Cultural expressions, icons, and the arts have played a major role in how we’ve seen ourselves and others in the past, and can play a major part in bringing us together in the future. Before social media, newspapers and black and white television exposed us to the lives of others, arts, and society. Whether it be negatively or positively, music, TV, and movies and the imagery they evoke will continue to impact our society and the way we view community.
As a Black woman, the images shown in movies, TV, and mentioned in music has had a major impact on me and my self image. Cultural expressions have seemingly been more negative than positive and date back to the runaway slave flyers posted around America a century or two ago. The image of the Black woman and Black man were usually exaggerated with a huge nose and a goofy-like look to depict ignorance. We have also seen the image of the angry Black woman plastered everywhere.
Even after Emancipation Proclamation, images of Black men with gorilla resemblance were posted to depict fear. Unfortunately, we still see the same images today. Take for example the reporting of a crime on the nightly news. When the assailant is a Black man, some old mug shot is shown. But when the criminal is a white male, a high school picture or military photograph is shown. The purpose is to portray the Black person as a violent repeat offender and the White person as the opposite. Imagery is important.
Movies and TV shows also effect the way in which the Black person is seen by society. Most of the time, the Black woman is portrayed as a loud mouth and ignorant. Similar to the Black woman, the Black male is usually portrayed in a negative manner as well, such as the criminal. You will rarely see the Black person being the hero in a movie or TV show.
Even in commercials, you will see advertisements with more White people in them than Black people. Cleaning materials, new cars, and everything in between are usually advertised by White owned companies to the larger White audiences. It is an observation that has been brought to light fairly recently despite being a norm for years. From fashion to food, most of what we see on TV has been dominated by the majority. Positive self image is important. Everyone should be able to turn on the TV and see someone who looks like them in a positive way. Research shows that “a positive self-image can boost our physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being” (https://my.clevelandclinic.org). As we continue to move forward as a society, we should definitely ensure everyone can see themselves as the hero of the story regardless of their skin color, gender, sexual orientation, social economical status, and weight.
Along with positive self imagery in movies and TV, it is also important for us to be sure that cultural expression through music inspire positivity and encourage togetherness. Music has always played a major role in our society. In the past, we had songs like “Black and Proud” by James Brown inspire self love for a certain group in our society. “We are the World” by USA for Africa, is another example of positive and uplifting music everyone can agree had a positive impact on our communities.
Artists have the right to make whatever music they choose to make, but we as a community must be realistic about the impact of certain types of music. As a millennial, I find myself listening more 70’s and 80’s music than today’s twerk-filled and violence-filled music. It just feels better to sing a song that motivates me to be a good person. Some may not agree with me, but research shows that music impacts us in many ways. So in the future, we should support more positive artists in hopes of launching them to mainstream media.
In conclusion, cultural expressions and arts are major elements of our society regarding self-image and community. We learn about ourselves by seeing people who look like us. We learn about others by seeing how they live. Cultural expressions like movies, music and TV portray positive and negative images of different communities within our society. In order to foster togetherness and unity, we must acknowledge the questionable past usage of imagery in cultural expressions. Let’s be sure to foster positive images in the future and work to create the positive imagery that can bring communities together.