When I was growing up, identity was a huge struggle for me. Especially when I turned to popular culture. There were no celebrities that I could relate to. The closest I could find was Jessica Alba or Jennifer Lopez, who are both of Hispanic heritage, but aside from their appearance completely unrelatable to me. Studies have proven that people tend to hang out with people who look similar to themselves, based off appearance and cultural background. In school the people that resembled me and tended to be drawn to me had completely different cultural backgrounds than my own.
I never realized that it bothered me until I took a course in university on race and media. The course was probably the most eye opening class I took in my whole university career. Race is a commonly misused term. As humans we are part of the human race, the variance is in ethnicity not race. The week that I related to the most was the one where we discussed “Margins on Margins”. Women and ethnic people tend to be marginalized, but being a coloured women, you get margins on margins.
We read quite a few interesting readings. One, was a poem written a man who was Caucasian and African American. Unlike me, he clearly looked dark skinned. The poem addressed that because of his dominant genes, he is only seen as a coloured man and discriminated against. He did not feel as though he could fit in; he was neither and rejected from both ethnic groups.
People expected me to act a certain way because of my cultural background. They would tell me that I was “white-washed”, because I did not act the stereotypical way they felt black people should act. An identity construction that I had trouble with, because I felt that I am just as much white as I am a person of colour. Why did I have to act a certain way because of the way I looked on the outside? In my family, my brother is the dark skinned one, I have Hispanic skin colouring and my sister is blond with hazel eyes. My brother is only seen as a coloured person, I am usually seen as a middle eastern person and my sister never gets questions about her ethnic background because she looks like every other Caucasian. Growing up, I was always jealous of her colouring, she got to like the barbie dolls we had, Britney Spears on the television and dress up as my favorite Spice Girl, Baby Spice.
Beauty standards were another obstacles that coloured women have to overcome. We had quite a few readings that focused on hair, specifically African American hair. African hair tends to be course and thick. Women of colour tend to get weaves, or relax their hair in order to look “put together”. While a Caucasian girl can simply brush her hair, girls of African heritage spend hours just to make the hair look acceptable. Chris Rock made a whole documentary on hair, after his daughter asked why she did not have good hair.
For years I watch my mom straighten her hair. She had to get it set and relaxed every other week. Finally, one day she decided it was too much work. She cut it all off and to this day, she keeps her hair very short. She just wakes up in the morning and run a comb through it. My grandma hated her hair, she told my mother that it made her look poor. She had always told us that we should look presentable at all times in case in run into the Queen. She was all about appearances. I realized that this was a generational divide. My grandmother grew up being the other, not being seen as an equal. Instead of forming her own path, she tried to look the way she felt she had to look to be accepted into society.
In the last few years I have seen a shift in the entertainment industry. Diversity is now a thing that is embraced instead of feared. It now common place in the entertainment industry, to see celebrities with combined ethnic background similar to my own. I can list at least four or five celebrities that have a mixed ethnic background; Drake, Rashida Jones, Meghan Markle and Maya Rudolph, all have one Caucasian parent and one dark skinned parent. More celebrities are breaking the mold, there are now Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham and Emma Watson who have broadened the perception of what a television or film star can be.
Diversity in the entertainment industry does not end with ethnicity. I am so happy to see Bruce Jenner coming forward and revealing himself as Caitlin. Although I do understand the discourse regarding the emphasis being put on his physical appearance. Not all trans-gendered people have the money to get plastic surgery and look the way they feel on the inside. Not every transformation is as beautiful and flawless. I am glad the entertainment industry has broaden their horizons and there has been a shift in accepting “the other” to be the new normal. I really hope that this trend of acceptance and tolerance continues to grow exponentially.