When I told my parents I wanted to be a journalist, they were scared.
They were not scared for the reasons many would think they they were. They were not concerned due to the South Asian mentality that only doctors and engineers could be deemed successful, as their entrepreneurial careers prevented them from harboring that kind of judgment. They did not fear having to shamefully admit that their daughter was a journalist to the Waheeda Auntys and Jignesh Uncles of the dreaded family parties. They did not even worry about the paychecks I would receive throughout my life, paling in comparison to those of my Indian counterparts.
Instead, my parents feared for me becoming a journalist as an Indian, Muslim-American girl entering a primarily white-male dominated field that was notorious for misrepresenting my people.
However, not letting their fear stand in the way of my dreams, they simply gave me a warning that has resonated with me ever since:
“Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not capable. You’re fully capable. You’re just going to have to work twice as hard to prove it to them.”
Though at the time I had no idea who this ominous “them” was, as I venture further into the field of journalism, I realize that this refers to the industry itself. Despite priding itself on being on the people’s side, our media is riddled with bias that stems from the lack of diversity it possesses.
Journalism is supposed to be a vessel for the truth by the people, for the people. Therefore, news outlets should be a reflection of the population they represent and serve, encompassing the several minorities their audiences consist of. Unfortunately, the United States’ white-dominated media does not reflect its audience’s diversity, leading to the misrepresentation of people of color present in the news.
Despite the United States nearing a “minority-majority” nation, the field of journalism is dominated by white men, with only between 12 to 14 percent of journalists being minorities. The disparity between these ratios is a major issue as it contributes directly to misrepresentation of these minority groups in the press.
Following September 11, 2001, the clash between Islam and the mainstream media has been constantly growing. Now, whenever an attack occurs by an extremist group such as the incident of Charlie Hebdo, the Pulse shooting, or the attack on Nice, the killings are said to be a cause of “radical Islam” and part of the continuation of the Western world’s noble “fight with Islam.”
Unfortunately, these descriptions used by popular news organizations such as CNN and FOX News misinform viewers by inaccurately intertwining terrorism with the religion of Islam when in reality, these terrorists in no way embody the principles of the religion. These phrases, despite their seemingly harmless nature, wrongly attribute a negative image to an entire religion and in turn begin to generate an accusatory mindset in the minds of the audiences that take these stories at face value.
Though media is unarguably an ever-changing industry, its demographic has remained surprisingly and dangerously stagnant over the past years. The rise of social media has given people of color a platform to voice their opinions, but it is crucial that this voice translates into mainstream and independent media outlets in order to legitimize the minority voice in regards to current events.
Along with this, the mentality that many of the elders within these minorities hold also works to prevent the minority voice from being heard in the media. Though minority groups have to work harder in order to make it in predominantly white fields of work, many people of color do not even attempt to venture into activist careers because they are constantly steered toward other career paths. For example, as 49.1 percent of Asian-Americans are business professionals, whether in management, medicine, engineering, or finance, there is an added pressure placed upon youths of this community to live up to the expectations placed upon them.
Regardless, now, with the rise of social media and in accompaniment, the heightened speed at which false news can be spread, it is more important than ever for diversity to be achieved in the field of journalism.
We cannot sit idly by and complain about misrepresentation in the media without taking an active role in trying to correct it. We cannot expect those who do not relate to us to be able to relay our message. We cannot take solace in the fact that we know the truth about ourselves; instead, we should let our truth be heard.
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