Diversity Blast: Representation

Welcome to the second Diversity Blast of 2014!

Last year, I read aloud One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia with my sixth graders. The story follows three African-American sisters from Brooklyn who travel to California in 1969 to find their mother, a poet and Black Panther. In one scene of the novel, the sisters discuss their “game” of counting the Black people who appear in commercials or on television; if the person has lines, they count each word the person says. Every appearance of a Black person prompts a small celebration for the girls. As I read the passage, hands shot up around the room and murmurs of “We do that, too!” sounded. As we found out through discussion, nearly every student of color engaged in a similar ritual with television, movies and books. I’m no exception: to this day, I get excited about people of color in commercials, and my siblings and I frequently talk about new Black or brown characters that appear on shows we like. We get especially excited when we see multiracial families like our own–This Cheerios commercial made every member of my family get a lump in his or her throat because it was one of the first times we saw a family that looked like ours on television.

My students couldn’t explain why it was exciting to see people of color on T.V., and I couldn’t either as a child, but we all happened to share some iteration of the same practice. Why was that? In “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peggy McIntosh suggests that one of the markers of (white) privilege is being able to turn on the television, watch a movie, open the newspaper or flip through a magazine and see your race widely and adequately represented.  For people living outside the sphere of privilege, society frequently insists that your story is not the one that matters—be it by the cover models magazines select, the available colors in the makeup aisle or the casting choices of filmmakers—seeing someone your shade on television is a small reminder that your existence is worthwhile and valid. Without being able to articulate it, my students knew this.

The theme of this week’s blast is representation: how diverse people are shown, not shown or pigeonholed in the public eye and public spaces. We will target how marginalized groups are represented (positive, negative, clichéd, nuanced), and in what numbers marginalized groups are represented (percentage of diverse characters, for instance). If you’re struggling to figure out what marginalized means, check out this handy graphic below:




We could really keep this section exclusively for the excellent journalism that’s resulted from Richard Sherman’s post-game interview with Erin Andrews. We’ll begin this section of the blast with some writing about Mr. Sherman, and then expand into other topics pertaining to sports and representation.

Richard Sherman and the Plight of the Conquering Negro by Greg Howard

Howard’s piece focuses on the legacy of the talented, arrogant and black athlete, and speculates on why Richard Sherman’s interview taught us more about about America than it did about Richard Sherman

Richard Sherman’s Best Behavior by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Coates sets out to determine how someone like Sherman, a graduate of Stanford with a 3.9, still can’t quite escape the paradigms that quickly fall on black people in public, as well as to further explore the ways in which we denigrate trash-talk. Coates is also curious how people of color’s behavior is highly policed both by whites and other PoC. He writes, “Racism is a kind of fatalism, so seductive, that it enthralls even its victims. But we will not get out of this by being on our best behavior—sometimes it has taken our worse. There’s never been a single thing wrong with black people that the total destruction of white supremacy would not fix.” Preach.

Richard Sherman, Racial Coding and Bombastic Brainiacs by David Zirin.

Zirin posits that the days leading up to the Super Bowl will be marked by a false dichotomy pitting Sherman against Manning and many, many conversations with coded language about race. From the (humorous) article, “There will be more stomach-churning racial coding than an episode of Fox & Friends featuring Ann Coulter and Billy Packer. There will be less discussion about why so many of the chattering classes demand “class” from a game where people’s legs are broken in half and then replayed endlessly for our entertainment.”

Richard Sherman: ‘Thug’ is ‘Accepted Way of Calling Somebody the N-Word’ by Travis Waldron

This write-up of a Seahawks press conference earlier today feature Robert Sherman’s reflections on his now famous post-game interview with Erin Andrews. In the short clip featured in the article, Sherman responds to being called a thug repeatedly in a myriad of media outlets: “The only reason it bothers me is it seems like it’s the accepted way of calling somebody the N-word nowadays…if everybody once said the N-word, then they say ‘thug,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s fine’…It takes me back, and it’s disappointing.”

Is Race Still an Issue with NFL Quarterbacks? By William C. Rhoden

In this article, Rhoden explores why the “golden age of black quarterbacks” has not yet arrived despite this past NFL season starting with a record-setting nine Black quarterbacks. In thinking about how we talk about quarterbacks, he notes that with white quarterbacks, comments often revolve around the player’s mental skills and strategy, while talk about Black quarterbacks often stays mired in discussions of physical prowess, strength and speed. If you’re particularly interested in exploring race and football positions, check out this stats-heavy article on the history of black quarterbacks being let go early on or watch Season 1 Episodes 15 and 16 of “Friday Night Lights.”

