At the age of 14 years old, I told my parents that I wanted to be a journalist. Despite how progressive my parents are in terms of breaking the Indian cultural norm of becoming a doctor or engineer, they were scared about this decision of mine, but not for the reasons you would expect. They did not fret over the backlash they would face in my community over this decision; instead, they worried about their minority daughter venturing into a field with a reputation for misrepresenting her people.
The purpose of journalism is to serve as a watchdog for the government, protecting the people against mistruths and injustice and in doing so, being a representation of their audience. Though this should include being a representation of the different races the audience comprises of, the modern media completely fails to do so. While the United States is constantly increasing in its racial diversity, nearing a minority-majority nation, the media is about 86 percent white. This explains the rampant misrepresentation in the media as people of color are barely given a platform to voice their perspective on pertinent issues.
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For instance, news organizations such as FOX News and CNN are known to use monomers for terrorist groups such as “radical Islamists” while reporting on the misnamed Western “fight with Islam.” Unfortunately for the 3.3 million Muslims residing in the United States, these labels wrongly accuse an entire religion of being violent and anti-Western when in reality, these terrorist organizations do not even follow the basic teachings of Islam. Though these mislabels may seem insignificant, they greatly contribute to the growing stigma against Muslims in light of the terrorist attacks propagated by these groups.
Along with this, political movements such as the #BlackLivesMatter movement are irrationally demonized in the mainstream media due to this crippling lack of diversity. Since the media is predominantly white, this movement is often branded as violent and nonsensical due to acute observation on particularly violent instances, while ignoring the other components of a largely positive movement.
Increasing diversity in journalism would allow for issues regarding people of color to be covered more accurately and therefore diminish the stigma surrounding them. However, this path to equal coverage is a two-way street. Though the media has not proven to be incredibly accepting of people of color due to their rampant misrepresentation, there is also a cultural bias against fields such as journalism in many cultures of people of color. For example, as 49.1 percent of Asian-Americans are business professionals, professions in other areas are often discouraged (speaking from experience). Therefore, there needs to be effort on both sides of this issue to diversify the demographic of the journalism industry.
We cannot sit idly by and allow for our people to be misrepresented in the media. We cannot expect change without taking action. We need to step up for equal representation in journalism.
Zoya Wazir is a seventeen-year-old Muslim-American with a deep rooted passion for social activism and writing. She plans to double major in Journalism and Political Science in order to work toward achieving the change she wishes to see in the American media. In her fleeting free time, she also likes to create art, read celebrity autobiographies, and binge-watch Bollywood movies.