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Disha Hoque

Dishin’ it with Disha: Not all representation is good representation

I have always used the lack of South Asian representation in media and television as a punchline with close friends and family. Aside from Ravi in “Jessie,” portrayed by Indian-American actor Karan Brar, and Mindy Kaling’s portrayal of Kelly from “The Office,” there weren’t many other characters that looked like me on television in the 2010s. 

On the off chance there was a South Asian character on screen, they were portrayed so theatrically that they usually had nothing in common with me aside from complexion. Brar’s portrayal of Ravi featured an aggressively staged Indian accent, and Kelly was played off as off-putting and ditsy to torment her coworkers, hardly making them relatable or even likable to a young audience.

This lack of positive representation in television had more of an impact on my self-image growing up than I often choose to admit. Consistently seeing the few South Asian characters appearing on television portrayed as unathletic, socially awkward and unattractive made me feel I had something to prove to my white peers and was the potential root of insecurity and furthered feelings of disconnection from my community.

Through conversations with other South Asian American teens and people of color, I have learned that my internal pressures and feelings were not unique. Most of my ethnically diverse peers shared a similar perspective to me, and believed their adolescent self-esteems would have been higher if they had seen characters on screen with likable qualities, such as being friendly or confident.

The lack of positive representation for South Asian American kids today affects confidence levels and further alienates American children from each other. The often-portrayed character archetypes of the geeky and unaware Brown kid on television have the potential to cause major self-image issues for Asian American children and stem internal resentment toward their ethnicity and culture. 

This lack of positive, or even normal, representation extends far beyond South Asian teens and adolescents, and is arguably something that people of various sexualities, ethnicities and backgrounds have to grapple with.

Repeated harmful representations perpetuate stereotypes that negatively affect kids from all demographics aside from the targeted group. Generalized and humorous representation leads to false ideas of what a Brown person acts like and leads to awkward interactions and misunderstanding between peers of color and their white counterparts.

There is nothing wrong with writing a nerdy or awkward South Asian character, but the issue lies when all representation for a certain demographic has a strong tendency to mimic similar traits. Increasing efforts in writing characters of color with diverse personalities and aspirations will help the next generation be more accepting of both their identity and each other. Having diverse characters and casts that deal with real-life issues and offer more than comedic relief would bring children together and avoid unnecessary conversations that stem from ignorance.

Although Brar and Kaling’s portrayals of Ravi and Kelly have created humor for an entire generation of viewers, the potentially harmful stereotypes their characters support create false generalizations and hurt South Asian Americans in the long term. This lack of meaningful representation extends far beyond just South Asian characters, and has tainted how viewers of color and different backgrounds are able to enjoy and consume media. 

Although in recent years there has been progression in positive representation for many demographics, continuing to be critical and thoughtful of the messages our media is sending is a crucial way to limit bias and prejudice. Thoughtful and diverse representation in all forms of television is a crucial step in increasing acceptance and understanding within America’s youth. 

Disha Hoque is a freshman studying journalism. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Disha know by tweeting her @dishahoque05

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