White Coaches Prefer White Quarterbacks, Black Head Coaches Prefer Black Quarterbacks by Cork Gaines

This quick look at coach and quarterback race shows that about 85% teams with white coaches have white quarterbacks and about 50% of teams with black coaches have black quarterbacks. These data points suggest there may be some racial bias or preference on who coaches prefer to work with, though the outcomes of such preferences are not clear. What’s problematic here is that only 9 head coaches of NFL teams are black; if racial preference does in fact play a part in quarterback selection, then it follows that many more people of color would need to move into coaching positions in order for there to be greater racial diversity among quarterbacks.

Study finds that white men run the world of college football by Julianne Hing

From the article: “The University of Central Florida’s Diversity and Ethics in Sport looked into the race and gender of top leadership positions at all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision colleges and conferences for the 2013-2014 academic year. The vast majority of top positions—from college and university presidents to head coaches and athletic directors—were filled by white men. Nearly 89 percent of university presidents at these schools are white men, as are 84.8 percent of athletic directors and fully 100 percent of conference commissioners.” The same study also found that student athletes were comprised of 51.6% black athletes, 43.3% white athletes, 2% Latino, 2% Asian and 0.1% Native American. For the full 2012 Racial and Gender Report Card in College Sport, click here.

US Olympians Pose with the Cutest Puppy You’ll See All Day from Buzzfeed

This photo shoot of 15 US Winter Olympians posing with Siberian Husky puppy, Sochi, is decidedly precious. However, it highlights the racial disparities of the winter sporting event as all of the athletes shown are white.



Lee & Low Books

Lee & Low Books is an independent children’s book publisher who focuses on diverse authors and books that showcase diverse characters. Their tag line “About Everyone—For Everyone” is pretty darn accurate. On their blog, you can find everything from write ups of new books to poems to common core lesson plans featuring culturally responsive titles. Over the years, they’ve also been culling reports on the gender, racial and ethnic diversity gap in a number of fields. Check out their deeply researched topics, which feature the voices of many authors of color, below!

Forbes’s 30 Under 30 in Education

While this list brings much to celebrate here in TFA with 9 alums on the list, it’s worth noting that more than half of the recipients are white men. This is not meant as a slight to those that won the covetable title; it’s more a microcosm to think about how men, in a field dominated by women, are over-represented when thinking about the entrepreneurial minded standouts.


Film and Television

TV Can Boost Self-Esteem of White Boys, Study Says from CNN

A recent study out of Illinois found that television consumption boosted the self-esteem of white boys, but decreased the self-esteem of white girls and black boys and girls. While the study controlled the amount of television watched by study participants, they found that when surveyed, Black children, on average, watched about 10 more hours of TV than their white peers. From the article: “Kids are impressionable, said Michael Brody, chair of the media committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. It affects them when they don’t see themselves represented on TV, and it affects them when the young people who look like them are seen doing something wrong, he added.” The folks at RaceBending.com also included a condensed write-up of the study with potential explanations for the findings from the professors behind the study.

RaceBending.com, Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality

This website tracks a number of issues pertaining to representation in media such as groundbreaking comic books featuring people of color, white-washing in remakes like Star Trek and instances of yellow- and blackface in media. It’s a great place to learn about exciting projects featuring diversity, such as the comic book series “Miranda Mercury” which follows the adventures of a superhero scientistswho is also a black woman.

6 Diverse Children’s Cartoons by Stephanie Meade

While there are a few shows out there for children that feature ensemble casts of different colors, bodies and abilities, the shows discussed above also show different cultures outside of the usual television fare. Additionally, this list features shows for teens and tweens. Both lists focus on shows with non-white lead characters.

‘Lucky’ Gives a Rare Glimpse into the Life of a Homeless Mom by Von Diaz

This new documentary follows Lucky Torres, a mother from the South Bronx who self-identifies as a Puerto Rican Lesbian. The film, from journalist Laura Checkoway, offers a glimpse into Lucky’s life as she moves with her son from one transitional home to the next over six years. With few representations of queer women of color in film, this is one to watch in the coming year as it makes its way through the festival circuit, and potentially to digital platforms.

Sundance, With a Little Color by Jamilah King

This year’s Sundance Film Festival—taking place this week!—will feature several films from filmmakers of color and/or about characters from diverse backgrounds. I’m particularly stoked about “Dear White People” which has been in the works for some time, “Drunktown’s Finest” about three Native American teens coming of age on a New Mexico reservation and “Afronauts.” Check out the trailers in Jamilah King’s write-up above!

A few other articles which speak to the presence or lack thereof of marginalized groups:

With warm wishes on this chilly day,


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