.

Admittedly, times have changed and so have opinions. Black Panther allowed not only a primarily black cast in a superhero movie but has opened doors to black women being fierce warriors and the lead scientists in the most advanced technology. There are more television series looking at black families in modern, everyday life (Blackish), at black women exploring love and relationships (Insecure) and shows highlighting various talents and different themes of power and fame (Empire). The changing narrative then begins to paint the black people as ambitious, intelligent and creative being driven by their humanity.

When one domino falls, the rest fall after it which is known as the 'Domino Effect'. Much like the domino effect, all it takes is a few positive role models in the black community to effect the many that come after them. So we ask, how many role models could we possibly rally to change the conversation thus, changing the world?

See more information about representation, identity, role models and minorities in STEM:

What is Otherness?, The Other Socialist

STEM Black Women, Mic Network

By Lela Pea, Editor

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